How to Paddleboard Like a Pro

Summer is the perfect time to venture outside of your comfort zone and experience a new activity. Paddleboarding is fun and easy to learn, and it will give you the opportunity to explore new areas from a different vantage point.

It’s a perfect sparkling summer day—an ideal day to take advantage of what our wild surroundings have to offer. In this case, clear water and perfect conditions for an adventure on a paddleboard.

It’s no wonder stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) has gained enormous popularity in recent years, especially in North America. It gives you the opportunity to explore various coastlines, lakes, and rivers while providing a great full-body workout.

The coast of BC offers a unique experience because of its stunning scenery and biodiversity. You’re almost always guaranteed to encounter a curious marine mammal or spot other forms of wildlife during your workout.

Modern paddleboarding has origins dating back to the 1940s, when surf instructors and lifeguards in Waikiki began standing on their boards to get a better view of surfers in the water and to monitor incoming swells.

James Stewart, founder of Wetcoast Surf Company, designs and builds paddleboards locally and has logged countless hours testing new designs and exploring new expanses of water all across Canada. “What was once a curiosity among travellers to beach destinations has started to find its way onto the back lakes and waterways of Canada,” he says.

Why paddleboarding?

Your options for exploration are endless

Stewart has witnessed first-hand the evolution of paddleboarding and believes that “SUPs have enabled us to explore further but without some of the common pitfalls of other water-going vessels. Unlike a kayak or canoe, a SUP cannot be capsized and sunk. This means that some of the risks associated with solitary exploration have been mitigated.”

There are many great areas around Vancouver for paddleboarding, such as Jericho Beach, Deep Cove, and Kitsilano Beach. However, Stewart’s top pick is English Bay. When he wants to really disconnect from city life, the rugged shores around the small fishing town of Port Renfrew are his favourite to explore. “Exploring the BC coastline with its endless inlets, islands, and bays is a real treat for the adventurous soul,” he says.

You’ll feel rejuvenated afterward

In our everyday lives we’re constantly bombarded with things to do—deadlines at work, busy home lives, and traffic during our daily commutes. Time in nature allows us to disconnect from our day-to-day stresses. Wallace J. Nichols, a marine biologist, wrote in his recently published book, <Blue Mind> (Little, Brown and Company, 2014) that “our brains are hardwired to react positively to water and that being near it can calm and connect us.”

You’ll work your entire body

Many people think paddleboarding is all about arm strength. In reality, muscles through your hips, core, and upper body are all required to create a sustainable stroke and transfer power to the blade of the paddle. “A proper technique should work your back and shoulders more than your arms,” says Stewart.

Core strength is needed to stabilize your spine and pelvis and prevent unwanted body rotation, which can decrease paddling efficiency. Exercising on an unbalanced surface will build core strength and thus improve your balance and coordination.

Muscles in your legs will also feel the burn after a session on the water. Even small accessory muscles and ligaments around your ankles and knees will receive a good workout while working to keep you upright on the unstable board.

You’ll burn plenty of calories

Recreational paddling in calm water with light winds will burn up to 430 calories in an hour, which sounds like a lot more fun than monotonously training on a piece of cardio equipment inside a gym. Boost this number by increasing the intensity or duration, or exposing yourself to more challenging conditions.

If you’re really looking for a challenge, try paddling against the tide or with a headwind, or just bring your dog along for a ride. It will definitely require more balance to keep you both dry. Just ask Stewart: rarely will you see him paddling without the company of his pup, Charlie.

It promotes recovery

Paddleboarding is easy on your joints and relatively low impact. Therefore, it’s perfect for recovery after a strenuous exercise session or sporting event. A moderately intense session activates key muscle groups but will not overwork them or overload your cardiovascular system.

Get ready for the water

Here are a few key gym exercises guaranteed to improve your paddling before you get to the water.


Straight Arm Cable Lat Pull-Down

Build muscles through your back, shoulders, and arms to improve paddling power.

  • Stand facing the cables with your feet shoulder-width apart, chest up, and shoulder blades pulled back.
  • Reach up and grasp a straight bar with an overhand (pronated) grip. Hands should be shoulder-width apart and arms straight.
  • Bend your knees slightly, lean forward, and slightly arch your lower back.
  • Keeping your arms straight, pull the bar toward your thighs in a controlled manner, making sure to engage your lats as you pull.
  • Return to the starting position, stopping once your arms are parallel to the floor.
  • Complete 2 to 3 sets of 12 to 15 repetitions.

