SUP 101: Common Rookie Mistakes to Avoid
Welcome to the fastest growing board sport, Stand Up Paddleboarding, the most versatile, inclusive and fun watersport! Part of the draw to Stand Up Paddleboarding, or SUP, is that anyone can do it. Sup can be super duper fun, relaxing, exciting, challenging, exhilarating and peaceful depending on the joy-seeker’s use and style. It is not cost prohibitive- once you have a board it is free to get out, and boards are cheap to rent. You can SUP in any body of water from a farmer’s dugout in MooseJaw Saskatchewan to the Pontcysyllte Aquaduct in Great Britain, and of course Normal places like lakes and oceans. It is a relatively easy way to get out and explore the water with very little to no athletic ability or experience with water. Boards are readily available for purchase with no customer service or lessons from the big box stores or Amazon. It is these last two bits that warrant this blog.
Here are the TOP TEN ROOKIE MISTAKES TO AVOID
- Skipping the SUP leash/PFD
Like not buckling up your seatbelt, this is obviously dangerous for you and others and a Newbie on their knees paddling out their fresh board with no safety equipment will attract head shakes from spectators on the shore and fellow SUP folk on the water. Nobody plans on drowning, and in a lot of drowning cases it is the confident swimmer who has chosen not to wear their safety gear, gone into some medical distress and drowns. I always make participants of my SUP 101 course turn to each other and say, "You are not too cool to wear a PFD, but I AM too cool to tell your Mom you drowned." Speaking of cool, losing your board and having it float free in the waves and crash into another person, most likely injuring them, also not cool. The best reason to wear your leash is not because it makes it easier to get your board back after falling in, but because in a lot of SUP drowning cases the leash would have made the difference between a rescue and a body recovery. Responsible SUP Industry advocates are pushing each other to make sure their advertising shows paddlers wearing their safety gear. Have fun and stay safe!
- Dropping Your Board Too Shallow
Your fin is about 9 inches long and sits about 5 feet behind you when you walk your board out into the water. If you walk out knee deep and drop your board in, chances are that the back of your board will be in just a few inches of water and the fin will go THUD into the sand or rocks. Cue the Face Palm. That is Bad news for your fin box and fin. The fin can chip or crack, and the base can tilt in the fin box- especially bad in an epoxy board where the fin box is set into the foam. If you were to jump onto your board at this stage with the fin in the sand/rocks, you can cause a major crack around the Fin box and fill your board with water. For an inflatable board which is more durable, you can crack your fin box, voiding your warranty from obvious misuse and making your fin less stable. Don't be that Rookie, always walk your board out far enough to clear the fin. If you don't want to get wet, try to mount from a dock or ledge in the water. You can always practice your skills by pointing your board backwards, fin first into the deeper water and mounting from the nose and scooting your body back to the center. But let's face it- as a Rookie, you can count on getting wet!
- Holding paddle Backwards/wrong
Keep your TIP UP! I always see my beginner lesson participants doing this over and over- holding the paddle with the blade tilted back towards them, so when they paddle they are essentially digging into the water, pulling themselves down. Don't dig down, instead, keep your blade tip up so when you paddle you push yourself Forward through the water. It seems really counter intuitive, but just look at the angle of your blade as it passes your feet. Dig down=inefficient, straight up and down, nice and efficient forward glide. Just remember- Keep your TIP UP!
To paddle efficiently, hold the paddle with one hand on the top grip and the other hand on the shaft. If you bend your elbows and hold the paddle above your head, your elbows should be bent 90 degrees like a football upright- then you know you have your hands spread the correct distance.
- Paddling with Just you Arms
One of the most inefficient paddling techniques is to put the paddle tip in the water in front of you and kind of pull the paddle back towards your body, moving some water around and as a side effect your board will generally move forward. This is a great way to tire your arms out and look like a real beginner. A strong efficient stroke should feel more like the scene from Aladdin where Princess Jasmine gracefully pole vaults across the rooftops. You should use your core and back muscles to put your bodyweight into the forward movement. With your paddle blade tip up, top hand across your body and up above your head, reach forward and sink your blade in the water up close to the nose of your board. The pressure on the paddle should be a slight pull on your lower arm as you keep the fulcrum of the paddle stroke steady and Push with the top hand to propel yourself forward in a graceful glide OVER the water. Think about propelling yourself forward vs splashing water backwards.
- Standing in the wrong spot
This one is a total Drag. Your board most likely has a nice rocker to the nose and is perfectly balanced with the handle exactly in the weight center so that it is not only easy to carry but a perfect guide for where to stand. If you stand too far forward your rocker will dip and not do its job of reducing drag as you glide over the water. Too far back and your tail will sink and create even more drag; and you will paddle in circles. The best place to stand is with your feet on either side of the handle, hip width or more apart. And while you are at it, make sure that the fin is under the water behind you and the nose is pointing up in the air ahead of you ;)
- Looking Down Not at The Horizon
True for most board sports, you will go the direction that you are looking. For snowboarding, don't stare at the tree you want to avoid, and for Paddleboarding, don't stare down at the water or that is where you will fall! For your best balance you should keep your eyes up at the horizon and it will give you better spatial awareness and reaction time. It is also important for safety when paddling to have your eyes open for risks, hazards, boats, boat wakes, waves, crocodiles, dolphins, whales or other wonderful wildlife.
