Hi and welcome to our Paddleboard Lesson Series! I’m your instructor Jordan-na and I’ll be leading you through a complete lesson that will get you paddleboarding confidently and safely. This five-part series will run you through an introductory SUP lesson from start to finish. At the end, you’ll have the basic skills you need to enjoy your board this season! Note that this is not intended to replace in-person instruction, which I always recommend taking. Rather, it’s a great refresher for those who have already learned to SUP or a primer for those wanting to prepare for their first lesson. 

How to Paddleboard Lesson Series – List of Posts

Taking the Waterwalker 126 out at one of my favourite local spots!

A bit about me: I’ve been standup paddling for awhile! I come from an athletic background and discovered SUP in 2013. Since then I’ve gone on to complete many courses and certifications, work at different SUP schools here in Toronto, and help hundreds of people along their SUP journeys. I’m currently certified with Paddle Canada and have my Bronze Cross from the Ontario Lifesaving Society. I especially love SUP touring and surfing, but my favourite thing to do is teach. The best moments come from when I can get someone who was nervous or apprehensive to confidently stand up and paddle on a board. It takes patience and guidance, but I’ve never met someone I couldn’t teach. So with that, let’s begin.

Parts of a Standup Paddleboard

When learning how to SUP, you need a good foundation from which to build upon. Simple terminology and gear knowledge is a great place to start so you know what I’m talking about when I refer to specific parts of the SUP board and gear. So let’s begin with the most obvious part: the board. Stand up paddleboards come in a variety of sizes and shapes but all have the same basic components. The front of the board is the nose, the sides are the rails, and the back of the board is the tail. If you get confused about the nose and tail, just remember that the fins and leash are always found at the tail. The board has a topside which is the deck and the underside which is the bottom. It is easy to tell which side is which because the deck of a SUP usually has a traction pad, handle, and a leash or leash point, while the bottom is pretty plain except for the fins. 

Woman holding Thurso SUP board upright

SUP boards look a lot taller standing up! I’m standing near the tail of the board, while the nose is pointing to the sky.

The SUP Paddle

You can’t learn how to standup paddleboard without the namesake paddle! In SUP, we use a single paddle. The paddle has three main components: the top handle (or grip), the shaft, and the blade. One hand goes over the handle and the other holds the shaft with the blade pointing downwards. Paddles can be fixed or adjustable height. All Thurso Surf SUP paddle are adjustable, so you can find your perfect paddle height. We’ll get more into how to use a SUP paddle in the next post, but there are two things I’d like you to know for now: how to adjust your paddle height and which way the blade should be facing.

Woman holding a Thurso SUP carbon paddle

Here is an example of a SUP paddle; our lightweight Carbon Elite Paddle

SUP Paddle Height

The easiest way to size your paddle is to place your paddle in front of you with the blade touching the ground and raise one arm. The top of the grip should come up to your wrist. If it’s not, then adjust your paddle height by opening the latch, bringing it up to wrist height just like the photo below, and locking it into place. Ta-da! It’s so easy. As you progress, you may want to adjust your paddle height to suit different variations of SUP (there are ideal heights for SUP surf, touring and racing). That’s the advantage of having an adjustable paddle!

Woman adjusting SUP paddle height

Get that paddle grip up to your wrist and lock it into place.

Which Way Should My SUP Blade Go?

The most common mistake I see are SUP paddle blade facing the wrong way. If you are guilty of this or not sure which way it’s supposed to face, that’s ok! I came to standup paddleboarding from a canoeing background and it took me awhile to get used to the bend in the blade. We are here to learn. 

The blade of a SUP paddle should always be angled forward. It can look bizarre, but I assure you that it is the right way. Blades are designed like that to help you plant the blade further forward, push the water behind you, and be at a neutral angle when the blade reaches your feet. There are a few hacks for when you are feeling unsure. Many companies will put the graphics on the front of the blade. Also, some paddle grips are ergonomic; when you put your hand over the grip to hold the paddle, it can feel more comfortable when you hold the paddle correctly.

SUP paddle blade angled forward
SUP paddle blade angled the wrong way

Check the above to see the blade facing the correct and incorrect way

SUP Fin Setup

Like I mentioned before, fins are located at the tail, on the bottom of the board. Typically, you will see one or three fins on SUPs. Our fins are removable, so you can choose your setup. For flat water SUP, three fins will give you more stability, while just using the center fin will give you more speed. When you’re starting out, don’t be too fussed about fins. As long as you have one or three on your board, you’re good to go. If you have a choice, beginners should start with a three fin setup for maximum stability. As you progress, you can see if you prefer one or three. 

Leashes on Standup Paddleboards

An important but sometimes overlooked part of a SUP setup is the leash. The leash sits on the deck of the board at the tail end and attaches to your ankle with a velcro strap. The leash is there to teether you to the board, so if you do fall off, the board stays with you and you’ll be in control of it. This might not seem necessary when you’re on flat water, but you’d be amazed at how fast a board can drift away in even calm conditions. I always wear my leash when I’m on my board. It’s comfortable and there’s no reason not to wear one. 

Attach your SUP leash at the tail of your board

SUP Safety Gear

Before you hit the water, don’t forget your safety gear! This means wearing your leash (see above) and a lifejacket or PFD. Depending on your regional laws, you might also need a sound signaling device and/or a tow line. Do a quick search on the local regulations regarding personal watercrafts and read more in our SUP safety article


I hope you enjoyed the first part of our How to SUP series! Now that we’ve reviewed the parts of the board, paddle, fins, and leash, you are ready for the second part: learning how to do a SUP paddle stroke. In the meantime, get acquainted with your board and make sure you have everything you need ready to go. See you next time!

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About the Author: Jordan-na

Jordan-na Belle-Isle is a Toronto-based SUP instructor, lake surfer, and writer. Born in Montreal, she has been sporty her whole life and discovered stand-up paddleboarding in 2013. Since then, she has been active in the SUP scene, paddling and surfing the Great Lakes year-round. Jordan-na is a patient and encouraging instructor. She obtained her first SUP instructor certification in 2017 and has been teaching ever since. She has worked with Surf the Greats and Toronto Island SUP, running everything from group classes, to one-on-one training, to winter SUP safety clinics, to team-building events for clients and partners such as Google, Brown Girl Outdoor World, L’Oreal, Swim Drink Fish, and Ryerson University. She currently holds an Advanced SUP Instructor certification with Paddle Canada and is Bronze Cross certified with the Ontario Lifesaving Society. A recognizable face in the Great Lakes SUP and surf scene, her image has been used in a national campaign for Tourism Canada and she has been interviewed by several media outlets such as SUP Connect, Breakfast Television, Daily Hive News, and the Toronto Star. She was also the subject of a short documentary film titled ‘In Winter.’ A skilled writer with a masters degree from the University of Toronto, her work has appeared in Explore Magazine and she is a regular contributor to the Thurso Surf blog and Surf the Greats Journal. She is a co-organizer for Lake Surfistas, a grassroots group that connects, empowers, and educates women who surf and SUP the Great Lakes year-round.

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