If you can’t swim, you can still paddle board! Of course, knowing how to swim is a useful skill that would benefit paddle boarding in deep water, but as long as you wear a life jacket and take the sport seriously, you don’t necessarily need to know how to swim.
Paddle boarders who can’t swim should take the necessary safety precautions to keep them afloat (literally) when paddle boarding.
Whether you’re a weak swimmer or you can’t swim at all, it is recommended to always wear a lifejacket and to practice only in calm and still waters. Shallow waters are best for this, such as a still lake or lagoon.
Also, you should make sure to paddle board with an expert or with someone who can swim. In the event of a current that sweeps you away, or if the water has become too choppy, you’re going to need a strong swimmer to help you to get out of the water.
In terms of the depth, you should paddle board in as a non-swimmer, 20” or 30” water are the minimum depths you should paddle board in. In the worst-case scenario when you fall off your paddle board, you won’t need to swim in such shallow water.
However, these depths are only recommended for non-swimmers and beginners, as paddle boards can still hit the bottom of the water at these depths.
Also, it might actually be safer for non-swimmers to practice in deeper waters due to the risk of damaging your ankles, feet, knees, or back from falling in shallow water.
You’re less likely to have an injury from falling into 60” of water with a lifejacket than falling into 20” of water onto a hard floor that sprains your ankle upon impact. Whilst you might assume that deep water will increase your chance of drowning, this won’t be the case in still waters when you wear a lifejacket.
In short, yes, you can still paddle board even if you can’t swim. As long as you take the necessary precautions of wearing a lifejacket, practicing in the right conditions, and with a fellow paddle boarder who can swim, you’ll be fine!
Can you paddle board in shallow water?
Whilst it is possible to paddle board in shallow water, it’s not always recommended. Ankle-deep water at 10” is not suitable enough to paddle board in due to the fin, which is usually around 6-8” tall. Unless you’re willing to damage your paddleboard, avoid ankle-deep waters.
20” to 30”, knee-length waters are slightly better for paddle boarding, but they still pose some challenges. Whilst you might feel comfortable in knee-length water, this doesn’t mean the paddle board won’t hit the bottom sometimes.
Also, if you accidentally fall, you’re going to hit the bottom of the water and potentially injure yourself. There simply isn’t enough water to soften the blow of your fall, so you could easily twist or sprain your ankles.
Torso and chest-height waters are still considered shallow water, and these are better heights for beginners to practice paddle boarding - especially if they are weak or non-swimmers.
These heights are less likely to cause injury because there is more water between the surface and the floor, and you can still have the surface to push yourself back onto the board. Unless the water is still and calm, you should still wear a lifejacket to prevent yourself from drifting away in a current.
To conclude, there are too many risks of paddle boarding in shallow water that are often overlooked. Beginners and non-swimmers are the only ones who can get away with paddle boarding in knee-length water, but this still isn’t recommended.
The risks of injury in shallow water are too high because there is less water to soften the blow of injury between the board and the floor of the water. Not only is the bottom hard, but it can be filled with sharp and uneven rocks, slippery algae, or debris.
You don’t want to land awkwardly on these surfaces, nor do you want your board to be damaged from plummeting into it.
Can you paddle board in a pool?
Pools are a great way to practice paddle boarding as they pose no threats from the elements. Pools have still and calm waters with no currents, they offer different depths that are safe for paddle boarding in without causing injury, and they have no debris or rocks at the bottom which could damage the board.
The only issue with paddle boarding in a pool is the pool’s restrictions. Public pools will often have restrictions on large flotation devices, unless they allow paddle boarders to practice after hours. However, this doesn’t mean every pool will have these restrictions, so it mostly depends on the place.
Paddle boarding in a pool is possibly the safest place to practice paddle boarding. However, as there is less space to paddle board in, there is always the risk of falling onto the sides of the pool, which can cause injury.
To avoid this, you need to find a large pool that is big enough for multiple paddle boarders at the same time. Also, you should always wear a lifejacket and a helmet to protect yourself from either drowning or hitting your head against the concrete surface or walls.
This goes without saying, but you should also aim to avoid the walls as much as possible.
If you’re intending to paddle board in your own pool, this is fine as long as the pool is large enough. When looking to use a public pool, you need to clean your board before and after entering the water.
Paddle boards are exposed to bacteria and grime from natural water, and the residue will react with the chlorine. Whilst this won’t affect the quality of your board, you’re likely to annoy the owner of the pool who will have to clean the water by adding unnecessary chemicals.
Remember, lots of people will use public pools, and they won’t all want to swim in water that isn’t clean (especially if they accidentally consume it!).
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I’m an Colorado native, who learned to surf in the Pacific Northwest, and SW Canada. I live inland near the mountains now, and love to get out on my SUP. It’s weird, but I love windy, choppy days as no-one is out and I like the challenge.