Standup Paddleboarding Forward Stroke

Learning the SUP Forward Stroke

Autumn Paddleboarding
Autumn Paddleboarding. © by Getty Images / Skip Brown

In most paddlesports people generally assume that the actual paddling is the easy part. They are more worried about their balance in the boat or in the case of paddleboarding, on the board. Unfortunately, this has led to nearly every person who has ever started paddling starting off wrong. Only small percentages of paddlers ever actually learn the proper technique involved in forward stroke. Do yourself a favor and learn the SUP forward stroke and you’ll be able to paddle longer, recover quicker, go faster, and have more control over your SUP board than all of your friends.

How to Hold a SUP Paddle

The first thing you need to know is how to hold the SUP paddle. It might sound silly to practice holding a paddle but the truth is the is the first thing that people do wrong. Practice this on land before you ever get on the SUP board. If you are a righty you will be paddling primarily on the right side of the board.

Your left hand will be the top hand on the SUP paddle and goes right over the top of the handle, not underneath it. When the paddle is oriented vertically, the back of the top hand will be facing upward. The stem of the paddle should be between the four fingers of the top hand. Your right hand should be lower down on the paddle. For the exact width, hold the paddle horizontal out in front of you. Put your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart. This hand should be fairly loose on the paddle shaft. You don’t want to choke it.

Posture on the SUP Board

Every standup paddleboard has a center of balance.

That is the point where the paddler should stand. Just like its easier to balance a bike when its moving, it is also easier to get on the paddleboard when it is moving. If you are able to stand in the water push the board to get it moving and then get onto it on your knees first. Then stand up in the balance point with your feet at about shoulder width apart.

You should stand with a straight back and with a slight bend in the knees. It is common to lean forward while not realizing it.

Catch Phase of the SUP Forward Stroke

Place the paddle in the water toward the tip of the SUP. The face of the blade should be facing toward the rear of the board at the catch phase of the SUP forward stroke. Place the blade all the way in the water up to the throat before transitioning to the power phase of the SUP forward stroke.

Power Phase of the SUP Forward Stroke

Once the blade is in the water the power phase begins. This is the part that people usually do wrong. They pull the paddle blade through the water with their arms which is a great way to get worn out. The proper way to bring the paddle through the water is by rotating the torso. Try keeping the top hand level and moving across the horizon throughout the power phase. This will force you to rotate to bring the paddle along the board rather than pulling your arms. Keep the paddle as close to the board as you can. This will minimize the rotation of the board throughout the stroke.

Recovery Phase of the SUP Forward Stroke

The overall length of the stroke will depend on the length of the board. On shorter boards the stroke should go from tip to hip.

On longer boards the stroke can be extended back further. Begin the recovery phase before the board starts turning. Begin to remove the paddle at the end of the power phase. Then rotate the torso back to the front thereby setting the paddle up for the next stroke on the same side.

Switching Sides during the SUP Forward Stroke

At times It will be necessary to switch the side that you are paddling on, either to help keep the board straight or to when as part of the rhythm of your paddling. To do so, at the end of the recovery phase switch the placement of the hands and rotate over to the other side. Repeat the catch, power, and recovery phases of the stroke on that side until you are ready to switch back.