New to the world of prone paddling? Wondering how to get started? Not to worry! I’m going to walk you through the good bits, the bad bits, and the how-to of prone paddle boarding.
What Is Prone Paddle Boarding? Prone paddle boarding is the inverse of stand up paddle boarding. You’ll be lying down, on your front, and using your arms as paddles. You don’t need to faff around with a paddle and it’s just a case of grabbing a board and heading out to sea! Most people believe that this is the traditional form of paddle boarding.
Essentially, you’ll be doing the same movements as surfers when they head toward the waves.
This paddle board discipline keeps you in more consistent contact with the water and is a fabulous way to keep fit and healthy. But don’t be fooled! I made the mistake (initially) of thinking that this would be easy — it isn’t. It can take a fair while to get used to it.
The question you’re probably most concerned with right now is the specific differences between prone and SUP. So, let’s get into that right away, shall we?
Prone Paddle Boarding VS Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Aside from the obvious stance difference (prone is lying down or kneeling while standing is used in the other discipline), there are a few big differences.
Difference One: Arms Instead of a Paddle
Paddlers partaking in SUP use a single blade paddle to move across the water. However, in prone paddle boarding, you will have to rely on your arms to get you where you want to go.
If you’re used to SUPing, it can feel weird lying or kneeling on your board. Not to mention that your arms and/or shoulders will take far more of a hit in the prone discipline.
Difference Two: The Boards Aren’t The Same
The boards used in prone and SUP have many differences. Generally speaking, the boards used for prone boarding tend to be super long. Some of them exceed 21 feet and the shortest is typically around 10 feet long.
Alongside the length, the width is different. SUP boards are usually wide to ensure your feet have a place to sit tight. Prone boards, on the other hand, are much narrower and tend to point aggressively at the tail end.
Depending on the brand of prone board you purchase, the hull might be rounded. Additionally, it could have a sunken top to aid comfort when you’re lying on the board.
The Most Common Types of Prone Boards
While you can find quirky boards, it’ll be easier to stick to the 4 primary types of boards for prone paddlers (especially if you’re a beginner):
- The 10’6″ — These are generally used by coastal rescue staff and races of around 500 meters. The shortness allows them to charge through any water.
- The 12′ — These are designed for long-distance paddlers. They are well-made to handle bumps and flat water. Although, it’s worth noting that they’re not constructed for surfing of any kind.
- The 14′ — You won’t find many people who prefer these over the 12′ but they’re made for long-distance paddling too.
- The UL — Otherwise known as the unlimited prone boards, they start at 15 feet long and scale up to around 21 feet. They are made with long-distance paddlers in mind. Usually, they come with a rudder contraption.
Since there are so many different brands and types of paddle boards and equipment for the prone hobby, I thought I’d add a how to get started section. Honestly, I wish I was privy to this when I first got into the sport!
How to Get Started Prone Paddle Boarding
Regardless of the sport, starting is hard. There will always be people who have been doing it for years and you can quickly feel out of your depth (literally and figuratively in this case). But this little guide should help you figure out exactly what to do and how to do it.
#1 Get Your Equipment Sorted
You will need:
- A prone paddleboard
- The right clothes (a swimsuit or trunks, preferably)
- A leash and PFD
As you can see, you don’t need much of anything to get started! Arguably, this is one of the best parts of this sport. However, you must invest in the right equipment. You get what you pay for, after all.
I’m going to talk about the clothing in the next step. So we’ll focus on the board itself and the PFD here.
The Best Prone Paddle Boards
The most widely respected prone paddleboard manufacturer is BARK. The brand makes unbeatable high-quality boards that people of all abilities love to use.
Specifically, the BARK Commander is the best of the best. It has won more world championships and titles than any other prone-style board on the planet. If that doesn’t scream quality, I don’t know what does!
If you’re serious about the sport, you can’t go wrong with this one. It comes with padded knee blocks, a sought-after drop-stitch construction, and even tie-downs for your water bottle.
Top tip: I recommend renting all of your equipment first. Trust me, it’s expensive to buy everything outright so make sure you love the sport until you splash your cash. However, if you already have been paddle boarding and you know it is something you love doing then invest in a quality paddle board and paddle board accessories trust me it is worth it in the long run.
The Best Prone Paddle Board PFDs (personal floatation devices)
Wearing a leash is important and trying to wear a PFD is advisable. However, many prone paddlers will claim that wearing a PFD while onboard is impossible. Or, at the very least, it’s not comfortable.
This makes wearing a leash even more important!
I’d suggest trying to wear a floatation device — even for all you pros out there. The weather and undercurrents can play disastrous tricks on you so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Granted, it isn’t very comfortable wearing a life jacket/vest onboard as it restricts your movement. However, there are slim PFD belts that can help you out in a crisis.
