A fan of SUPing once, a fan of SUPing for life. But that does not mean you shouldn’t try anything else. And if you’ve been checking out that prone paddle board gear and thinking of giving it a go, but you’re afraid of starting all over and learning new things, then let me share some wisdom with you.
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
– Albert Einstein
So, hey, you can’t NOT listen to old Albert here. After all, he was considered one of the smartest men in history.
So, speaking of learning new things, let’s dive deeper into prone paddle boarding, what it is, how it differs from regular standup paddle boarding and the needed gear.
Prone Paddle Boarding Explained
Prone paddle boarding is also known as traditional paddle boarding. When you see someone prone paddle boarding, you may see them lying down or kneeling on prone boards while paddling with their hands. Basically, it is like swimming while lying or kneeling on a paddle board.
It may seem as if that’s bodyboarding, but the more experienced paddlers will know that prone paddle boarding is very different than bodyboarding when the surfers ride the waves while in a prone position. The gear used for these two paddling activities is different as well.
The origins of Prone Paddle Boarding
While there are quite a few versions of how prone paddling became a thing, here is the one I believe is the most widely spread.
Namely, in the 18th century, Captain Thomas Cook, a British explorer, visited the Hawaiian Islands, where he saw the locals ‘traveling’ on the water with wooden boards. This seemed fun to the Captain, so he spread the word.
Soon after, these wooden boards weren’t used for transport around the water only, but they were also used to surf the waves as a sport. This is how surfing in all its form became popular.
However, the prone boards’ design was made by Thomas Edward Blake in the 1920s. Since then, the surfing boards have changed, but the bark paddle boards for prone paddling have stayed the same.
Prone Paddle boarding Vs. SUPing
Although the standup paddle boarding came from prone paddle boarding, there are few major differences between the two activities.
Firstly, prone paddlers use their arms in a swimming movement, while the SUPing paddlers use a single blade paddle to navigate around the water. So, to SUP, you need to stand up and use a paddle, while for prone paddle boarding, you kneel or lie on the board.
Secondly, the boards are very different. In fact, the prone boards are extra-long. Some go up to 21 feet of length, while the shortest ones are around 10 feet. These prone boards are also very narrow with a sharp-pointed tail. Some can also have a rounded hull. The top of the board may come as slightly sunken for additional comfort or just flat.
On the other hand, stand up paddle boards are wider and shorter than prone boards.
The standard prone board formats
There are 4 main types of paddleboard prone:
– The 10’6” prone boards are usually used for coastal rescue, short races (about 500m), and can get through in any water conditions due to their shortness.
– The 12’ prone boards are intended for long-distance paddleboarding. They are the best for long crossings as they remain manageable in the “bumps” or on the flat. However, these 12’ prone boards cannot be used for surfing.
– The 14‘ prone boards are also long-distance paddleboards, but these aren’t used as much as the 12’ are.
– UL or unlimited prone boards are starting at 15 feet up to 21 feet and are the F1 of the paddleboard world. These prone boards are designed specifically for long-distance prone paddleboarding. The majority of these come equipped with a rudder system.
How to Prone Paddle Board Correctly and Safely
As with starting any new sport, there are certain things you should pay attention to in order to stay safe and be able to do it well.
Focus on your surrounding
If you are prone paddle boarding in high-season with a plethora of people in the water, as a prone paddler, you aren’t as visible as someone who is SUPing. You are low near the surface of the water, so you have to pay attention to boats and jet skis when prone paddle boarding.
Your clothes make a difference
In prone paddling, it’s all about that arm strength. So you don’t want to be limiting your arms’ movement with too much clothing. So, keep your arms as unencumbered as possible. If the weather allows, go sleeveless.
Another thing to keep in mind is colors. While in water, if you’re alone, you want to be as visible as possible.
Also, while prone paddle boarding, keep your lower back covered. If you are paddling on your knees, then you will want to avoid sunburn on your lower back, so make sure your shorts come up high enough, or your top stays down low enough.
Besides, do not forget to cover yourself under a good amount of sunscreen anywhere where your skin is exposed to the sun. Sunburns are definitely NOT FUN!
Straps are your best friend
Wearing a leash while prone paddle boarding is not required, but it is helpful. Especially for those who are just starting out. Maybe a leash on your ankle won’t work, but then a strap on your waist can be doable. Try both and see what works because you never know the waves you might encounter.
Make room for water bottles
Prone boards with their unique design don’t allow much gear to be taken by the paddler on board. This is why you have to get smart with your carriage of personal belongings. While I suggest toning those to a minimum, you will still need water while being on the sun, paddling for hours. So, strapping a water bottle to your back is going to be one of the best decisions you’ll make.
Just remember that you have to install a water cage and not just any type of bottle barely attached to your back. This has to be something that won’t affect your paddle stroke and your comfort level.
This is why I suggest getting a special water bottle rack that will fit in the “fin box” groove on the nose of most prone boards, or you can fashion your own with some bike water bottle cages and a fin.
How to Make Prone Paddle Boarding Better?
Prone paddle boarding is great on its own, but there are some tips to make the whole experience more pleasant for those just starting.
Regardless of how prepared and fit you might think you are when prone paddle boarding, you are using different muscles in a different way than standup paddle boarding. This is why you have to be cautious and shouldn’t go all the way at first.
Take your time, get to know your prone board. Try lying paddling then knee paddling. Learn how to move and maneuver it in the shallow and then go in deep waters.
Keep your neck relaxed
At first, you might be inclined to over-extend your neck upwards to see in front. But in reality, you don’t need to do so. That will only overexert your muscles.
So, if you are positioned correctly on the prone paddle board, you don’t need to lift your head so high. There is a sweet spot for everyone, so try finding your most suitable position before paddling away.
In case you have problems with your neck when learning at first, or maybe you had neck problems from before, I’d suggest using a foam chin rest in the beginning that you can attach it to your board with Velcro tape.
All in all, try prone paddle boarding with an open mind. If this is your first time trying it out, do not give up when things get hard. Remember,
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
So, give it a go and have fun! That’s the most important thing anyway!
And if you have more tips on making the prone paddle board experience more pleasant, do not hesitate to share in the comments below. For more tips and more exciting activities, connect with me on Facebook and Instagram.
To Your Fun Prone Paddle Boarding,
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