How to Safely Test Your SUP Skills To See Where You Need Improvement

September 15, 2022

In this article, we discuss ways you can test your SUP skills in a safe manner to find out where you might need improvements.


One great aspect of SUP is the ability to take your board into different water environments to increase your challenges and ultimately your fun.

But unlike other sports, it is difficult to tell how far you have progressed. There are no trail markers or levels of slope you can work up to. With SUP, the conditions are constantly changing from easy one moment to difficult the next.

Most beginners think if they can stand up straight and paddle on a lake they’ll be good enough to paddle on a river or the ocean.

Most of the time this is incorrect.

The currents in oceans and rivers are too much to handle for a beginner paddler and can pose a serious threat to your safety.

The question then becomes…how do you test yourself to see if you are ready for that big adventure? For the next challenge? For paddling on a river or the ocean?

Luckily, you’re in the right spot. Check out these four (easy) tests you can do today to see how far your skills have progressed on a SUP. And what you need to work on next!

test your sup skills

Test Your SUP Skills #1: Paddle in a Straight Line

Seems simple enough.

But it’s a very important test and an even more important skill to master.

Beginners tend to paddle on their stronger side for extended periods of time and as a consequence will drift one way or the other. Often, this will allow the elements to dictate where the board goes instead of the paddler. When this is the case, paddling in a river or the ocean where the currents of the water never cease is difficult.

To truly test yourself and your paddle stroke, pick a buoy or a mark on land that you can concentrate on and keep your sites on it while you paddle.

Are you able to maintain a straight line towards the object? Keep practicing until this becomes easy.

You might be thinking, “Why is this so important?”

Paddling in a straight line means you’re paddling efficiently. With an efficient paddle, you’ll be able to paddle through the wind or the current with ease. Instead of being pushed around by the elements and ending up in a potentially dangerous situation.

Now sure what makes for the perfect paddle stroke? Check out our previous article, “How to Paddle Efficiently: Tips On The Perfect Paddle Stroke.”

Test Your SUP Skills #2: Move on the Board With Balance

As expected, when you move from flatwater to moving water you are going to have a difficult time maintaining balance on the water.

For beginners, any current will most likely result in a fall.

Before you decide to test yourself in the ocean or a river, see if you can move around on your board with ease.

Take a step back. How comfortable do you feel? Do you know where your back foot should go? Can you easily move from forward-facing to a surf position all while maintaining balance?

If so, then you should have enough balance to conquer moving water.

And it’s also a great way to start mastering a pivot turn.

test your sup skills

Test Your SUP Skills #3: Get a Workout

One of the best ways to know if you are paddling correctly and can control your board in the water is to see if you can work your entire body while paddling.

When you first start out, it’s normal to focus on just your arms for paddling and your feet for balance. However, efficient paddling is when you use your entire body to do so. (For additional tips on the proper paddle stroke check out a previous post HERE.)

To assess whether you are paddling correctly, see if you are sore in other areas than just your arms and feet. Pay special attention to your core and legs.

With your entire body engaged, you are more likely to stay upright and balanced on the water.

Test Your SUP Skills #4: Get Back on the Board

No matter how great of a paddler you are – falling into the water is always a hazard one will face. However, the better you get, the less you will fall in.

But to make sure you are safe in these new environments you first must always wear a leash and a PFD. The leash will keep you tethered to your board which is your biggest flotation device and the PFD is for an emergency when you are separated from your board or you are having difficulty swimming.

Always make sure you have both before hitting the river or the ocean.

Next, test how quickly you can get on your board from the water. Can you do it easily? Do you struggle?

The proper way to get back onto your board is as follows:

  • Place your paddle horizontal over the nose of the board, releasing your hands
  • Take one hand and grab the center handle and take the other and reach for the opposite rail
  • Now use the leg that is on the same side as the hand that grabbed the rail (so if you grabbed the opposite side rail with your right hand, use your right leg/foot) and place it onto the board
  • Using your momentum and a powerful kick with your leg that is still in the water hoist yourself onto your board

If you can do it easily, you’re ready to charge into the ocean. If you still struggle – practice this motion a few more times until you are completely comfortable. Your board is the safest place when you are on the water and the less time you spend overboard, the better. Test your SUP skills by seeing how fast you can climb back on your board after a fall.

test your sup skills


Are you ready to give yourself a test the next time you are on the water? Follow these four simple ones to test your SUP skills and if you’re ready to take them into the ocean or a moving river. Have questions or comments? Drop us a message at any time – we’re always here to help.

2 Responses

  1. Moving from face-forward into surf stance is my bane. So far I’m practicing kneeling sideways and that’s fun, but it’s a hard transition to get the hang of during year 1

    1. For sure! It’s all a process. But once your body is used to the movement it becomes second nature. Have you tried practicing on land? If you have a yoga mat, you can use that as a mock-board to move from forward to surf position to at least get the motion down on a stable surface. This will create muscle memory as you transition to the water. Try it a few times and let us know how it goes!

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