My favorite is the Onyx M-16 Stand Up Paddle PFD. Yes, it’s made for SUPing. But it’s thin enough that it won’t uncomfortably dig into you while you’re face down on the board.
#2 Wear The Right Clothes
The outfit you choose will make a massive difference to your ability to prone paddle board effectively.
As I’ve briefly mentioned, your arms need to be able to move freely since this is where all your power will come from. So, try to go sleeveless if the weather permits.
It’s a good idea to think about the colors of your swimwear too. Go for something as bright as possible so people can see you.
Another thing to bear in mind is coverage. If you’re going to be kneeling, your lower back will likely be exposed to the beating sun for a while. So, cover up and use reef-safe sunscreen.
#3 Get To Know Your Board
Whether you’re a complete beginner or you’ve been SUPing for a while, you need to get to know your board before you hot-foot it into the big wide ocean. Prone paddle boarding uses your muscles in a unique way so it’s inadvisable to run before you can walk.
Start in a calm, shallow spot of water. From here, you can practice finding a balanced position and dismounting/mounting the board effectively.
Once you’ve found the sweet spot, you can start to paddle. Make sure your strokes are kept close to the board to be as efficient as possible.
#4 Learn How to Kneel on Your Board
You’re not limited to lying down with prone paddle boarding, you can transfer to your needs if you need a respite from the single position.
Having said this, finding your balance when kneeling on your board can be incredibly hard when you first start. I’d suggest sticking with the lying-down placement until you have truly mastered this art.
#5 Keep An Eye on Your Surroundings
If the water is crowded, it’s important to stay vigilant. You are not as visible as those who are standing up on their boards. Ensure you keep an eye on jet skis, boats, and other people while you’re out on the water. I won’t pretend like the consequences aren’t catastrophic if you don’t.
#6 Momentum Should Be Your Best Friend
When you’re a beginner prone paddler, it can feel pretty scary traveling at speed. Over time, you’ll begin to realize that forward momentum is your new best friend. Trust me, it makes your whole experience far less tiring!
#7 Have Fun!
The crux of the matter is to have fun. You’ll fall off at times, that’s just how it is. Laughing at yourself is a must in these situations when you’d otherwise feel a bit silly.
How Hard Is Prone Paddle Boarding? The Pros and Cons
If you’ve come this far and you’re not quite sure why on earth you’d give this a go, here are some of the benefits (I’ll talk about the cons afterward).
The Benefits of Prone Paddle Boarding
#1 It’s a Lot of Fun
It feels as though you are simply gliding along the water and that you’re “at one” with every single wave that comes your way. This is something that SUP cannot give you. A pure, more natural adventure. There isn’t anything else like it.
#2 It’s Comfy
While the position you’re in — and the work required to propel you forward — won’t be easy or comfortable to begin with, it will gradually become part of your muscle memory.
The best part is that you have the power to swap between lying down and kneeling. You’ll never need to put up with fatigue from sitting in the same way for hours on end.
#3 It’s a Workout
If you’re primarily a surfer or open-water swimmer, you should think about adding prone paddle boarding into your workout regime. Why? Because it builds your upper body and arm strength which will improve your performance in your main sport.
#4 Less Wind Resistance
When SUPing, contending with strong winds is near-on impossible. The direction and strength of it can change at any time, causing our upright bodies to behave like a sail.
The lower you kneel or lie on your board, the less wind resistance you’ll face. It’s unarguably the best way to make progress through headwinds.
#5 No Complicated Equipment Needed
Generally speaking, watersports tend to come with a bunch of fancy equipment. Prone paddle boarding breaks this mold. All you need is a board and a leash!
The Disadvantages of Prone Paddle Boarding
#1 You Move Relatively Slowly
Even though you might feel like you’re moving quickly, you’re not. This can be a tad demoralizing if you look back and realize you’re not as far away as you imagined.
#2 It’s Hard
The question you’ve been wanting answering since I started this section — how hard is prone paddle boarding?
I won’t lie to you. It is tricky. It will take some time to learn where your center of balance is and build your stamina.
However, you will get there as long as you don’t give up!
#3 You Won’t Be Staying Dry
I mentioned that a benefit of prone paddling is the unencumbered connection between you and the water. However, that does mean that you won’t be able to stay dry like you can when SUPing.
Additional Tips For Successful Prone Paddle Boarding
We’ve covered a lot here today but I just want to give you a few pro tips to get your prone paddle boarding hobby off to the best possible start.
#1 Relax Your Neck
It’s easy to over-extend your neck to see in front of you but there’s no need. You’ll only end up with sore muscles and a headache.
Try to find the “sweet spot” where you can see clearly but aren’t straining.
#2 Take Drinking Water
Opt for a board that comes with water bottle tie-downs to ensure you always stay hydrated.
And there you have it! You’re armed with all the information for you to go and achieve your prone paddle boarding dreams. Don’t give up, it’s a fabulously rewarding hobby once you’ve got the hang of it!