Advanced option:

Complete the exercise on a BOSU ball. This will replicate unstable conditions on the water and elicit greater core involvement.


Cable Twists

This exercise is sure to develop the necessary core strength to improve your confidence on the water.

  • Set the cable machine to chest height and stand perpendicular to the weights with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  • Grasp the handle with both hands and extend your arms.
  • Engage your core, retract your shoulder blades, and rotate your arms away from the cable machine in a controlled manner.
  • Keep your hips stable throughout the entire movement.
  • Complete 15 repetitions per side for a total of 2 sets.

Stability Ball Wall Sits

Paddleboarding requires long durations in a power stance on an unstable surface. Develop strength in your legs to prevent fatigue during those longer sessions.

  • Place an exercise ball against the wall and gently lean against it, positioning the ball against your lower back.
  • Stand with your feet pointed forward, shoulder-width apart, and 6 to 12 in (15 to 30 cm) out in front of you.
  • Pull your shoulder blades back and down with your chest up and arms straight out in front of you.
  • Squat down and push your hips back.
  • Lower your body so that your thighs are parallel to the floor, ensuring your body weight is over your heels.
  • Hold this position for 20 to 45 seconds and complete 2 to 3 sets.

Advanced option:

Hold a medicine ball straight out in front of you at shoulder height while completing each set. This will improve shoulder stamina.

Paddleboard tips for beginners

Paddleboarding is easy to learn—just make sure to practise in calm water during your first few sessions.

  • Choose an entry-level board that is wide and stable.
  • Beginners like to look down at their board, but this has a negative impact on your balance. Maintain a shoulder-width stance with your knees slightly bent and gaze straight ahead.
  • Choosing an appropriate paddle is important for efficiency. Stewart recommends a paddle long enough so that when you extend your arm above your head, you’re able to fully grasp the handle and have a 15- to 20-degree bend in your elbow. “The right paddle can greatly improve your experience on the water,” says Stewart.

Challenge conventional exercises

If you want to challenge your balance and strength, complete some of your favourite body-weight exercises on a paddleboard. The dynamic environment will definitely offer an increased level of difficulty.


Paddleboard Push-Up

  • Place your hands flat on the board and directly underneath your shoulders.
  • Bring your body into a plank position with arms extended and feet together.
  • Engage your core and squeeze your butt while pulling your shoulder blades back and down.
  • Slowly bend the elbows and lower your body toward the board. Your elbows should stay close to your body.
  • Keep your torso rigid and your head aligned with your spine.
  • Press up through the arms and straighten your elbows.

Tip: If this is too difficult, hold the top phase of the push-up for 20 to 30 seconds, making sure to engage your abdominals, glutes, and quadriceps the entire time.


Paddleboard Split Squat

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your left leg forward and right leg back.
  • Hold your paddle straight out in front with both hands.
  • Lower your body by flexing your left knee and hip, keeping the knee in line with your foot throughout the movement.
  • At the bottom, drive through the front heel and extend your knees and hip.
  • Repeat with the right leg forward and left leg back.

Safety recommendations

Check local conditions before heading out

The sport truly offers a lot of variety, and your imagination dictates the places you can enjoy on a paddleboard. Different bodies of water offer unique challenges and ever-changing environmental conditions such as wind, tides, and wave height, adding a degree of difficulty to each session. Always check local conditions before heading out on the water to ensure they are suited to your level of experience.

Use a safety leash

Along with a lifejacket, Stewart says that “another important piece of safety equipment is a leash, one that is, ideally, longer than the board you are paddling to avoid any recoil of the board should you fall off.” A leash will also prevent you from being separated from your board. “Staying with your board is rule number one,” he says.

Here are a few additional tips from Stewart to make your time on the water safer and more enjoyable.

  • Know your limits, and always turn around and head for home while you still have well over a half-tank of energy.
  • If you’re exploring far-off waterways, paddle with a buddy and create a float plan with a friend or family member.
  • Bring a cell phone. In many remote areas of Canada, you won’t have service, so bring a marine radio or a set of two-way radios if you are paddling in a group.
  • Keep hydrated! After all, paddleboarding is a workout. If you are planning to be on the water for long durations, bring a water bottle along.

Paddleboard yoga

Yoga on a paddleboard offers an element of freedom compared with conventional practice and is a fun way to challenge your balance and focus. Check online for classes in your area.

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