In some ways, I’m still a beginner. I’m not good at turning. Sometimes I get nervous in the ocean. I’m self-conscious about my thighs. Oh wait. That has nothing to do with paddleboarding. I have, though, been doing this as a “normal human” (rather than a pro) for almost two years. I’ve started taking out beginner groups, mostly as part of our Meetups here in Wilmington. Which brings me to some advice for beginners. Take it or leave it, but I think following these tidbits will make your experience more fun for you and for the others paddling with you.
- Be excited! There is nothing more draggy than someone on the water acting pissy and crabby. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head and making you paddle. If you are scared, that’s one thing, and completely legit. Tell us, we’ll help you get through it. If you’re whining because you’re not used to exerting, well, suck it up.
- Be grateful. Be grateful that you live where you can paddleboard and that you woke up alive that morning. Be grateful to your hosts who are taking time to show you the ropes. Most people who paddle regularly like to do it for exercise. That means they like to go fast. If they’re helping a beginner it’s because they have the time and they want to help someone new get better. They’re altering their routine for you. They’re taking time out of their day to help you enjoy a new sport.
- Buy local. Yes, it might be cheaper (though not always) to buy some of your gear online. However, you want the sport to grow and you want experts around to help you learn. The experts are the shop and paddle company owners in your town. Buy your leashes and boards and board bags from your neighborhood shop. My shop is also my water access. (Well, there are other access points, but not with such great parking and a hose and a couch in the air conditioning. And good company for talking shop.) You’d better believe I spend money with that shop on every possible occasion. I call them to see if they have what I need in stock before I go anywhere else.
- Learn a little before you go. This can be as simple as googling “how to standup paddleboard” and reading a few blog posts. It is also as simple as asking these questions: What are the leash laws? Am I required to carry a PFD? What IS a PFD? Who has the right of way–boats or me? Are there areas I should stay out of? Do you have any other advice? You’re responsible for your own safety. Even if you’re paddling with a group, you should know what you’ll do if you get in a non life-threatening bind. Will you paddle on your knees? Will you get out and walk?
- Don’t act like you know what you’re doing if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t fake it. That’s dangerous. Nobody cares if you don’t know what you’re doing if you make an effort to learn. We will, however, have to restrain ourselves from beating the crap out of you if you pretend to know it all when you really know nothing. That, or we’ll laugh at you behind your back.
- If you’re having trouble, speak up. We’d rather help you before the trouble becomes a crisis. Are you scared? Are you out of water and feeling dizzy? Are you tired and not sure if you can keep standing up? Did you forget your sunscreen? Are your feet numb? We’ve all been there. We can help. We can’t do it for you, but we can give you water or suggest a way to paddle or sit or rest so that you can make it to the end in one piece.
- Take responsibility for yourself. This is a recurring theme, yes? Yes. Even if you have an instructor, you need to act like a grownup. Sometimes you’ll be last. Sometimes you’ll be tired. Chances are good that you’ll still make it back. Bring the stuff you need. That means bringing water when it is hot. Supplying croakies for your glasses so they don’t fall off. Wearing the right clothing. Swimsuit-yes. Sundress-no. If you don’t feel comfortable, speak up. We want you to have a good time and not dehydrate, overheat or, in the winter, freeze. Sometimes your first time on a board involves nothing more than paddling around the marina. That’s ok!
- Respect the equipment. A full set of paddle gear costs around $2,000-$3,000. Asking to borrow someone’s equipment is like asking for a $3,000 loan. Would you do that to someone you don’t know? No. That’s why you can rent. And when you rent, cheerfully pay the fee. $20 or $40 is a lot cheaper than $3,000. You can rent for $20/hour 150 times before you spend $3,000. When you rent you also get the help of the rental company. You get the expertise and the manpower. You get the water access. That saves an hour, easily, of dragging stuff around. The renters always beat the rest of us to the bar. Sometimes that makes me jealous!
- Take a lesson. If you are in this for the long haul, it pays to take some lessons so you paddle correctly. Paddling the right way means less work. Less work equals more fun.
- Respect the water. It is a gift to live near water–fresh or salt. When you see floating trash, pick it up. If your hat or life jacket or water bottle falls off your board, retrieve it. Don’t disturb the animals that live in the water. Enjoy from a distance and be a good steward.
Most of all, have fun! The entire point of paddling is to have fun. If you try it a few times and you hate it, well, find another sport. The first time is always the hardest. Heck, the first ten times are the hardest. But you’ll get the hang of it. Then you’ll be hooked!