How to Start Stand-Up Paddleboarding in Kentucky: What to Know, Where to Go

Stand-up paddleboarding offers a difference experience, and many people even try yoga on their board.
Stand-up paddleboarding offers a difference experience, and many people even try yoga on their board. Heather Warman/SUP Kentucky
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If you've never been on a paddleboard, you might find it a bit intimidating. It obviously requires balance, stamina, and access to the right equipment—but when you get to know the board, how it works, and how to maneuver it, you'll realize that nearly everyone of any age or body size can do it.

As long as you take the time to learn, you'll be paddling down a river in Kentucky in no time. Here are some of our best tips from local experts on how to get started.

Leave Your Expectations Behind

Nico Greipel, 33, of Louisville, learned from friends at Nolin Lake.

"The first day, I remember being frustrated because I thought I'd pick up on it really quick. I thought it was like any other board sport," Greipel said. “The first day, my legs and my feet muscles hurt. After a day and a couple of times going in the water, you figure it out.”

Greipel said what he likes about the sport is its versatility. You can stand up, sit down, lie down, fish, or even do yoga on your board. "I like kayaking and canoeing, too," he said. “But being locked into that position is uncomfortable for me. I like the flexibility of being able to go for a swim for a minute.”

Stand-up paddleboarding can be in intimidating, but once you learn, you’ll never want to get off.
Stand-up paddleboarding can be in intimidating, but once you learn, you’ll never want to get off. Heather Warman/SUP Kentucky

Take it Slow

Hugh Murphy is a watersports enthusiast from Louisville who now works at the Falling Rock Quarry in Oldham County. Murphy paddles around the quarry, monitoring the water to keep the area safe.

Murphy advises a slow approach to learning. "Do it until you get bored," he said. He suggests starting on a beach with the nose of the board on shore, so you can get stable before launching into the water.

It can be easier to learn the ropes by sitting or kneeling on the board.
It can be easier to learn the ropes by sitting or kneeling on the board. Heather Warman/SUP Kentucky

Sit or Kneel to Get the Hang of It

Murphy says to sit on the board with your legs on either side and work on paddling around that way. When you get the hang of it and start to get bored, bring your feet up in a cross-legged sit, or extend them out onto the board. Paddling around this way forces you to engage your core a lot more, and you work harder for stability. The board also travels a lot faster if your feet are not causing drag.

Once you've mastered that style, you can get up on your knees and practice paddling around. Murphy emphasizes to focus on your waist and below. All the motion comes from your legs and core. When you feel comfortable, or "bored," bend forward with the paddle in your hands and get into an all-fours position. One leg at a time, replace a knee with a foot, then slowly stand up with your paddle in hand.

Don't be in a hurry to stand up or be the best right away. It takes some time to get used to the movements of the board and get your "sea legs." If this writer can do it, so can you or anybody else.

How to Choose a Board

Murphy recommends going to on-water demo days hosted by outfitters, such as Quest Outdoors, to find the right board. You can try out the boards yourself and decide which is right for you.

Boards come in many shapes and sizes, depending on how you'll be using them. Inflatable boards are a durable, easy way to begin because they are easily transportable, and you don't need special equipment on top of your car.

Greipel said to look for foam core boards and stay away from fiberglass or carbon fiber boards because they are more delicate and can crack if you hit shallow water.

For beginners, it might be a good idea to get a paddle that is adjustable, especially if more than one person will be using your board and paddle. Your paddle should be 9 to 10 inches taller than you.

SUP Kentucky hosts adventures on Elkhorn Creek, The Kentucky River Palisades and even a paddle through underground caves.
SUP Kentucky hosts adventures on Elkhorn Creek, The Kentucky River Palisades and even a paddle through underground caves. Heather Warman/SUP Kentucky

Tour Operators in Kentucky

Almost anywhere there is water you can paddle, and there are a lot of lakes, rivers, and streams in Kentucky. There are several outfitters and place throughout the state that rent equipment and/or provide shuttle service for paddlers:

Where to Go

Many of the outfitters above can tell you the best places to go for SUPing, but a few good places to start are:

And last but not least, Greipel also urged that you should always use a life jacket. Especially in moving water, always think about your safety first.

Originally written for Kentucky Tourism.

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