How to prevent injuries on a stand-up paddleboard

From bruises, “burns” (yes, friction burns), scrapes and sprains to more serious injuries, the sport of stand-up paddleboarding, does come with a caution. The Team behind Uonea premium Polish stand-up paddleboarding and watersport brand specialising exclusively in inflatable boards, has done their own homework an come up with this user-friendly tips on how to avoid the risk of paddleboard-related injuries*.
TotalSUP caught up with the Polish young SUP guns, Wojtek Tadla and Kacper Jaroć, to run through the list and capture in pictures some of the key points of the Uone guide.

Before you go

Are you just starting your SUP adventure? Going on your first SUP trip on the lake? Have your friends invited you for a SUP session down the river? Stand-up paddleboarding can be more tricky than it seems, especially if you’re taking your first steps into the sport. It is a well known fact that practice makes perfect but when it comes to water safety it’s worth to tap into some SUP do’s and don’ts before taking that SUP leap.

Location, location

Choosing the right location for your stand-up paddleboarding session is crucial. Be realistic, assess your SUP skills and always choose safe, tested spots and conditions that match your skill level. Do your research and tap into local knowledge whether it’s a SUP school, local provider or experienced paddlers who know the area well. Our mantra? If in doubt, don’t paddle out! 

Check the weather

While on your paddleboard, you depend not only on yourself but also on the weather and water conditions around you. It seems like a no-brainer but before you go, check the weather carefully and pay close attention to the following:

  • Wind direction and strength
  • Flow and currents
  • Tide times
  • Rip currents

Also prepare your kit for the conditions you’ll be paddling in: your board, paddle, correct leash, PFD, phone in a waterproof case, water, sunblock, suitable clothing (wetsuit/drysuit), hat, energy snack, whistle, first aid kit to name just few items that should be on your list. *To find out more, check out TotalSUP article on SUP kits and water safety 

If however you get caught in an unexpected change in weather conditions such as heavy rain, storm or strong gusts, keep calm, kneel down or lie flat on your stomach and paddle with your arms heading to the nearest shore.

Use your leash and PFD

The right leash for the right water conditions is one of the most important things during your SUP trip and keep you connected to the board. In case of a fall into the water you can easily pull it back and avoid risking it floating away and chasing it which can be very difficult and dangerous in tougher weather conditions.

Remember to take your life jacket or a PFD which is more frequently a legal requirement on various waterways.

Wojtek is using a popular compact buoyancy aid that you can wear on the provided belt

Pre-SUP session warm up

As with any other sport, warm ups are crucial to prevent injuries. From short runs, gentle stretching (also using your paddle for the exercise), arm circles and squats to simply inflating your board manually using a pump – it’s important to not hit the water without warming up first.

Make sure you stand on the board correctly

It seems fair that if you’ve never practiced any watersports, getting on a paddleboard can cause some trouble. It’s not always obvious where the front (nose) and where the back (tail) is, especially when the all-round boards are wide and although they guarantee stability on the water they can confuse a novice paddler. The end of your board (tail) is flat and usually has a D-ring to attach your leash while the front, or the tip of the board (round or pointed nose) has a little rocker. Before you get on your board, check how the fins (or a single fin) are positioned as they stabilize the board.

The optimal position to kneel and stand is in the center of the board indicated by a handle (or just behind it) with your feet shoulder-width apart parallel to the rails and your knees bent.

Get your paddling technique right

It may seem like the easiest part of stand-up paddleboarding but it could not be further from the truth. We start paddling with the intention of going straight and all we do is end up moving in circles or the board keeps turning the wrong way. SUP is all about the paddling technique and it’s worth to have that first session with an experienced paddler or Coach who can demonstrate the basics of holding the paddle, paddling technique and breaking down the phases (reach, catch, power, exit).

First of all, adjust the paddle to your height (it can be anywhere between 5 to 8 inches / 12-20 cm above your head for recreational paddling). Remember to keep a positive blade angle during your paddle strokes. Lean slightly forward and pull the paddle towards you along the rails of your board.

Use your whole body and keep your shoulders safe

In a nutshell – do not paddle with your arms alone! It may seem strange at first but using your whole body makes paddling much easier. Using your core muscles not only prevents your arms from fatigue but allows you to go faster for longer.

Engage your core muscles by bringing your shoulders forward, place the blade in the water and propel yourself by pulling your body forward towards the paddle.

Paddling with “your whole body” and not just arms and shoulders is the most efficient way of preserving strength, ensuring glide and traction while being a great “whole body” exercise activation your legs, hips, chest, shoulders and back. Using more powerful muscles while paddleboarding also reduces the risk of shoulder and elbow injuries.

*For an in-depth article on keeping your shoulders safe, check out TotalSUP article by Jen Fuller 

Look ahead while paddling

When we start to learn a new sport, whether it’s skating, skiing or stand-up paddleboarding, there’s an irresistible need to look down on our feet. This is the wrong approach and we should definitely train to look ahead instead of down.

With our feet nicely wide apart, straight back and eyes set on the horizon we increase increase stability on the board. So don’t be afraid and look where you’re paddling.

The sea is wide, the lakes are extensive and the rivers are long. But still, as a novice paddler you probably feel safer on a small patch of water close to the shore. Hanging out with other paddlers in a close, shared area can lead to collisions, accidental bumps and worse, injuries especially when it happens in a shallow water.

To avoid bumps, potential injuries and board scratches, paddle out and use all the space you need to paddle comfortably and safely.

Avoid jumping off your board after finishing your session. The safest way to dismount your board is in a kneeling position.

About the Author

Anna Nadolna

Anna is the Founder of SUPer Whale, a Cambridge(UK!)-based emerging watersports brand and a stand-up paddleboarding community. She is a certified SUP Flat Water Instructor accredited by International Surfing Association (ISA). Anna is also a digital marketing, storytelling aficionado and a growth hacking enthusiast.

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