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Picking a Place to Paddle

If you are thinking about buying a standup paddle board,  or even if you recently purchased one, you might be surprised at how many places there are to paddle near your home. SUP paddling can be done on small, local water shed/water supply lakes that allow other paddle craft like kayaks and canoes, on larger recreational water bodies like lakes and sounds, and on even rivers. And let’s not forget the ocean!
Here are some things to keep in mind when scouting for a place to paddle out from.

Skill Levels

First and foremost, make sure that the paddle location matches your own skill set. If you're new to paddling, pick a calm body of water that is:

  • Well protected from wind
  • Free of heavy traffic from larger power boats and their wake
  • Provides multiple places to easily bail out if conditions change quickly.

Avoid fast moving rivers with rapids and the open ocean until you have more experience under your lifejacket!

What to Look for on Land

 When choosing a place to paddle, no matter if you’re out for a leisurely day with the family or looking to grind out a workout,  take a look around the launch spot ahead of time, and check the following:
  • Ease of Launching: will it be easy to get in and out of the water?  Ideally you want a spot that will allow you to easily carry your board, paddle and safety gear into and out of the water.  A sandy spot with few rocks, no steep inclines and plenty of space is ideal, though not always available.  If your only access is a pier or dock, make sure you are comfortable  getting on and off your board from such a structure.  If you are using a boat ramp, make sure you are prepared for slippery, algae covered  concrete.  Even corrugated concrete with ridges can be slick and that’s NOT the place to take a fall, especially carrying a fiberglass or carbon board!  Boat ramps used by large power boats on trailers can be hazardous.  Boaters cannot always see you and may not be expecting you to be there.
If the only place to launch is off a dock, make sure you are comfortable getting on and off your sup from an elevated platform.


  • Who else uses the area? Will there be fishermen on the shore, with lines near where you will be paddling? Recreational swimmers?  Remember, many paddle launch areas are shared by other users who may or may not be in the water.  Be courteous and respectful of everyone.
  • What is under the water where you launch? Note any rocks and tree limbs  that could damage your fin,  board, or you! Leafy, woody bottoms might require water shoes or sport sandals. Those fishermen mentioned above might also leave hooks and monofilament lines behind which could snag a foot or a fin.
  • Infrastructure: Good parking with designated loading areas and plenty of grassy or sandy spots to set up your gear is always a plus. Of course, the better these features and facilities are, the more apt it will be favored by many kinds of  recreational users, especially on weekends.
  • Hours and Rules: Are there any restrictions against SUPs and other paddle craft that would prevent you from paddling at the site? Will it cost to enter the facility? Are there other user fees?  Will the hours of operation limit your paddle sessions or fit with your own schedules?

What to Look for on the Water

Once you've scouted all the dry land qualities of your prospective paddle launch, pay attention to what's happening on the water.

  • Sharing the Water:   In addition to the safety issue surrounding boat ramps,  you’ll want to look out for these vessels coming in and out of the area as you are paddling in and out.  Is there a lot of boat traffic? Are there aids to navigation requiring boater to slow down (these are called no wake zones and are delineated by marker buoys in the water.). Notice where boat traffic seems heaviest.  Where are the popular sections for wake boarders, skiers and the like.
  • Weather: Notice how the water reacts to wind, tide (if applicable) and changing water levels caused by rain and even drought. Does low water levels expose hazards like rocks, down trees, submerged structures? Note where those areas are so you can avoid them.  Do those conditions change your launch area?  What parts of the water body are more sheltered and seem calmer.

  • Moving Water: If you are in a sound or channel affected by tide and current, learn where the easiest place to paddle is when going against and with the current and tide. If you're on a river, be prepared for shallow areas or rocky areas, and places that could create rapids. Learn where the takeout areas are and whether the current is too strong to paddle back upstream.   Are there section of the river that are obstructed that might force you to portage, or get out of the water to go around? Don't try whitewater SUP until your skill levels are improved, you have the right safety gear and have had some instruction!!

Picking a Paddle Destination when Traveling

One of the great things about standup paddling is how easy it can be to travel with your sup, especially if you have an inflatable. More and more water-oriented vacation destinations offer sup rentals. But before you decide to check your inflatable or plan a whole vacation around paddling, keep a few things in mind, to stay safe and have the most fun.
  • Skill Level: Make sure the conditions at your destination match your skill level. Don't assume ocean water in Florida will be the same as in Hawaii, California or North Carolina.
  • Local Knowledge: Talk to the locals and find out about winds, tides and get suggestions on where to paddle that fit your comfort and experience levels, and the craft you will be paddling.  Take some lessons first if you want to try sup surfing, or go with an experienced sup surfer who can help you. Same with downwinding in places like Hood River or Hawaii, where conditions can be extreme and unique. Local board shops and online groups are great resources.
  • Consider your Paddle Craft: If you're taking your inflatable, will you be paddling in super windy or rough conditions beyond its designed capabilities?  Would rending a rigid board be better?  If you want to surf, are there places that are better for the larger sup boards?
  • Respect! Learn the local traditions and practices in paddle areas new to you, and abide by them. For instance, if you're paddling in Hawaii, do not walk across the coral reefs to launch your board!

Paddle Events

May 26, 2024 06:00

California River Quest

Overview The California River Quest is a marathon/ultramarathon paddling race on the Sacramento River in Northern California. Racers may choose 25, 50, 75, or 100 mile courses. We welcome all…
The Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation's 2024 Paddle for a Cause
June 8, 2024

18th Annual Paddle For A Cause

22.5 mile around Absecon Island [Atlantic City] , a separate 6 mile fun/race and a 1 mile team SUPsquatch race
June 23, 2024

DeSatnick Foundation Around the Cape Paddle

The 10th Annual Around the Cape Paddle will be held on SUNDAY JUNE 23, 2024 in Cape May NJ.

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