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Is Paddle Boarding Hard?

From shore, paddle boarding can look a bit challenging.

It is done on a board with relatively little surface area (compared to a boat or a jet ski) and is powered solely by human force.

So, from a distance, it looks like paddle boarding requires too essential things – balance and strength – which it does.

But paddle boarding doesn’t require as much balance or as much strength as you might think, and, under the right conditions, it’s actually a lot easier than it looks.

So no, paddle boarding isn’t as hard as it looks.

Paddleboard Balance

woman on knees on SUP

Since paddle boarding is done on boards that look similar to surfboards (look similar, but aren’t entirely; paddle boards are wider), it is often compared to surfing, a water sport that actually IS difficult to learn.

But board design is pretty much where the similarities between paddle boarding and surfing begin and end.

Unlike surfing, which requires a lot of bodily movement on the board – standing up and shifting body weight – paddle boarding requires next to none.

You can step right onto a paddle board to get started and remain in that position for the entirety of your session.

You also steer with your paddle, which eliminates the need to shift your bodyweight.

These things certainly make the difference when it comes to balance.

That doesn’t mean there is not some balance involved when it comes to paddle boarding.

You do still need to properly distribute your weight to keep the paddle board from tipping one way or the other.

But, since you don’t have to move at all if you don’t want to, once you are centered on a paddle board, you can pretty much stay that way.

Paddle boards, especially beginner boards, are also designed to be more stable than surfboards (which are designed for maneuverability, making them easier to whip around in the waves), so you are starting out on a sturdier base.

So, one answer to the question “Is it hard to stand up paddle board?” is “Not as hard as it is to surf.”

paddle boarder on lake

Paddleboard Power

While the paddle board itself may be fairly stable, you do still have to make your paddle board go.

This is where strength in paddle boarding comes in.

And, I’m not going to lie to you, you will need some.

Paddling a paddle board is very much like paddling a kayak or a canoe.

It takes steady, consistent movements that can tire out weak arms, shoulders, backs, and core muscles pretty quickly.

What’s more, paddle boarding is done standing, so if you are a perpetual sitter, you’ll surely feel the paddle board stance in your legs and glutes too.

That said, a paddleboard is not hard to paddle. The technique itself is simple. 

It does take some physical effort, but the motion itself is not difficult to learn.

woman on SUP

How hard is stand up paddle boarding?

Stand up paddle boarding requires some balance and some effort, but under the right conditions it’s an easy sport to pick up.

On a scale of 1-10 with ‘1’ being learning how to back float and ‘10’ being learning how to surf, paddle boarding falls somewhere between a ‘3’ and a ‘7’.

Why such a wide discrepancy?

Because when it comes to how hard it is to paddle board, conditions (and your board) matter a lot.

Paddle boarding on a flat, calm waterway requires considerably less balance than paddle boarding in a choppy ocean.

Wider paddle boards with more surface area are easier to balance on than narrower boards. (For helping choosing a good beginner board, see our guide How to Select A Stand Up Paddle Board For Beginners.)

And your other equipment matters too.

man on paddle board on lake

Making sure you have the right length of paddle for your paddle board, in particular, is one of the simplest means of easing the paddle boarding learning curve. (For more on SUP paddles and sizing, see SUP Paddles: Choosing The Best Paddle Board Paddle.)

It’s also important to note there are other types of paddle boarding, such as paddle board surfing (paddle boarding in waves), which are harder to learn and to do than paddling a board on a flat, still surface.

But on that flat, still surface, with all proper equipment, we’d say learning to paddle board comes in at about a ‘3’ on a scale of ’10,’ or pretty easy for a water sport.