How to Paddle a SUP

Getting into paddle boarding can be intimidating at first. Learning how to stand up, paddle, and keep your balance may seem tough at first, but with some tips and an hour of practice, you'll be standing and paddling comfortably.

How to go paddle boarding as a beginner

How to stand up on a paddle board

For most beginners, standing up on a paddle board is the most intimidating part of learning. Don't be scared to give it a shot! Everyone falls in at least a couple of times so just wear a swimsuit and be prepared to get wet and you'll have a great time.


The first thing that you are going to want to do is get on your knees with your legs on either side of the handle.

Set your SUP paddle in front of you perpendicular to the board. Personally I like to hold onto my paddle through the whole process but  you can grab it on your way to standing up if that is more comfortable for you.

Place your hands in front of you on top of the shaft of your paddle and put some of your weight on your hands.

Bring your first foot forward behind your hand to take the place of your knee and do the same for your second foot.

Start to rise up into a squatting position so that your hands are off of the board. Take the SUP paddle with you, holding it in both hands.

Slowly rise to a standing position and keep your knees slightly bent. Many paddlers find that it helps to look at a fixed point in the distance such as a tree on the shore to help them stay steady as they stand up.


Someone about to stand up on a SUP

One common mistake at this point is to stand with your legs to the front and back of the center of the board like you see surfers doing. For Stand up paddle boarding, you don't want to do that. Stand straight, facing the front of the board.

Carefully adjust your position to center your weight on the board with your feet straddling the handle. Don't look down at your feet too much as this can cause you to lose your balance.

Dip your paddle blade in the water and start to paddle. Getting moving will increase your stability on the board and the paddle in the water will give you a third point of contact to help you balance.


How to hold a SUP paddle

If you are paddling on your left side, start with your right hand on the grip at the end of your paddle and your left hand on the shaft. Your hands should be just more than shoulder width apart.

Angle the paddle blade so that the blade angle is forward towards the front of the board. This is counterintuitive for many new paddlers but this is the correct way to hold a SUP paddle for the most efficient stroke.


Holding a SUP paddle correctly

How long should my paddle shaft be?

Having the correct paddle length for you can help with your comfort and balance on a paddle board.

Start by holding the paddle in front of you with the blade touching the ground. Unclasp the handle and slide it up to be about five inches above your head. If you hold your hand above your head to reach the top of the paddle, the paddle length should be enough for your arm to be mostly extended with a slight bend in your elbow.

As you get to know your preferences more, you will get a sense of the right length you like to set your adjustable paddle to make it most comfortable.

A variety of paddle sizes for different paddlers

What way should the paddle blade face?

This is a really common question beginners have because the answer is not what most people assume. The paddle blade angle should be towards the front of the Paddle board. If your SUP paddle has a logo on the blade, that logo will typically be facing forward in the direction you are paddling.

This is counterintuitive but it is the correct position if you want to paddle correctly.


Logo towards the front of the board

Mastering your stroke

Learning to paddle correctly is an important step to getting to love SUP. It's not just about having the most power possible, getting your stroke down can be important for safety and to prevent yourself from getting frustrated with the sport because you keep paddling in circles.

A good stroke starts with a good grip on your SUP paddle. Your hand positions should be one hand on the T-grip on the top of the paddle and one hand about midway down the shaft so that your hands are about shoulder width apart. You should be able to comfortably dip your paddle in the water without bending over very much or moving around.

How you paddle will depend on what type of weather conditions you have.


Making the best out of not so ideal SUP conditions

If conditions are calm with no wind or choppy water, you will keep the paddle perpendicular to the water right alongside your paddle board. You will put your paddle blade in the water in front of you just deep enough to mostly submerge the blade and then pull back towards you until the blade is behind you, lift it out of the water and repeat. If you do this correctly, you should only have to switch between left hand and right hand paddling every 4-5 strokes as your paddling makes the board turn.

If conditions are windy or choppy, you'll have to switch up your stroke a bit by introducing the "sweep stroke" to correct for their effects. To do a sweep stroke, start with your paddle blade in the water like before except this time, get it as far to the side of the side of your paddle board as possible and pull it in a curved arc towards the board as you pull it back. This will cause your board to turn a little extra to correct for wind or currents that are pushing your board around. If you overcorrect with this method, just switch sides or paddle normally for a stroke or two until your paddle board is back on course.

If you want to turn your board while moving, do a dramatic sweep stroke on the opposite side that you want to turn towards. If you have some speed and want to turn very quickly, stick your paddle blade behind you on the side of the board that you want to turn to and use it as a rudder to cause your board to shift course. This will slow you down quite a bit but it is one of the fastest ways to turn.

If you need to turn your paddle board while staying in one place, you can paddle backward on the side of the board that you want to turn to. Alternate between paddling backwards like this and paddling forwards on the opposite side so that you don't pick up unwanted momentum.


inflatable paddle board


Common beginner SUP questions

Do you paddle on both sides of a SUP?

Yes! Even with a great stroke, you're going to have to switch sides every  4-5 strokes. Sometimes the wind will be just right to counteract the turning caused by your paddling so you can paddle on the same side for much longer but this is more rare.


Why are SUP paddles angled forward?

Your SUP paddle has its blade angled forward to give you more power while paddle boarding. When paddling, you want all of the force of the water you are pushing with your paddle to be going behind you. Any energy spent lifting water at the end of your stroke is being wasted. The angle of the blade is to ensure that all of the force you generate is going behind you instead of being wasted by lifting water.


How do I get back on a paddle board after falling off?

First, swim back to your paddle board before worrying about your paddle.  Most SUP paddles have foam cores that allow them to float for several minutes with no issues. Your board, on the other hand, is going to get pushed around by the wind without you to weigh it down (you can avoid this by wearing a leash). Your life jacket will keep you afloat even if you aren’t a good swimmer so don’t panic.


Falling off a paddle board

Position yourself on the side of your board near the center and reach forward so that your hands grab on to the opposite side of the board.

Kick your legs and pull with your arms until you can get your chest onto the board and then swing your legs up onto the board. From here you can paddle with your hands to recover your paddle.

Can you paddle board up stream?

Yes! Paddling up stream will be somewhat difficult for beginner paddle boarders but once you can paddle in a straight line fairly fast, you're ready to paddle up stream. The two biggest differences are that you have to paddle faster than the river is flowing to make any progress and your board is going to be much more likely to turn off course. The water flowing past your board will start to turn your paddle board more quickly if you start to go off course so make sure to be quick with your course corrections to avoid getting turned around.


A great example of foot placement on a SUP

Where should your feet be on a paddleboard?

Your feet should be facing forward, shoulder width apart on either side of the center of balance on your board. The center of balance is typically going to be right on the handle of your paddle board but any gear that you have strapped to the board can throw that off a bit and will require you to change up your position.



If you're looking for a great all around board to learn how to paddle board, check out the inflatable O2 Retro from Glide! If you're looking for something a little more specialized, check out the rest of Glide's inflatable catalog here.


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