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Paddle Boarding for Beginners

I started paddle-boarding 3 years ago while searching for an outdoor sport that wouldn't strain my back. It's low impact, gets me outdoors, and I can do it as long as I want without being in too much pain afterwards. If you’re looking for a new outdoor sport as the weather (hopefully) starts to warm up, here’s everything you need to know to start paddle boarding.

The gear you need:

Paddle Board: For your first few excursions, you’ll want to rent a board or borrow from a friend. This will give you time to decide if you love the sport and want to invest money into it. If you do fall in love with it (which you will) it’ll be much more cost effective to buy your own board. Fortunately, there’s tons of people selling used ones on local, virtual marketplaces.

Your board choice is determined by a few different factors, including rider weight and intended use.

Most boards are made for specific disciplines, like recreational paddling, surfing, touring, racing and yoga. If you’re renting, you likely won’t have a choice. However, some rental shops do have options and the staff are always happy to help you choose.

When you’re ready to purchase a board, I recommend doing some research. Personally, I have an inflatable iRocker cruiser. It’s perfect for recreation and yoga, with plenty of room and weight capacity to tote around an ice chest and a dog. However, I am looking to upgrade to a Blackfin Model V because I want to start touring long distances. To learn more about what board to choose, you can start here.

Paddle: A SUP paddle kind of looks like a stretched-out canoe paddle. Honestly, most beginner boards will come with a paddle that’s adjustable for many different heights. If your board doesn’t come with a paddle, you can find them at most outdoor stores, like REI, Scheels, and Cabela’s. The correct length paddle will reach up to your wrist when you stand the paddle up in front of you and raise your arm above your head.

Personal Flotation Device: The U.S. Coast Guard classifies stand up paddle boards as vessels, so you have to have a PFD on board. You can read all about our PFD laws in Nevada and how to choose the perfect one for you from NDOW.

Leash: Your board will come with a leash. This is a tether that wraps around your ankle and attaches to your board. ALWAYS WEAR YOUR LEASH. Even the most experienced paddlers will fall. The last thing you want is your board floating away from you faster than you can swim to catch it.

Once you have all your gear, you’ll be ready to hit the water. I promise this sport isn’t hard. If I can do it with degenerating discs and scoliosis, I’m confident that most others who try it can do it too. The best way to learn is by doing, but if you’re Type A like me you might want some tips before your first outing. SupBoarder on YouTube has lots of videos on beginner boarding. I recommend watching a video so you can actually see the proper form.

Now that you know all about your gear and how to get started, you need somewhere to go!

Best paddle boarding spots in the Reno/Tahoe area:

From crystal clear lakes to scenic rivers, Northern Nevada offers a variety of beautiful, breathtaking locations for paddle boarding. I will highlight some of the best spots based on accessibility. Whether you're a beginner, subject to chronic pain (like me), or an experienced paddler, there's a spot on this list for you!

Crystal Bay, Lake Tahoe

Crystal Bay is the most beautiful area of Lake Tahoe and there are multiple beaches you can access year-round. Sand Harbor is a great launch-point because the parking lot butts right up to the beach.

However, access to the lot is limited during peak season (June-August) so I recommend getting there right as the gate opens at 7 AM.

I know that sounds early, but morning paddling is the best for Lake Tahoe. The boaters start hitting the water just before noon and if it’s your first time out, you don’t want to be caught in their wake.

If you get to Sand Harbor and the lot is full, you can launch from Chimney Beach. Just keep in mind that if you deal with chronic pain this has to be done on a day when you have a lot of spoons. The hike down to Chimney Beach from the small lot is less than a mile. It's not too bad, but remember that you have to lug your board back up the hill with you.

If you're a local, I recommend visiting Crystal Bay from April-May. The lot at Sand Harbor will almost always be empty and you'll likely have the entire bay to yourself. Paddle east from the harbor towards Bonsai Rock and follow the shoreline up to Chimney Beach. Once there, take a break and head back or continue up the shore-line to Secret Cove, Whale Beach, and beyond. Just remember you have to paddle back as far as you went out!

Boca Reservoir, CA

Boca is my go-to spot when I'm craving a quick paddle. It's a short, 30-minute drive from my home in NW Reno and I can park at the boat-launch. The biggest downside to this spot is the amount of boats and jet skis during the summer. However, there are a lot of inlets you can stick to for calm water and the boaters tend to be respectful of paddlers.

I like to stick to the shoreline and explore the inlets while making my way to the dam. If you're feeling adventurous, you can continue further. As for me, I usually turn back to find a comfortable inlet to take a lunch break. After that, I'll usually swim (which is another great activity for chronic back pain) before heading back to the boat launch.

Washoe Lake, NV

Washoe Lake is another quick drive from any home in Reno. It’s located in Washoe Valley State Park, so be prepared to pay for a $5 day pass. There’s a self-serve pass kiosk at the park entrance that takes debit and credit cards, so you don’t have to bring cash.

From the entrance, turn left towards the boat launch. You can park and launch straight from this area,

but I tend to drive a little further down the beach so I can relax in the grass while my board inflates.

In the morning, Washoe Lake is like glass and there are rarely many visitors so it’s always quiet and peaceful. Definitely bring a book if you decide to paddle Washoe. There’s nothing quite like laying out on your board in the middle of the lake, with the gorgeous view of the Sierras in front of you, and enjoying the peace and serenity of nature and a good story. My biggest piece of advice, however, is to head back by the afternoon. Washoe Valley tends to get windy by this time, which makes the lake pretty choppy.

Angora Lakes, CA

The first time I tried paddle-boarding was at Angora Lakes. It’s a small cabin resort sandwiched between Fallen Leaf and Echo lakes, south of Tahoe. It’ll take about 2 hours to get there from Reno and you’ll have to walk about a mile on uneven terrain from the parking lot to the lake. Also, bring cash because there is a $5 parking fee with an envelope drop-box system at the bottom of the lot.

I know this may not sound like a great option so far, but I love Angora. They have a small shop with THE BEST lemonade. In addition to this, they have kayak and paddle rentals! Which is great because this small lake is the best spot for a beginner. Since it’s tiny and nestled in granite, it’s warmer than Tahoe and the water is always calm. When my family visits, I almost always bring them to Angora over Tahoe. The drive is gorgeous, the water is warm, and it’s never crowded. And as a bonus, you can also try your hand at cliff jumping here!

There are so many other great places to paddle all around Northern Nevada and the Sierra range. You can even paddle down the Carson River, which is a great time. Unfortunately, I can’t cover ALL of my favorite spots in this blog. If you want more advice on where to go or how to get started, feel free to send over an email at! I’d be more than happy to spend work hours talking about paddle boarding!


About the Author:

Brittany is originally from a small, rural town in southern Nevada. She grew up herping with her family in the mojave desert. She attended UNR and studied MANY things before settling on Wildlife Ecology. Her summers in college were spent teaching STEM camps and she was a substitute teacher during the school year, which made her fall in love with education. Currently, she is finishing up a degree in both elementary and secondary science education. Seeing a kid get excited about science is unlike any other feeling. If you ever have a question about reptiles or toads, she is your go-to gal!


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