Active Sports

Everything You Need to Know to Paddleboard on the Ocean

A beautiful, calm ocean scene

Paddleboarding on the ocean can be very different than riding on your SUP around the local lake. The ocean is more variable, paddling conditions can change rapidly, and there are opportunities to learn skills like surfing that you can’t learn on a lake.

As long as you’re prepared and you know what to expect, learning to ride on the ocean will only enhance your love of paddleboarding.

Get the Right Board

Many lake paddling enthusiasts love their inflatable boards and for good reason. However, these are not the best boards to take on the ocean. You can take them out there as long as the water is very, very calm and likely to stay that way, like if you’re paddling in a protected bay or a hidden cove.

The rest of the time, you’ll want an epoxy board, also known as a hardboard. These work better in the ocean because their increased rigidity will help you get past the break and will withstand any conditions that might come up if the weather changes while you’re out. If you don’t have a hardboard, arrange to rent one.

Check the Tides and Currents

The tide goes out on a beach at sunset
Photo by Pok Rie from Pexels

You can get tables that show these, ask at local surf shops, or check online for various beaches where you’d like to paddle. Low tide can produce bigger waves and you’ll want to avoid any strong currents (or most currents, if you’re new to paddling on the ocean).

Be sure you talk to people once you’re at the beach, too. Sometimes unusual currents can pop up without notice and you’ll want to have all the information you need so you can stay safe.

Prepare for Change

Even the smallest bit of wind can make a huge difference when it comes to your paddling experience on the ocean. Make sure you’re ready for anything that might come up.

Carry a flotation device with you, along with a windbreaker, extra water and snacks, and a way to get in touch with people on the shore. These will ensure that you are ready for anything that might happen.

Get to know the beach where you are paddling, too. Make sure you note multiple entry and exit points, in case a current won’t allow you to get back to the place where you put your board in the water. The more you scope out the scene ahead of time, the less you’ll have to worry about when something inevitably changes.

Find the Best Entry Point

Top down aerial view of Great Ocean Road in Australia
Image by ymgerman from Getty

Put your board in the water someplace away from swimmers, surfers, and hazards. After all, you don’t want your board to get away from you and hit someone! You can also end up getting in the way of a surfer’s ride, which is poor beach etiquette and won’t win you any friends among the locals.

Don’t put in near piers, rocks, or boats, either. If you fall while getting on your board, you don’t want to fall into something. You also don’t want to bash your board against any of these things.

Use Your Leash

Many lake paddlers don’t use the leash that comes attached to the board. Some instructors even warn against it in that context because it is possible to get tangled in it when you fall off the board.

On an ocean, however, the leash is essential. If you fall off your board on the ocean, the tide will carry it away from you faster than you might think, leaving you stranded and your board out of control.

If you’re concerned about tangling, you can get a leash that will break away under a certain amount of tension. You can take a normal fall and stay attached to your board but, if you get tangled and put pressure on the leash, it should detach.

Get Past the Break

A wave breaks
Photo by Emiliano Arano from Pexels

The break is the place where the waves turn over. If they’re big enough, it’s the place where you see white caps form on top of the wave as the top of it curls over to crash into the sand. In order to paddle successfully on the ocean, you’ll need to get past this place.

There are several ways to do this. You can wade out into water that is about waist high and wait to get on your board until the waves pause for a few seconds. These pauses come regularly and you can learn to find them if you’re paying attention. You’ll probably want to paddle past the break while sitting or kneeling on your board because you’ll have more power this way.

You may also want to pass the break like a surfer. Jump on your board lying on your stomach, then use your hands to swim the board past the break. This can be harder on a paddleboard than on a surfboard because the SUP leaves you farther out of the water, and you’ll have to figure out what to do with your paddle.

It’s helpful to have some help the first couple times you want to do this. An experienced guide or a local paddleboarder can tell you the best way to get past the break on certain beaches and can even let you follow them until you get used to it.

Once you’re out there, you can paddle all day if you want to. Keep an eye on the weather and watch what others do. If everyone else goes in, it’s probably time to call it a day. When you’re ready, you can learn to surf on your SUP to fully embrace what it means to paddle on the ocean.


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