Stand up paddleboarding is a versatile sport that can be enjoyed in multiple locations. From the choppy open seas to serene lakes and rivers. Both of which offer a unique experience to any paddler. But paddling on either has its own unique set of challenges. It’s important that any beginner understand this to help prepare them for their next trip. In this article, we lay down how these two differ and what a beginner paddler should do on either.
Ocean vs Lake: the tale of the tape
There are inherent differences between the two which makes the paddling experience strikingly different. For beginners, it is important to understand the differences as well as the similarities so that one knows what to expect.
For starters, both are fun to paddle on. Large lakes and bays are often calm and wide which makes them perfect for a leisurely paddle on a great day. Lagoons and Estuaries are perfect for complete beginners as they are protected from large swells. Similarly, large lakes and ponds are also great for newbies just starting to learn the ropes.
But unlike lakes, the open seas are deeper and prone to larger waves. This makes them largely unpredictable which can be hard for beginners. The open seas also pose a greater risk than in lakes. Currents also are dangerous to the untrained eye. It can sweep a rider off if it catches them off guard. Lakes are generally calmer as the surrounding land protects the water from strong winds making large waves practically non-existent.
Lake paddling, and flatwater paddling in general, are perfect for beginners just starting out or for those looking for something more laidback. As mentioned above lakes are generally very predictable beasts. They’re mostly calm during the early mornings and evenings with moderate to strong winds in the afternoon depending on the location.
How lake SUP works
As with all SUPing expeditions, before heading out, every rider must do safety checks. Make sure that your safety gears are in working condition and without any damage. Check your paddle for damages as well. After that check your board for scratches or deep gouges. If you are using an inflatable board, check to see that there are no leaks or scratches of any kind.
It is also important to check the daily weather report to makes sure everything is smooth sailing. For beginners, you should watch out for strong winds that can make balancing on the board difficult. Fortunately, lakes usually don’t have any significant tides or currents that can push the board of course.
What kind of board to bring
Almost any SUP can work in calm waters even ocean boards—both epoxy and inflatable ones. Touring boards are also perfect for flatwater paddling such as in lakes and ponds. They are designed to have displacement hulls which improves the paddling efficiency. Inflatable yoga SUP as well as any general-purpose SUP also work well.
The greatest challenge to stand up paddleboarding on the Ocean is its unpredictability. One minute it’s serene and tranquil then windy and choppy the next. Your best bet is to go in the early mornings as this is the time when the weather is at its calmest. If you are still learning the ropes, try heading for secluded bays, or harbors. These places tend to have easier waters to navigate.
How Ocean SUP works
Stand up paddleboarding in the ocean works similarly to SUPing in lakes and rivers. But the key difference is the number of factors a rider must keep an eye out for. 3 factors are at the top of the list: tide, current and wind. These three can have profound effects on your paddling experience. Currents and the tide can wash someone out into deeper waters and the wind can allow someone off course or make it hard to balance and stay on one’s feet.
As with Lake SUP, always do a safety check of your gear before setting out. Wade a few paces away from the shore until the water is high enough that the board’s fin won’t hit the ocean floor or any coral reef. Stay away from sharp rocks and corals as this can damage the board.
How to transition from one to the other
If you’ve had a go at one of the two and would like to dip your hands (feet?) into the other then here are a few things to keep in mind.
What skills to learn
Aside from the technical skills (balancing, paddling, etc), there are a few practical skills that a beginner paddler needs to learn. One such is knowing how to get back on the board after falling off. This might seem like a no-brainer but if you’re still starting, knowing how to get back up efficiently and consistently is a handy skill to have.
Knowing which places are open for paddleboarding is another important skill to have. This is a skill that comes with time and experience. But you can speed up the progress by enough research. Visit online forums and groups and ask around if there are places to go to AND avoid in your area.
Which boards to pick
There are several types of paddleboards each designed for a specific purpose. Flatwater/touring boards are typically longer and have a pointier nose. This helps the board glide easily on lakes, ponds, or rivers. They are also wide enough to be stable.
On the other end of the spectrum are Surf paddleboards. These are typically shorter and have a generally more curved shape. This helps in making the board maneuverable on the surf but can be challenging to use on flat water.
The best board for beginners are all-rounders. They sit between surf paddleboards and flat waters. They are wide enough to be stable, have narrow nose areas, and are generally good performing in either flat water or open ocean.
Aside from the board and paddle, there are other important gear and accessories that paddlers should pick up. One such is a good pair of wetsuits. If you are spending a lot of time on the water, a good wetsuit can protect you from the dangers of hypothermia.
Another must-have is boards and paddle leashes. Your board and paddle are your lifelines out in the water so being tethered to them is a must. Finally, life jackets are also handy to have. It lets you save your energy from keeping afloat whenever you are off your board.