Standup Paddleboarding Technique

When I first got on a paddleboard, worrying about how to actually paddle was nothing more than an afterthought.  ‘What’s to think about? Just stick it in the water and yank it back really fast’ was my approach.  And it was this approach that accounted for why I was exhausted, hardly covering any distance with a sore back, neck and elbows, gliding a paltry three feet per stroke and constantly changing sides trying to stay on a relatively straight course.  This went on for some time before I relented and decided listen to some friends who had been paddling for many years.  I’ve learned a bit since then and still have a long way to go.  But there are some fundamental rules for standup paddleboarding technique that everyone agrees on and it is the wise beginner paddler that will heed them from the first time they stand up on their board.

So let’s take a look at how to get started paddling your SUP.  First, you want to make sure you have the right paddle for the type of paddling you want to do and it is cut to the correct length for your height.  See our post on how to choose the right paddle for some insight on this.

Once you are standing up, center your weight over the middle of the board, which is in the area directly over the handle, with your feet about shoulder-width apart.  As you do this you want to make sure you have these three things covered.

  • One hand is placed on the t-handle so that the rounded side fits into the palm of your hand and your fingers wrap over the top (some handles may not have this curvature).
  • Your other hand will grasp the shaft of the paddle.  Your hands should be spaced apart so that when you raise the paddle over your head your elbows are at 45 degree angles.  Like this:  I_o_I
  • Hold your paddle loosely so that your finger tips secure the shaft as you pull the paddle towards you.  There is no need to squeeze the shaft as this will put undue strain on your wrists and arms.

standup paddleboardingtechniquejpgOnce you have your paddle in hand, extend your lower arm fully toward the nose of the board at the same time move your hip (the one on the same side you are paddling) forward.  This will extend your reach further out where you need to be.  The blade should be fully submerged all the way up to where the shaft begins.  Your upper arm should be fully extended.

Remember these points as you begin your stroke.

  • Always make sure the heel of the blade, the point at which the blade angles forward, is facing toward the back of your board. (this does not apply to some multi-purpose/low-end paddles)   SUP paddles are designed like this to move the maximum amount of water during your stroke.
  • Put the paddle in the water at 180 degrees, that is, straight up and down.  Your hands should be totally in line with each other.  If your paddle is in the water on angle you will be turning the board as you go through your stroke.  The idea is to paddle straight.
  • Once your blade is fully submerged turn your torso slightly in the direction of your hands as you pull the paddle back.  Keep your knees bent and your head up with your eyes looking forward and not down.
  • As soon as your blade passes by the heel of your foot, drop your top hand down towards the board (picture driving with your hand on top of the steering wheel then making a right hand turn).  The blade will effortlessly slip out of the water and you can get ready to begin your next stroke.

standup paddleboarding technique

Standup paddleboarding is one of the best complete-body workouts because it involves balancing, rotation and resistance all at the same time.  Don’t worry about going fast when starting out.  The main goal is to dial in your stroke so that it is fluid and efficient.  You want to get the most out of your stroke without wasting energy.  Efficient paddling takes focus and practice but from it you will develop a style that best suits your goals.  This will not only make your paddling adventures a lot more fun but it will also prevent you from getting muscle pulls, strains and joint issues that are common by-products of bad paddling form.

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