Learning to Stand Up Paddle Surf

Stand Up Paddle Surfing isn’t that hard to learn as unlike normal surfing you can learn to do it on almost any body of water. To start with you will find standing up on the board and paddling will be the trickiest part. If you already surf then the wave riding part should be pretty familiar, except that you will be riding for longer and more often!

In this section we aim to give a few key pointers. The best thing about sports such as Stand Up Paddle Surfing is that you can build your own style and techniques. These pointers are just the basics to which you can add your own style and flair too. Check out the video at the end of the page too…

Getting going

For your best chance of success choose a calm piece of water with no tidal current and a day with little or no wind.When you first step on the board and want to paddle forward make sure your feet are both facing forwards and are next to each other, about shoulder width apart. This will help you pull efficiently against the paddle. If this feels really unstable then shift one foot just a head of the other, but not so much that you are in your surfing stance.


Hold the paddle with one hand about half way down the shaft and the other hand on the T Bar grip at the top of the paddle. With a straight back and slightly bent knees reach forward and place the first 1/3 of the paddle into the water. Your aim should be to pull yourself towards the paddle rather than pull the paddle towards you. As the paddle moves past your body you should pick it out of the water and rotate the blade and bring the paddle through the air and back to the starting position. Then, repeat the stroke. If you are moving off course, swap your hands around and put in a stroke on the other side of the board. (when paddling on your left hand side your right hand should be on the T Bar grip. When you are paddling on your right hand side your left hand should be on the T Bar.)

Pro Tip: Try doing a J stroke to help steer your board without having to constantly swap sides. Imagine that as the paddle comes down the side of the board this is the vertical part of the J. As you reach the end of the stroke twist the paddle and draw the curly part of the J out away from your board. It takes a bit of practice but worth doing. Keep your head up and looking forward. If you look at your paddle you’ll probably fall into towards it.


More strokes on one side of the board will make you move in that direction. Experiment with weighting your feet in order to speed up the turn.

180 degree turn

This is a key maneuver as it’s how you turn the board around to catch waves. There are various ways of doing this.

1) Stationary turn

This is the easiest and probably most stable of turns. You need to put in long forward or backward strokes on one side of the board. This will make the board turn and you will be in a position to catch a wave. This is though the slowest turn.

2) Motion turn

If you have some forward paddle speed you can turn the board a lot quicker. You have to be mobile on your feet though and don’t be surprised if you fall in a few times!

When you are ready to turn take a couple of steps backwards on the board so the tail sinks. At the same time put in a strong backward paddle stroke on one side. As the board spins around, put in a strong forward paddle stroke in on the other side and step swiftly forward to stop the board from spinning. You may find it useful after this to rest your paddle blade flat on the water to give you some stability before stroking forward again and dropping into that glassy wave!

Paddling out through the waves

Unless you are lucky enough to surf regularly at a perfect, peeling point break then you are going to have to confront a broken wave at some point. It’s not as tricky as it sounds and just like a good, clean duck dive it can be a pretty cool thing to do especially on bigger days when the adrenalin is flowing.

Unbroken wave

The best way to paddle over unbroken waves is to stay in your parallel stance and give a good solid stroke before you head up the wave. Use your bent knees and ankles as suspension and flex them to absorb the rise and fall of the wave. If the wave is really steep then you may want to move your feet into their surfing stance for more board control. Use your paddle as a brace when you pass over the back of the wave.

White Water/Broken wave

This is the trickiest type of wave to deal with but you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll master it.

As you approach the broken wave keep your paddle speed up and if possible increase it. just as you get to the wave switch your feet into your surfing stance and step back down the board by about a foot. Just before the wave comes in contact with the nose of your board put in a good powerful paddle stroke on the opposite side to your stance (i.e. if you are regular footed paddle on your right, if you are goofy, paddle on your left). The important thing is to make sure the board is heading straight for the wave. As you put in this paddle stroke lean back to allow the nose of the board to rise up. As the wave moves under the board lean forward again to counteract the push of the wave. As the board rises to the top of the wave and over the back use your paddle in a flat brace position to stabilise you. As soon as you can you need to put in another paddle stroke to start moving forward again. When stable, move back into your paddling stance.

Bailing out!

There will come a time that you don’t have the confidence to get over or through a wave and a bail out will be your only option. Bail outs can be dangerous for other surfers as your board is pretty big and on a long leash (don’t forget the leash!). The best way to bail out is to throw your paddle over the back of the approaching wave and then if you are well clear of other surfers jump in and grab the leash as close to the back of the board as possible – this will stop it flying off and hitting other surfers. If you are close to other surfers then try and paddle into the wave and take it on the head(!), bend down and grab the rail and try and ride it out. If you can absorb the initial impact you are less likely to loose your board. One other option is stand at the back of the board and try and kick/force it over the foam. Whatever you do make sure you are not going to hit another surfer. You will probably have the biggest board in the surf so be aware!

Catching a wave

Once you are out the back you are ready to catch a wave. Don’t go for anything big or too critical for your first waves. You’ll find that you are able to get up and riding on a wave a lot earlier than arm paddling surfers, especially once you have been doing it for a while and have a good paddling style.

First off, turn your board in the direction of the beach. Put in some long strokes to build up speed, as the swell approaches draw long powerful strokes speeding up the stroke as you feel the swell pick you up. All this should be done with your feet in the forward facing position. This is the most powerful and efficient paddling technique. As you feel the board pick up speed on the swell step into your riding stance (one foot in front of the other) and step back down the board. You will also find that you can use your paddle to help steer you down the wave as well. You can lean on the paddle in turns to give you a tighter turn.

Basically you can build up your own style on the wave. Get up on the nose and ride through some critical sections. Do exactly what you want. Don’t forget to get mobile on the board and use the paddle to help you.


Red Air Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards available from SUP Surfing UK

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