Words by Rebecca Parsons
There’s no two ways about it, being a beginner is tough. But remember, everyone had to start somewhere and you're bound to make mistakes when picking up a paddle for the first time. Luckily, some mishaps can be easily avoided. We've rounded up five of the most common beginner mistakes and how to spare yourself from making them.
Holding your paddle incorrectly
Most beginners are guilty of holding their paddle backwards at least once. You haven't truly been initiated into the sport until an experienced paddler politely informs you about this folly. It's tempting to hold the paddle so that the angle of the blade is facing towards you. But contrary to your intuition, you'll want to hold the paddle with the blade facing away from you—this will allow you to create lift and move efficiently through the water.
It's also important to note that you should hold the paddle with one hand on the shaft and the other on top of the handle, switching positions as you switch sides. Many beginners are tempted to hold the paddle with both hands on the shaft, but you'll get the most efficient paddle stroke by holding the paddle correctly.
Having the wrong equipment
This may seem like a no-brainer but having the proper equipment can make or break your initial paddling experience. Trying to learn on a board that is too small or too narrow will make it challenging to balance. Instead of getting frustrated, opt for a wider board with plenty of volume when starting out. Good beginner boards include inflatables, foam boards, or sturdy all-around touring boards.
In addition to having a board that matches your skill set, you'll also want a paddle that's the appropriate length for you. Place your paddle in the sand and extend your arm above you—the handle should rest at the bend of your wrist. Most importantly, make sure you have the proper safety equipment before heading out. Wear a leash, carry a PFD and paddle with a buddy to ensure you stay safe on the water.
Improperly attaching the board to the car
Unless you want to be featured on @kook_of_the_day’s Instagram feed, then you’ll want to avoid this mishap. If you fail to properly secure the board to your car, it not only has the potential to destroy your board should it come loose, but it is extremely dangerous for the cars around you.
Before heading down to the beach or lake, be sure you have sufficient straps or racks to secure your board. A couple tried and true rack systems are Lockrack Roof Racks and Thule SUP Taxi Carrier. There are a number of other great racks on the market; be sure and do your research to find the best setup for your board/car.
Failing to read the weather/conditions
While paddling in a bay on a windless day may be no problem for most, taking strokes through rough chop on the open ocean is entirely different matter. When learning a new sport, it's easy to get frustrated—you don't want poor conditions to be the cause of a negative experience. Before heading out, be sure and check the conditions. If heavy winds are in the forecast, you may want to save your paddle for another day. Once you become more comfortable and confident on the board, you'll be able to better gauge what conditions you're capable of handling.
For one reason or another, beginner paddlers tend to firmly fix their gaze on their feet. But where you look is where you go, so staring at your feet might just cause you to take a tumble into the drink. Instead, stand confidently and focus on the water in front of you. In doing so, you'll likely find it's easier to balance and that your board will draw a straighter line.
We'd love to hear about your beginner mistakes/advice. Feel free to drop a line in the comments below!