Is Paddle Boarding Hard? Experts Weigh In

Standup paddle boarding (SUP for short) is one of the most enjoyable activities that can range from a calm and easy day on the water to a great workout that challenges your physical fitness.

But how hard is paddle boarding, really? 

In this article we’ll discuss the many factors that contribute to the difficulty level of paddle boarding, how hard it is to balance, how it compares to kayaking, and more. We’ve also included some helpful tips for beginners to get into the sport and feel more confident on their boards.

Is paddle boarding hard work?

Solid paddle boards, also known as fiberglass or epoxy boards are made using an Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam core that is wrapped in layers of fiberglass with an epoxy resin coating. Multiple layers of fiberglass are used and the more expensive hard paddle boards have carbon fiber laid over the rails to provide durability and strength. Carbon and fiberglass boards can also be much lighter than non-inflatable boards without carbon.

What are inflatable paddle boards?

Generally speaking, paddle boarding isn’t hard work. Some would argue that the hardest part about paddle boarding is pumping it up (if you have an inflatable board, of course). 

Paddle boarding is the perfect water sport for all ages and fitness levels because anyone can become a stand-up paddle board pro in just a few hours or after a lesson.

There’s a general misconception that you have to be in good shape to excel at paddle boarding, but this isn’t the case. Since stand-up paddle boarding requires a degree of balance and stability, people assume that it’s difficult but the rigid nature of the board (both inflatable and solid) offers a solid foundation for anyone to paddle with ease. 

Unless you plan on paddling some ocean waves or engaging in some whitewater paddling , you’re in for an easy and relaxing time on the water. 

Advantages of hard paddle boards

  • Faster transition time from car to water

  • Better for SUP Racing

  • Excellent for surfing

  • Increased glide and speed

Non-inflatable paddle boards have some distinct advantages over an inflatable SUP. First of all, when you take your hard paddle board to the water, the transition time between arriving and getting paddling on the water is very quick. Within 3-5 minutes you can have your leash and life jacket on and be out paddling quickly, without having to unfold your inflatable SUP board and get it pumped up.

Hard SUPs are super rigid and are excellent for high-performance activities such as SUP racing, long-distance paddle boarding,  surfing and generally attaining higher planning speeds than boards inflated with air. Epoxy SUPs have better overall performance due to hardboard design and their displacement hulls, which means they have better glide through the water and create less drag, which equals more speed.

Factors that impact SUP difficulty

While paddle boarding is a very easy water sport, there are several factors that impact its difficulty level.

  • Board size: The size and dimensions of a SUP board will impact how easy or difficult it is to paddle on. The easiest paddle boards to learn on have dimensions that are between 10 and 11 feet in length and 32 to 34 inches wide. Both inflatable and solid paddle boards are great options for beginners, it’s the dimensions of the boards that you have to consider.

  • PSI: PSI is the amount of air you put into an inflatable paddle board. It’s short for pounds per square inch. It’s important to inflate your board to at least 15 PSI. Anything under that can cause your board to sage and compromise your balance and stability. The wrong PSI can also compromise your safety on the water and the integrity of the board.

  • Paddle: In order to make stand-up paddle boarding easier, you need to make sure your paddle is at the right length. If your SUP paddle is too long or too short, you’ll have to put in more effort to move yourself and your board. To get it to the right length, stand beside your paddle and lift your arm straight up to the sky, bend your wrist to a 90-degree angle. Your paddle should measure from the ground to the bend in your wrist.

  • Stance: Standing incorrectly on your paddle board will make it a lot more difficult. When SUP’ing, you want to have both feet facing forward, hip-width apart at the center of your board (e.g. on either side of the handle) with your knees slightly bent. You’ll also want to make sure you’re looking ahead into the distance and not directly in front of you or beside you. This will encourage proper posture in your upper body as well.

  • Paddling technique: Using the right paddle stroke will make stand-up paddle boarding much easier. To hold the paddle, place one hand on top of the paddle and wrap the other hand around the center of the paddle shaft. As you begin to paddle and place the paddle blade into the water, try to stack your hands vertically so the paddle is in a straight line pointing downward as you pull it back and out of the water. Look forward and keep your back straight as you hinge slightly at the hips to help with your strokes. First practice paddling on your knees before you move on to your feet.

  • Weather and water conditions: Different bodies of water and varying conditions will change the difficulty of your stand-up paddle boarding experience. Calm conditions with glassy, flat water make for an easy and relaxing experience, while big waves, whitewater, and strong winds make for a bit of a journey. It’s best to go paddle boarding when the conditions are calm and the water is still—especially for beginners. Small lakes are often your best bet for calm waters but you can also get the right conditions  on big lakes and oceans too. 

All things considered, paddle boarding is an incredibly easy water sport with a low barrier to entry. If you follow all the best practices and wear your life jacket,  you should be set up for a fun day on the water.

How hard is it to balance on a paddle board?

It isn’t hard to balance on a paddle board. Because of the wide base and the natural stance, people of all ages and fitness levels are able to balance on a paddle board with ease. It’ll take some practice and we always recommend to start paddle boarding on your knees before trying to stand up, but balancing on a paddle board is relatively easy for most beginners.  

Is it easy to fall off a paddle board?

