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Top Tips You Need to Know to Successfully Paddle on the Ocean

August 18, 2022

In this article, we discuss the best tips for successfully paddling in the ocean!

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Have you mastered the skills and techniques needed to be successful paddling on flat water?

If your balance is on point, your paddle stroke is efficient, and you can move through the water in a straight line for long distances, then you might be looking to test yourself in an unfamiliar environment.

Normally, there are two options. The first is river paddling. The current in a river will offer brand-new challenges when it comes to balance and paddling distance.

The second option is…the ocean.

The big blue expanse has been a source of inspiration and excitement for avid water lovers for many years. And it’s only natural to combine a love of the ocean with your favorite activity.

However, you should be aware of a few things before you give it a go. Knowing these tips will ensure you have a fun and safe time in a quickly changing and unsteady environment like the ocean.

ocean

What to Expect

The ocean is constantly moving.

When paddlers first begin in SUP, they typically paddle on bays, back rivers, or lakes. The calm, flat waters of these environments are perfect places to understand your balance and practice a proper stroke. In addition, they don’t have much of a current. And in some instances, a tide.

When it comes to the ocean, even on calm days, the water is always moving. This means the balance you thought you had on the flat water will often not translate to the ocean.

You may need to start on your knees and stay there the entire time. That’s okay! It’s always a good idea to start slow and work up. It can take a while to understand how to maintain a proper standing position in the ocean.

By knowing this beforehand, you are less likely to become discouraged.

Choose the Best SUP for the Environment

These days, paddle boards come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some boards are designed specifically for paddling in the ocean’s waves. They tend to be shorter in length and more narrow. This is to allow the paddler to easily drop into a wave and surf it.

Most beginners will find it very difficult to paddle one of these boards in the ocean.

Instead, you want to have a board that will give you the best opportunity to remain balanced. If you are a beginner, opt for a longer, wider, and thicker board. With these attributes you will have a board that will help you maintain balance by floating higher on the ocean’s surface, have more surface area front to back for easier glide, and a wider base for easier balance when you find the waves hitting your rails.

As you may have already guessed, our Atoll iSUP is the perfect board for a beginner to try paddling in the ocean.

Why?

It measures in at 11’x32’’6’’. The 11’ length offers premium glide on the water. At 32’’ in width, it is plenty wide enough to maintain balance side to side. And with it being 6” thick, you have all the volume you need to keep the waves from rushing over the rails.

Safety Equipment

The ocean is a volatile environment. And should be treated with proper respect.

This means you should always be prepared for whatever may happen on the water. And the best way to do that is to take the proper safety equipment.

These include a leash and a PFD.

Your board is the largest and most effective flotation device you have with you on the water. Wear a leash and remain tethered to it at all times while on the ocean. Plus, if you’re not wearing a leash, with one simple fall, your board can be carried back to shore and you’re left swimming back to the beach to retrieve it. Not fun.

One quick note – before you head onto the water, always inspect your leash. Is there any dry rot? Is the velcro in good working order?

If you’re unsure, grab a new one.

And, if you can, wear a straight leash when paddling in the ocean. Coil leashes do work of course, but they often become tangled after being used in the ocean. It’s much easier to have a straight leash for this paddling environment.

Second, if you are truly a beginner, wear a PFD.

Technically speaking, if you are SUP surfing, or if you are an experienced paddler, you don’t need to wear a flotation device while in the ocean. When you have your board in the waves, it’s technically considered a surfboard by the Coast Guard and thus a PFD is not mandatory.

However, if you are just paddling on the ocean and not planning on surfing, we recommend wearing a belt pack PFD or vest PFD.

If anything were to happen on the water, having a personal flotation device can and will save your life.

In addition, another great way to stay safe is by paddling with a buddy. If you have the luxury of being friends with another individual interested in SUP, take them along with you! Having a friend on the water by your side is a cheat code when it comes to safety.

Wind, Weather, Waves

When considering a paddle in the ocean, you first need to understand the conditions. These include:

  • Wind speed and direction
  • Wave height and frequency
  • Current direction and strength
  • Tides and if they’re going in or out

The best way to find this information is through a tide app on your phone, or on any surfing site.

Familiarize yourself with websites like swellinfo.com or magicseaweed.com. Both of these sites are fantastic resources for what the wave height, frequency, water temperatures, and wind speeds are at any given location around the world.

