Balance is one of the biggest concerns from new paddlers. Often I hear ‘I have bad balance.” But I tell folks, if you can walk fine without any instability, then your balance is good enough for SUP.  You probably have had lessons or a rental where you’ve been given a board too small for your height/weight or in rough conditions, unsuitable for beginners. Here’s a few tips to give you more confidence on your board…

Beginner Tips

Start out on a board sized to your height and weight.

I’m 6-5 230lbs, so I need a 32″ or wider board and 5″ thick to support my weight. And not all boards at those dimensions feels right for me. Wide or bull-legged stance folks need a board wider than usual, such as 33″-36″ wide.

If you’re 6-5 but 200lbs, you may find a 5″ thick board is ‘corky’ meaning the thickness leads to a high center of gravity thus making it unstable.  A square tailed board will be more stable than a pintail. A round nose will be more stable than a displacement (pointy) nosed board.

6″ Inflatable sups are common and too thick for most regular body types. If you’re under 5′-5″, look for a 4-5″ thick board.  On the other hand, if you’re tall like me at 6′ or higher, or over 220lbs – a 6″ thick inflatable that is short like 10′ will be corky for your size.  Try before you buy if you can.

Start out on calm flat water with no current

Wait for boat wakes to pass. Find these spots in marinas, coves and bays vs open water. There’s calm water even on windy days if you look around.

Tip: Once you stand up, place you paddle at your side, blade flat on the water’s surface, like an outrigger. Want to look behind you? Place the paddle at your side, blade flat on the water, then twist around to take a peek.
Dealing with Waves and Wind:

Get low like JLo!

Tips for Paddling with Boat Wakes and Wind Waves
  • Don’t turn into waves for stability. Instead, keep your course, bend your knees and paddle! SUPs are surfboards, they can handle side chop with your skills.
  • If you’re not moving, place your paddle blade flat on the water at your side away from your board. This provides stability and resembles an outrigger. Let the wave pass under your board. Your bent knees will act as shock absorbers (like skiing).  –
  • If you are moving, keep your course, bend your knees more and do short quick strokes. The bent knees will act like shock absorbers and paddling keeps you stable.
  • Don’t freeze or stiffen up on waves. Stay loose!  Breath – stay calm – smile – bend your knees and paddle, then enjoy the up and down of the waves.  But.. if you’re surfing and the oncoming wave is 5′ tall and breaking, then turn into it, bend your knees and paddle hard!

Big Stability Tip

Get Low like J-Lo!  The guy in the pic is doing the #1 thing you don’t want to do! When you get unstable, get low and slap your paddle (blade flat) on the water at your side or paddle!  Paddling is stability, like riding a bike.

When in doubt, paddle!

Additional Tips:

Use the Sweeping Brace – Use the sweeping brace when paddling in rough water. Instead of feathering your blade above the surface as you bring the paddle back to the catch (nose), instead sweep or hydroplane the blade over the water’s surface with the leading edge up. This provides of a ton of stability!  The sweeping brace also works well for providing stability when surfing.

How to Fall Safely

Fall Flat and Away from your Board – Fall like a pancake or the Hi-c plunge. Trying not to get wet and falling on your board can lead to injury. A friend broke a few ribs last summer down winding in Hood River by falling on his board. A vest PFD would’ve given him body protection when falling and falling away from the board would’ve prevented it altogether.

Safety Tip  – Always wear your leash to keep the board close to you after a fall. In current, attach the leash to your waist PFD strap.  

Related Posts

How to Walk on a SUP – 4 Tips

4 Stand Up Paddling Myths

10 Downwinding SUP Tips


About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races throughout the year.

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips