Extreme Travel | Adventure Sports

How to… paddlesurf

It's like surfing, only with oars
© Mike Baird

Stand up Paddlesurfing (SUP) – otherwise known as paddleboarding – began in its current form in Hawaii in the early 20th century and it has been increasing in popularity ever since. Today, the sport has spread to mainland America and even to Cornwall. Pierce Brosnan is a paddleboarding enthusiast, but you don’t have to be James Bond to enjoy the sport; here are some tips on how to get started.


If you are going to paddlesurf in the UK, you will need a wetsuit. For the frosty winter months, a 5/3mm wetsuit is necessary. If you limit your paddleboarding to the summer, a 3/2mm wetsuit should be sufficient. Wetsuit boots are useful but for those watching their wallets, an old pair of trainers can make a good substitute.


It is possible use a surfboard for paddleboarding but purpose-built paddleboards are also available. Modern paddleboards are made of fibreglass and epoxy, and are approximately 12ft to 19ft in length. You can expect to pay between £550 and £1,300 for a new paddleboard but it is possible to buy a board cheaper second hand. Whether you are using a surfboard or a custom paddleboard, you will need a paddle. A new paddle can cost anything between £40 and £300.


Calm water and little wind are ideal conditions for learning to stand up paddlesurf. At all costs avoid going out in a strong offshore wind or in big waves. Learning in an area patrolled by lifeguards is advisable but remember to be aware of other water users; paddle boards are likely to be the biggest boards in the surf.

Fitness and scope

Paddleboarding is a low-impact, non-contact sport so is suitable for people of all ages, shapes and sizes. Some paddle boarders will limit themselves to paddling off beaches while others will progress to long distance paddleboarding. In 2009, stand up paddle boarders completed the 125 mile Devizes to Westminster race.

Prone Paddling

Begin by prone paddling: lie on your board with the blade under your chest and the shaft sticking up in front of you. Use your arms to paddle out to open water. Cross waves head on to avoid getting tipped over sideways and off the board.

Knee Paddling

Kneel on the paddle board. Your legs should be shoulder width apart and you should be facing forwards. Find the central point on the paddle board where the nose and the tail are evenly balanced. Get stable and start paddling. The paddle should be held across your body, your top hand should be the hand furthest away from the side on which you are paddling; i.e. when paddling on the left side, your right hand should be on top. Keep your arms fairly straight and use your core to drive the paddle.

Stand-up paddling

Stand up – slowly! First move onto your hands and knees and then place your feet on the balance spot on the surfboard. Maintain a low centre of gravity and if unstable, return to your knees. When stand-up paddling, your top hand should be on the T grip at the top of the paddle, your lower hand should be placed about halfway down the shaft. Remember to avoid bending your arms.


Paddling more on one side or back paddling will allow you to turn. It is important to be able to turn in order to align the board when trying to catch waves.

Catching a wave

Once you have mastered the basic techniques, move on to catching waves. This is the exhilarating part of paddleboarding. Riding a wave on a paddle board is very like surfing; switch to a surfing stance for catching waves. The major difference between surfing and paddleboarding is of course that stand-up paddle boarders have a paddle, when riding waves, the paddle is used to steer and helps to maintain balance.

Learn to fall

All paddle surfers, regardless of their ability, will sometimes fall. So from the beginning, learn how to fall. Remember to attach the safety line so you do not lose your board. When you fall, jump away from the board and the paddle in order to avoid injury.

Enjoy it!

Paddleboarding is fun! As with any other water sport in the UK, stop paddleboarding before you get cold and and check the weather and tides before you go.