5 Ways to Improve your Paddling

The paddle stroke required to power a stand up paddle board appears pretty basic at first glance but there are some definite nuances to it. Follow these 5 tips to improve your stroke.


push ups make more waves for surf paddling

Paddling a stand up paddle board isn’t the most difficult thing to do but there are some nuances to the paddle stroke which will allow you to paddle more efficiently and therefore, move your paddle board more rapidly through the water.  In this article, we boil it down to the top 5 things you can do to improve your SUP paddle stroke.

Hold the paddle correctly 

best exercises to catch waves give paddle strength

This one seems obvious but it’s amazing how many people do this part of SUP board paddling wrong.  Nothing frustrates veteran paddlers more than watching a newbie with the blade facing the wrong way in the water. 

We understand why this is because it’s counterintuitive to paddle with the paddle blade not in “scooper mode” which would seem like the more efficient way to move water.  It actually will move more water for you but here’s the rub: you will end up turning your paddle board every two to three paddle strokes which means that you will be constantly switching the paddle from one side of the paddle board to the other to straighten the board out.

Switching the sides of the board that you paddle on is the most inefficient part of SUP board paddling because of the time that is lost as you pull the paddle blade out of the water, switch hands on the paddle and then put it in the other side of the paddle board. You want to minimize switching sides as much as possible.

By using the other side of the paddle blade, you are able to “feather” the water a bit more which allows you to make several more paddle strokes per side of the paddle board, which allows you to ultimately go faster and more efficiently. 

Do not “arm paddle”

use the shoulder blades to pop up and paddle faster

This is something else that you will see a lot with those who are new to paddle boarding.  Stand up paddle boarding is a full body workout (not just one for the upper body) but to achieve that workout, you need to focus on all the muscles of the body that power the paddle stroke. 

Your core muscles are the ones that generate most of the power for your paddle stroke. You aren’t able to activate those muscles if you think you are just going to use your biceps or triceps to paddle you across that lake. 

You can typically tell if someone is only using their arms to power them if they are taking short strokes with bent, nood-ly arms.  To activate your core muscles, you need to think of your arms as a fulcrum which are doing the will of your back and chest muscles.  Position your hands on the paddle shaft and handle in such a way that they form an A-frame, meaning that your arms are fairly straight. 

As you reach the paddle blade out in front of you, bend your knees into an athletic stance and hinge at the waist to keep those arms straight throughout the stroke. You should also focus on using your legs as leverage in the stroke by pushing the feet against the deck pad of the paddle board with each stroke. 

“Throw” your paddle blade as far as you 

push up with the back muscles to paddle stronger

Not a lot of people are aware of this one but it is highly effective.  In order to paddle properly, you want to elongate the paddle stroke.  To get the blade as far out as possible, picture yourself “throwing” the blade out there much as you would when you cast a fishing line.  

By getting the blade out that far in front of you, you increase the amount of water that can be pulled during the paddle stroke. This will increase your speed tremendously.

This one takes some practice so that you can put the paddle blade out there in one fluid motion without knocking yourself off balance.  Start slowly by not throwing if out there too far until you get the hang of it.

Pull the paddle blade out of the water when it reaches your feet

paddle hard to line up the shoulder girdle during time paddling

Many that are new to stand up paddle boarding will pull the paddle from the nose and push it behind their feet.  This becomes quite counterproductive because you will lose the power of your stroke once you pass your feet and by having the blade lingering in the water it can actually act as a brake to your forward momentum.  So for the sake of efficiency, pull the paddle out at your feet and begin your next stroke. 

Loosen your grip on the paddle

extend the shoulders while wave surfing

Much like in sports like golf and tennis, too tight a grip becomes counterproductive.  Keep a somewhat loose grip on the paddle shaft and handle and you will find that you are able to paddle longer distances more easily.  Keep in mind, that your forearms are doing quite a bit of work in the paddle stroke and when your grip is tight, you are activating them unnecessarily and will therefore tire them out quickly.  

A tight grip offers zero positive benefits, so if it’s increasing the workload on your muscles for no good reason, why not kick the habit today? 


stretching movement ability will build strength

The paddle stroke required to power a stand up paddle board appears pretty basic at first glance but as you can see there are some definite nuances to it.  Practicing these 5 tips will not only make your paddle stroke more fluid and efficient but it will also help prevent any repetitive motion injuries that could develop from paddling incorrectly.