How to Stay Safe and Test Your Paddle Skills

In Instructional by Daniel

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When it comes to SUP...

Skill assessment and safety are key.


Because unlike other sports...

There is no clear marker for when you are ready to test yourself in different conditions or environments.

This is mainly due to the fact that conditions can change almost instantly.

There isn't a marked course, trail, or path that you can progress to.

Often, paddlers have to take an honest look at the conditions and a self-reflective understanding of their skills and decide in the moment whether to go...

Or not.

But how can you know what is the correct decision?

The answer is personal. Everyone has different skills, abilities, and experience...

But there are a few guidelines that we have outlined below that you can use today...

To make sure you are making the correct choice the next time you decide on a day to paddle!

(Keep reading to the end to see what tests you can try on your board today to see where you are in your SUP skills foundation)

1. Give Yourself Permission to Say "No"

Often we can feel the pressure to progress in a sport at a faster rate than we are comfortable with.

This can be due to social pressure, or pressure you put on yourself, or it can be ego-driven.

These are, of course, not good reasons to push yourself past your limits.

Whenever you decide to paddle...

Whether it's on a day when conditions are rough, or it's your first time trying to conquer the ocean, or maybe you want to inflate your iSUP and head into Class II or III rapids...

If you are not comfortable with what you are seeing at the moment...

Give yourself permission to pass on that particular day and wait for one where you feel more confident.

Sometimes it's okay to say no - especially when it comes to your safety.

2. Confidence is Key - But Watch Out for Overconfidence

Confidence in life will take you far. And it is no different when it comes to SUP.

But you must also be honest with yourself...

Especially when it comes to your SUP skills.

Ask yourself...

  • How many times have you paddled?
  • Have you had proper instruction?
  • Do you know the safety protocols?
  • Do you have the correct equipment?
  • Do you know how to inflate your PFD if need be?
  • Can you get back onto your board with ease if you were to fall off?

These are all important questions to consider before you try to test yourself in a new environment or gnarly conditions.

3. Be Mindful of the Weather - Always

This tip is more so a general tip for every time you paddle.

But especially important if you plan on paddling in a new location or a new environment.

The weather, and especially the wind, can change at any moment.

And it can turn a pleasant paddle into a dangerous situation.

Always, always, always, check the weather and wind conditions before you head onto the water.

That way you will be prepared for whatever may come.

Some general weather guidelines to adhere to:

  • A beginner may struggle with any wind over 10-15 mph
  • If the wind feels like it is too much to paddle in - sit down on your board and paddle from that position. This will allow you to paddle easier through even heavy winds.
  • Always paddle against the wind to start - that way on the paddle back when you are already tired, you can use the wind to your advantage

4. Always Paddle With a Buddy

The safest thing you can do...

Especially if you feel like you are ready to conquer some waves or head into a river environment...

Is to paddle with a friend.

Having an extra set of eyes and helping hands can often be the difference between a fun outing on the water and a dangerous situation.

5. The Right Equipment

Always make sure you have the proper safety equipment whenever you go:

  • PFD
  • Leash
  • Safety Whistle
  • First Aid Kit (in your car)
  • Booties or Waterproof Socks (depending on your paddling environment)
  • Full Wetsuit/Top (depending on water and air temps)

And as a bonus, carry your cell phone in a waterproof case if possible. Nothing beats having the ability to call someone at anytime you may need assistance.

6. Progress At Your Own Pace

Everyone has different skills...

Everyone learns differently...

And everyone progresses at a different speed.

When it comes to SUP, it's best to start slow.

Begin in calm flat water...

Then progress to paddling in windy days...

Then in currents...

And only then with enough experience should you consider taking your SUP into the ocean waves or down the rapids.

As you collect hours (and experience) on the water, the better prepared you will be for whatever lies ahead...

Tests to Use for SUP Skills Self-Assessment

It can be difficult to accurately assess your skills on the water...

Often, we are not sure about our progress in a sport and as we have already stated, SUP can be difficult to honestly assess and judge your skills.

However, there are a couple of tests you can do the next time you paddle to see where you are...

  • Can you paddle in a straight line for an extended period of time?

Paddling in a straight line is a skill that can get you home in a heavy wind, get you through waves, and eventually catch them.

Give yourself a test by following a string of buoys or other markers you can keep your eye on - see if you can maintain a straight line over distance.

  • Can you get a workout in?

When beginners first learn how to paddle they tend to use just their arms to paddle and their feet to stand.

Every other body part remains stiff.

To assess whether you are paddling more efficiently, make sure you can workout your entire body when on the water...

With emphasis on your lower body and core.

And see if you can raise your heart beat to 110 to 120 bpm.

  • Can you move on the board and maintain balance?

If you can take a step back, know where your back foot should go, and easily move from a forward facing position to a surf position all while maintaining upright posture, then you have adequate balance to conquer different environments...

And it's a great way to learn how to master a pivot turn.

Conquer all three of these tests and you are well on your way to building a solid foundation of useful SUP skills!

And for those visual learners out there...

Here is a short vid that covers much of what we discussed with an emphasis on the proper gear to bring in any environment, weather, or paddling conditions!

Check it out!

If this has been your first season of SUP - we hope it has been an enjoyable one so far!

As you learn, progress, and develop your skills...

Eventually, you will be able to take on any environment - at any time.

But even the best of us have to always be prepared...

So remember to adhere to these guidelines, always bring the right equipment.

About the Author


Daniel is a travelling author with a passion for exploring new waterways and sharing his experiences with the world.

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