It’s not that easy to fall off a paddle board. In fact, it’s very uncommon for someone to simply fall off a paddle board for no reason. The biggest reasons people fall off a paddle board include:

  • Not paying attention (e.g. looking around or behind them and losing their balance).

  • Choppy water conditions (e.g. from the wind or from motorized watercrafts causing waves).

  • Bumping into another object (e.g. another paddle board, a rock, a dock, a boat, etc.).

  • Attempting SUP yoga and falling out of a pose.

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How to avoid falling off a paddle board

When approaching a dock, the shore, another paddler, or any other object, it’s important to switch from your feet to your knees to lower your center of gravity and reduce the risk of falling off your board. This is especially important when you’re in shallow water as falling off your board into shallow water can result in injury.

Pro tip: If you’re worried about falling, consider buying an inflatable paddle board. Inflatable paddle boards hurt less than hard boards if you fall onto them.

How to get back on the board if you’ve fallen off

Falling off your paddle board isn’t always a bad thing. On a hot sunny day, it can be refreshing to cool off in the water if you go for an unexpected swim. The most important part about falling off your board is to make sure you fall safely into deep enough water that you won’t get hurt. 

We already mentioned that pumping the board up is one of the hardest things about paddle boarding. The other is getting back on your board after you’ve fallen in—especially if you’re in deep water. 

Use your hands to pull your chest and stomach back onto the board as you kick your legs in the water to propel you upward. If you can’t get back up using this technique, use your board as a floatation device as you swim towards shallow water and get back on easily once you’re there.

Is SUP harder than kayak?

Yes, SUP is slightly harder than kayak. This is because standing for extended periods of time on a SUP (especially in choppy conditions) can be more challenging than sitting in a kayak.  

SUP is a full-body workout and requires more stabilizing muscles to be engaged as you stand and paddle. As you SUP, your stabilizing leg muscles are engaged and much more is demanded of your core muscles than is required to operate a kayak. 

How to paddle board

Follow these simple steps to learn how to paddle board:

  1. Assemble your paddle and place it on the paddle board.

  2. Put on your personal flotation device (life jacket). Even if you’re a strong swimmer, it’s important to wear a life jacket during a SUP session and in some places, it’s even mandatory by law.

  3. Attach the leash to your ankle.

  4. Carry your board and paddle to the water and wade in until you’re about knee deep with the paddle board at your side.

  5. Get onto your paddle board on your hands and knees and sit upright with your butt on the balls of your feet.

  6. Grab your paddle, holding the top end with one hand and the middle part of the paddle shaft with the other hand.

  7. Start paddling from the sitting position or get into a kneeling position and paddle from there.

  8. Once you feel comfortable enough to stand, place your hands on the board in front of you with the paddle between your hands and the board and your weight shifted forward. Tuck your toes, brace your core, and slowly bring one knee and foot up and off the board and place your foot behind the corresponding hand in line with the center handle of the board. Then bring the other knee and foot up and place your foot behind the other hand and in line with the center handle and other foot so that your feet are shoulder-width apart.

  9. Look up and forward towards the horizon as you balance and stand up with your paddle in hand.

  10. Once you’re in the standing position with your knees slightly bent, start to take some gentle paddle strokes and alternate strokes on either side to keep yourself moving forward in a straight line. If you want to change directions or turn, paddle on the opposite side of the direction you want to go in.

  11. When you’re done paddling, move back to your kneeling position by bending your knees and placing your hands and paddle back down onto the board.

Check out our complete guide on learning how to SUP and become a pro in no time >>

Tips for beginner paddle boarders

Here are some simple tips to help anyone excel at paddle boarding:

  • Always start on your butt or on your knees. Never try to stand on your board directly from shore or a dock as this can cause your board’s fins to get stuck in the sand or ground below, causing you to fall off and risk injury.

  • Stand up slowly. Don’t rush standing up. Unlike surfing, you don’t have to “pop up” to stand. Take your time and find your balance before standing all the way up.

  • Look straight ahead. Where you look is especially important when you are transitioning from sitting to standing. Looking directly ahead into the horizon will help you find your balance. It will also help you navigate to where you want to go while you’re paddling around.

  • Keep your knees slightly bent. Although it’s called stand up paddle boarding, you’re not standing on the board the same way you stand on solid ground. The standing position on a SUP board is a bit more of an athletic “ready” stance. This will help you stay balanced and stabilized on your board.

  • Get the right board. Different boards will offer different experiences. Boards with a narrow tip or tail will be more difficult to balance on. If you’re starting out, go with a board with wide dimensions (e.g. 10 feet long by 32 inches wide). This is the correct size for beginners as wider boards offer the most stability to have you stay balanced. 

Make paddle boarding easy with Maddle

Our inflatable boards offer excellent stability for those getting started. With the perfect dimensions for beginners (10 feet 6 inches long with a width of 32 inches), you're guaranteed to feel like a seasoned paddle boarder in no time.

Shop our collection of gorgeous inflatable SUP boards and learn to SUP in style.

Camille Brodeur

Driven by the intersection of lifestyle and fitness, Camille's mission is to inspire others to integrate elements of beauty and aesthetic into their outdoor activities. Her depth of experience in the paddle boarding world allows her to inform and motivate others to get out on the water in the safest and most fun ways possible. Whether it be through her work at Maddle or elsewhere, Camille continuously strives to expand the public consciousness surrounding SUPs.


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