When looking on their sites, if you see waves that are above 1′-2’ we recommend choosing a different day. Anything over that size and it will be a real test to get past the breakers. To make sure you are safe in the ocean, and happy while giving it a go, choose a day with the smallest waves in your local area.

Photo: @ericadeahl

Pick Your Entry Point

Beaches are often crowded. A large paddle board in the water with swimmers, boogie boarders, surfers, and tubers, is dangerous. Especially if your board gets away from you in the white water.

Find a spot that is relatively empty. Scan the ocean and make sure the waves are not beyond your paddling experience.

Carry your board with your dominant hand and your paddle in the other. Make sure your leash is attached properly to your leg.

Walk into the water until it is about waist high, secure your paddle on the board and hop on.

Get Past the Breakers

Now that you’re on your board it’s time to paddle. It’s always a great idea to paddle on your knees until you are past the breakers – the point where the waves are taking shape and closing out.

Aim straight for the waves when you paddle here. You do not want to be horizontal to the beach where the waves are breaking on your rails. This will tip you over. And cause you to be pushed back to shore where any progress you made to get past the breakers is lost.

If you aim straight ahead into the waves, the nose of the board will cut through the water and you will be able to maintain balance.

You can either wait for a pause in the waves which will happen at certain locations. Or you will need to power through the white water until you are in the open ocean.

Once there, grab a breather and take in your surroundings.

What to Look For

As you begin to stand up and practice your balance there are always a few things you want to keep an eye on when in the ocean.

Take note of the wind and the weather. Storms can roll in at any time and this can drastically change the strength of the wind and the size of the waves. If you see anything on the horizon, make the best decision available to you.

Next, always keep an eye out for swimmers or surfers. Your SUP is a large vessel compared to what they have on the water. And it causes damage when it gets away from you and hits other people in the water. The best thing you can do as a beginner is head to a place where there are no crowds.

And last, look out for wildlife! It’s not unusual to be paddling next to dolphins, fish, and even the occasional shark. Don’t be scared though! They’re often more frightened of you than you are of them. Typically, they will swim off without even giving you a second thought.

Use the Right Technique

As you get your sea legs underneath you, ensure you are using the proper paddling technique. The correct technique will help you maintain balance in the water. And it will allow you to control your board in the wind, the current, and the waves instead of the elements controlling you.

If you need a refresher on the proper paddling technique, be sure to refer to our previous article, “How to Paddle Board: Everything You Need to Know to Get on the Water.

In this article, you will find a section entitled, The Paddle Stroke. Follow these steps on the water in order to begin paddling with an efficient stroke.

Have an Exit Plan

Heading out past the ocean’s waves can be difficult. But what most beginners fail to realize is the difficulty in making it back to shore.

As you paddle in you can be taken up by a wave at any moment and thrown over the falls. What this means is the board’s nose gets buried straight down and the wave breaks. This will propel you forward off the board. In this situation, you are forced underneath the waves, held down, and then the board can hit you as you resurface.

Ocean
Photo: @brynncwalker

Let’s avoid this scenario.

When you decide to exit the ocean, keep looking behind you to see the location of the waves and if one is building behind you.

If you don’t see one, continue straight ahead.

If you do, stop paddling. Often this will allow the wave to pass underneath your board. If you feel like you are being propelled forward by the momentum of the wave, you can do one of two things…

The most effective way to not be pushed forward by a wave is to walk towards the back of your board. With your weight on the tail of the board, the nose will not be able to sink and the wave will pass underneath you with no harm.

However, if you’re still a beginner, you may not be comfortable with walking on the board. If this is the case, drop to your knees and hurry toward the back of the board. With all of your weight on the tail, this allows the wave to slide harmlessly underneath your board.

Once you make it through the white water, take your leash off, hop off your board, grab the handle and always make sure to stay out of the shore break as you exit the ocean.

You can do this by simply waiting in the shallow part of the ocean as the shore break subsides. Once you see your chance, head back onto the sand and smile. You successfully paddled in the ocean!

Conclusion

Stand up paddle boarding in the ocean is fun. But it can also be a serious challenge for the beginner. With these few tips in mind, you’ll be able to conquer the elements in a confident way. And that will lead you to many more fun adventures in the future.

Have questions? Need clarification on anything? Drop us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

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