We recently posted a couple of blogs with general tips to improve your paddleboarding. If you are just starting out, these basic tips will get you going. For today’s purposes we are assuming that you have some experience and have had a bit of instruction along the way. These paddleboarding tips will help you refine your forward stroke, get more power, and become more efficient. We are not talking about a race stroke to light the world on fire. We are talking about a solid recreational stroke that will make paddleboarding much easier and more efficient for you.
Make sure your hands are not too close together. It’s very common for your bottom hand to creep up the shaft. Then you end up with your hands 15” apart and you lose a ton of leverage. The general rule has been to hold your arms straight out at shoulder height and then bend your elbows straight up to 90 degrees. The distance between your hands is supposed to be the distance between your hands on the paddle. This results in an uncomfortably wide grip and while it will make you bend, and reach, more, it is a bit much for most recreational paddleboarders. So you can start with that as a reference and scootch your lower hand up about a hand’s width. It’s a good idea to mark the location with a piece of electrical tape so you can work on being consistent with that. You want to develop muscle memory for each aspect of your stroke, and you want your stroke on both sides to be consistent, a consistent grip can help.
Hands are too close together here resulting in using too much arm, not enough bigger muscles, leading to too much strain on shoulders
Deep blade. We mention this a LOT…because this is arguably the biggest thing you can do to help your cause. Get your paddle blade fully submerged in the water. You pay for the whole blade, use the whole blade. If you only get part of the blade in the water, you are limiting the amount of water you can catch and hold, thereby limiting your power. On a dead calm day, you can probably get away with that, but if you are in wind and/or chop, you will need to really dig in and get as much as you can out of each stroke.
The paddle blade is completely submerged here, and the hands are a reasonable distance apart (see above tip) to cause some moderate hinging from the hip
Use big muscles. Using your hips to get you more reach is only part of their function in the forward stroke. You also want to bring your hips forward during the power phase to give you more momentum. Think about bringing your hips to your hands. You can even practice bumping your hip to your hand to develop the muscle memory. The idea is not to pull the paddle through the water, it is to plant the paddle, hold the water, and pull the board past the paddle. Your hips, core, and feet will make that happen. You can use your feet and hips to propel yourself past that planted paddle.
Keep it out in front. We can get into some of the physics of the forward stroke, but basically all of the magic happens from when you plant your blade in the water (the catch) to your feet. So the idea is to firmly and completely plant your blade as far out in front as you reasonably can. You can reach further than you think you can, and what feels like a big reach today won’t feel so dramatic after a few weeks of paddling. You can put a piece of electrical tape on your board where you comfortably put the blade in now, then put a piece of tape a few inches past that…that’s your new target. The key is not to just get your blade TO the water further out in front, it’s to get your blade buried in the water further out in front. You will need to use your hips a bit here…a hinge from the hips will get you more reach.
Example of straight arms
Keep your arms straight. Keeping your arms straight while you paddle will force you to involve more of those bigger muscles. Think Frankenstein to get this one down. It will no doubt feel weird at first, but it is necessary to break the habit of using all arms to paddle. Your arms will eventually relax a bit, but to get the feeling of using bigger muscles instead of arms, spend some time here with your freakishly straight arms.
Don’t drop your top hand. On the recovery (the time between strokes, from when the paddle exits the water to when you start the next stroke) don’t drop your top hand. If you have a big, looping recovery you are wasting a lot of energy. You should be able to keep your top hand in your frame of vision throughout the entire stroke. If you cannot see your hand the whole way, you should probably reign things in and simplify that movement. If you are guilty of a big, loopy recovery, you can try skimming the surface of the water lightly between when you release the paddle at the end of one stroke to where you plant it for a new stroke. This will help to keep that motion small and efficient.
Stack your hands…if you think about getting your top hand in the same plane as your opposite shoulder, your hands will end up stacked in a vertical line one on top of the other. That will give you a little extra reach without even realizing it. It should also reduce rail whacking and if those hands are stacked, you should track straighter.
Never focus on more than a couple of these at a time, ideally you will focus on one element at a time and practice it for at least 10 minutes before worrying about something else. If you feel like you get one thing down, bump it from what you are focusing on and add something new to the mix. But if you try to spread yourself thin and work on everything all at once, you will get overwhelmed and probably won’t improve any of it.
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