- Paddling With the Wind to Start
More often than not, there is a breeze or possibly stronger wind. It is uncomfortable and generally not advised for a beginner paddler to go out in over 5 knots (5.7 M/hr or 10 km/hr). If there is a breeze it can easily carry you downwind far from where you want to be, or out into the middle of a lake to be begging for a rescue from passing boats who are responsibly trying to avoid you, keeping far enough distance that they don't hear your cry for help. The last thing you want is to end your trip with a terrible struggle to get back to home base, with an unhappy story to tell about something that is supposed to be relaxing and fun. Instead, take heed of the wind direction and head into it for your exploration so your return trip will be smooth sailing. As in the old Irish Blessing, May the wind be always at your back; May the sun shine warm upon your face.
- Not checking weather/conditions/tide
Know before you go. Keep an eye to the sky. Don't like the weather? Wait five minutes... There is a lot of cliche wisdom about checking the weather, and a real rookie mistake is to skip it and be so stoked to go out that you get caught in something you are not prepared for. Check the local weather, apps like wind finder, magic seaweed, marine weather forecast, tide charts, currents, etc... If in doubt, don't go out (or just ask the experienced locals). The tidal exchange in some narrow passages can take the water with barely any current to one that will sweep you away in a matter of minutes. A calm afternoon on the lake can break out into gusting winds that will pull you out away from shore. Losing track of time can have you out in the dark with no light on your board because you forgot how soon the sun sets in the autumn. Not checking how low is low tide can result in you hiking with your board over a kilometer of sand to the water at White Rock beach in BC. A real cool cat takes a few minutes and see what are you in for, instead of being the newbie in the news story.
- Dragging Your Board on Land
I do understand this one- not everybody can easily lift 30 lbs with one arm, let alone the tips of their fingers. As a friend lending a board or an instructor giving a lesson, this is a real pet peeve and in-advertent disrespect for how much a paddleboarder loves and has invested in their equipment. Dragging your board will surely damage a fiberglass board, scratch the beautiful high gloss finish and potentially crack the fiberglass. Dragging an inflatable is more forgivable because they are more durable, but it will still scratch and scuff them up. If you can't carry the board under one arm by the center carry handle (handle to the outside so the board is between your arm and your body) then ask for help. If you need to, stop, put the board down on some soft grass or sand, turn your body around and pick up with the other arm. Take a break. Carry on top of your head with the center of your board (the handle is a perfect landmark) on your head and your hands on either side.
Choose a board that you can carry, a board with extra handles at the nose and tail for a partner carry, or a shoulder carry strap. If it is an epoxy board be sure to chose one with the comfort grip handle that allows your fingers to curve around inside, not the square box that just lets your fingertips carry. A bamboo composite board is lighter and will be easier to carry (27lb) versus a fully fiberglass or soft top board (30-40 lb). . Don't be that tired, wet, thirsty newbie scrambling back dragging their beautiful expensive sup behind them, bumping over rocks and getting the finish sanded off making everybody cringe. It is much better to sit on the shore beside your board and take a little break, looking happy and chill just taking in the moment.
- Getting back on-kick legs out
As a New Paddle boarder, chances are you will fall. As an experienced paddle boarder, chances are still good that you will fall. That's great! Nothing wrong with falling off, as long as you can get back on your board. If you are athletic and can do a full body push-up you are already ahead of the game. If you are not, not to worry, as long as you can visualize doing a push up and flutter kick your legs. If you are very very unathletic and have trouble swimming, it is best you stick with a buddy who can come along beside your board and lean on the far rail and lend you an arm to pull on as you get back on. The biggest struggle I see in new paddleboarders who are trying to get back on their board is clinging onto the board and spooning it in the water, curling their knees up underneath of it, or their feet even up in front of their bodies on the other side of the board. These struggling newbies then grab the far side of the board and pull, effectively flipping it over on themselves. Instead, think about doing a push up on a pool deck. With hands flat on top of the center of the board, kick your legs out behind you and keep kicking as you try to do a push-up onto the board. Once your chest is over the board the rest of the body can swing around to the back and you can rest and re-balance in a kneeling position until you are ready to stand again. If you are not able to get up onto the side of the board for whatever reason- arms not strong enough, life jacket in the way, etc... Don't worry just try the same method from the back of the board- pulling the board underneath yourself by the back handle or side rails.
Again, welcome to the sport of SUP, follow these insider tips to avoid the most common Rookie mistakes and you can save face out there on the water and disguise your clumsiness as extra enthusiasm until you hone your skills!
CHEERS! And Keep Your Tip UP!