How to Stand on an Unstable Board

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When you’re first trying to stand up on a SUP it can be quite daunting. The board will feel like its trying to get out from under you. The same feeling happens when you’re on a board that is too small, even for someone who’s been using paddle boards for a while.

You feel like the board won’t stay flat and it wants to fly out from under you, either sideways or backwards. It may also feel like its sinking, which isn’t the biggest problem unless the board is actually broken. The problem with the ‘sinking’ is that the board wants to be on top of the water, and will try to get there as fast and easy as possible. It does this by heading towards the side that is higher, which is normally caused by you being unbalanced.

Just note: the board isn’t actually thinking. Its just basic physics people. 🙂


Here are three easy tips to help you stay stable, and get standing up on a new board, or a board that may be too small for you


1. Find your center, and the board’s. 

There can be two things that are unstable when you first try to stand up on a board: the board and you. And let’s be honest. Its normally not the board.

The first key here is to find the board’s center, and make sure you stand just behind it. If the nose is dipping down into the water, you’re too far forward. If anything, we want the back of the board to be lower in the water. This is essential for getting forward momentum.
Many boards have a handle that is normally pretty close to center. Aim to stand/kneel just behind that to start.

Next, before starting, find your own ‘center’. That means take a second on your knees or on your stomach and breathe deep, calm yourself and start feeling the water. We’re not talking of meditation or being one with the stars here; we just know you’re more stable when you’re calm and focused! The lower center of gravity (being on your knees), also helps keep you stable until you’re ready to stand.


2. Get some forward momentum!

Think of it like riding a bike. Its much easier to stay upright if the bike is moving. Once you stop moving, you fall over. The same goes for a SUP. If its moving forward, its harder for it to go sideways.

So once you’re getting stable on a board, start paddling! It doesn’t matter if you’re just on your knees (probably the best way to start anyway!), or if you’re holding the paddle wrong. Just get paddling.

Once you’re moving forward, then get a feel for your board. You’ll be able to see if its dragging the back too much, or if the front is a foot out of the water (which is way better than a foot in the water). Then try to find a more centered area (stay on your knees!), and keep going. Once you feel more stable, try to stand.


3. Use the Paddle for stability.

Think of the paddle as a third leg in the water. As you paddle, it helps keep you stable, and gives you more balance. This works essentially as when the paddle pushes through the water it ‘grips’ the water through traction, allowing some of your instability to go into the paddle instead of the board.

Once you’re more comfortable on the board, you’ll really notice the difference of when your paddle is in the water. So always try to keep the paddle in the water more than the air.

A note on this last point: you may want to use the paddle as a stabililzer like tightrope walkers do (ie: holding it horizontally). This may help your balance temporarily, but can be very dangerous if you start falling swing the paddle around. So we suggest not using it this way!


Overall, once you feel your balance on the board, it’ll get easier to start and stand up. Use these three tips to help you get started.

Paddle on!


Header image by Sarah J