Balance is one of the biggest concerns from new paddlers. Often I hear 'I have bad balance." But I tell folks, if you're can walk fine without any instability, then your balance is good enough for SUP. Of course many of you probably have had lessons 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...
- 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.
- 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!|
- Boat or Wind Waves/Wakes - Don't turn into the wave! Instead bend your knees more then do one of two things. #1. If 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). Or #2 if you are moving, keep your course, bend your knees more and use short quick strokes. The bent knees will act like shock absorbers and paddling keeps you stable. Don't freeze or stiffen up when the waves pass, you'll increase your chances of falling in. 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!
- Get Low like JLo! 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! When in doubt, paddle!
- 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, instead sweep the blade across the water's surface with the leading edge up. This provides of a ton of stability! You can also use it when you're losing balance - sweep that blade across the surface then paddle for additional stability.
If you fall... Fall Flat away from you 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. If you're practicing, get into chest deep water. Don't dive off your board or go feet first. **Dressing for the water temp makes falling a lot more fun!
unstable, raising your arms or paddle above your head is making you more unstable by increasing your center of gravity. Others will freeze and try to balance if on a tight rope. Both of these are very common human instincts. But some things in paddling are counter-intuitive. That said - Get Low. This means squatting vs standing then paddling vs not paddling or brace by slapping the flat part of your blade on the the water surface. An old kayaking adage works well here -
Safety - Always wear your leash to keep the board close to you.