The Most Important Paddle Boarding Techniques to Learn

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Well now that you have gotten onto the board for a few sessions and got the handle on standing. You may see other people out there with better paddle boarding techniques than you. 

How are they paddling so fast and so consistently? “I could never do that”, you say to yourself. Well, the good news is you can and I’m here to show you how you can improve your stand up paddling technique for the better. In this guide, we’ll help you expend less effort all the while traveling at a faster clip and therefore covering more distance

We will also show you some more advanced maneuvers you can do yourself!

Let’s dig in!

For those who are starting paddle boarding check out our How to Paddle Board Article. 

Paddle Boarding Set-Up Tips

Before you are up and paddling we have to show you the proper technique for holding the paddle and launching the board properly. 

Adjusting the Paddle

There are two ways to go about adjusting your paddle: the “Chaka” Way or the extended arm technique. 

“The Chaka”

  • Place the Blade on the Ground and have the paddle up vertically
  • Next, do a Chaka with your hand and place the pinky finger over your head
  • Adjust the paddle to the height of your thumb

Extended Arm 

  • This is the technique that I usually do. Place the paddle about a foot in front of you
  • Extend your arm and have your wrist and hand horizontal, making it angled so it looks like a stork.
  • Next, adjust the paddle and extend it so that it goes under your palm.

These are two of the most common ways to extend your paddle to the proper length

Launching the Board

Now that your paddle is the correct length let’s launch the board properly! We won’t go too in-depth on this as this article is more about stand up paddle boarding techniques on the water. 

  1. Once you have carried your board by the center handle in knee-deep water you want to find a spot that is free of obstacles in your paddling path like rocks, sunken logs, etc. We want a clear path for your fin to not hit anything
  2. Place both hands on either side of your board to stabilize it and place your knee near the middle of the board.
  3. Next, do a push-off motion and place your other knee on the opposite side of the board. Ideally, your knees should be on either side of the handle. If not shuffle them to that position.

Paddle Boarding Posture Tips

Before we get started there are a few main posture tips you need to have in the back of your mind before working on the different paddle strokes.

Where to Stand On a Paddle Board

standing position
Going from knees to toes!

Unless you are SUP surfing or in a competitive SUP race, or doing and advanced turning maneuver. Your foot placement will be directly parallel to the center handle. This is the neutral point of the board that will allow it to perform optimally. Both feet should be pointing straight or very slightly angled outward depending on what’s comfortable for you. 

Your Stance

Before even putting a paddle in the water you want to be standing straight with your knees bent. This allows your knees to absorb the impact from waves of sudden movements. 

  • Starting off your feet should be just above shoulder width, the same goes for when you are on your knees
  • Keep Your Back Straight
  • Legs sort of loose (this will improve over time) 
  • Look out to the horizon almost always (the exception would be if you are getting something from your deck bag) 

Improving Your Paddle Board Stroke Techniques For the Better

Below are step-by-step methods for improving your SUP stroke doing a bunch of different methods.

Knee Paddling (Beginner/ Intermediate)

If you are not 100% confident in your paddling methods you can always practice the methods on your knees as a starting point for good form. Your hand placements on the paddle will be different but many of the principles to stand up paddling will be the same

Knee Paddling still has its place, even with more experienced paddlers. Paddling on your knees is ideal when your board is in choppy water or worse, you encounter wind. Wind and waves have a tendency to bully inflatable paddle boards so you want the least amount of wind resistance when fighting it. Getting down to your knees makes you more aerodynamic against the wind which will decrease your drag against it and therefore the effort you expend. 

  1. When paddling on your knees you can either adjust the handle to be shorter or keep the length adjusted to standing length. This will depend on how much time you plan on paddling from your knees. For longer periods of time, I recommend adjusting the paddle to its shortest length to get a bit more leverage out of your stroke
  2. When taking the stroke you want the blade to catch in the water at about where the nose bungees are, as close to the rail of the board as possible. Practice different places of entry for the blade to optimize what feels best for you. 
  3. You will then be pulling the paddle blade towards you. Your goal is to have the paddle directly vertical with your hands stacked one above the other making a triangle shape between the paddle and your body. If you have this formation the board will paddle straighter. 
  4. As you are pulling the blade towards you, you want your arms to be extended and locked. From there you will be using your whole body to be pulling the paddle towards you until you get to your knees.

Forward Stroke (Beginner/ Intermediate)

Now that you understand a bit about the fundamentals of the stroke let’s dissect what a good paddle stroke looks like. Before I go on, I should note that not everyone’s paddle stroke will look the same. People are built differently and have different areas of strength in their bodies. 

For someone like me, who hurt their back over a year ago, I don’t want to be too hunched over and I want to keep my back as straight as possible. So in this case I paddle more upright compared to someone who is perhaps shorter in build.”

– Editors Notes

Let’s go through step by step how to optimize that paddle stroke for YOU. Before we go into this take a look at the posture tips again to make sure you have the basics down.

  1. First, you want to focus on your reach. That is the point before the paddle goes into the water. For this, you want to focus on your bigger muscles like your core, hips, shoulders, and legs. Remember we want to make a triangle or “A” formation between our paddle and our body right before the paddle catches the water.
  2. With some of your weight shifted more towards your paddle you want to do a stabbing motion with your arms into the water. This shifts about 30% of the weight away from your board which in turn will create less drag for the SUP. It also allows you to put more power into the stroke, which will make you go quicker. Your full blade should be in the water for maximum power while the paddle is vertical with your hands stacked one ontop of the other.
  3. When doing the stroke you want to pull the paddle back using the combination of your core, hips, shoulders and legs. This takes the pressure off of your arms and allows you to extract more power into your stroke by keeping your arms as straight as possible. Remember to keep your back straight throughout this process while looking ahead to the horizon. 
  4. As you are pulling the paddle towards you, you want the release and transition to be set as soon as your paddle gets near your feet. At that point it’s best to start transitioning the paddle out of the water and setting Up for the next stroke. 
  5. Rinse and Repeat or Switch Sides

Sweep Stroke (Intermediate Skill Level)

The Sweep Stroke is a great way to quickly get your board to turn around in the water. It’s especially handy when timing is of the essence. In both cases, you will be making a “C formation.  To do this:

Forward Sweep Stroke

  1. First Identify which direction you want to turn to and place the full blade of your paddle on that specific side.
  2. You want to place your blade to the front of your board where it’s almost resting against the rail
  3. Once the blade is in the water you will be making a big “C”  arc away from the board until you get just past your feet.

Backward Sweet Stroke

  1. In my experience, I find that the best way to implement the sweep stroke is to get the board moving and place the paddle on the back of the board
  2. Like the front sweep stroke, you will be placing your blade against the rail but this time at the rear of the board
  3.  Make that “C” arc formation away from the board and bring it back to the nose of the board
  4. This will make the board do a reverse turn
  5. I like to use this technique when I need to stop the board suddenly. 

Step Back/ Pivot Turn (Intermediate/ Advanced)

This is one of those turns where the first bunch of times trying it will result in your taking a little swim. But it is a great SUP technique to use when you need to make a sudden turn. For example when you are in a SUP race and you are going around a buoy.

The biggest thing to remember when doing a step back/ pivot turn is to step back as you have your paddle in the water doing the stroke. The paddle acts as the 3rd point of contact which gives you a bit more stability to step back and do the maneuver. 

  1. First, you will want to pivot your foot to touch the handle. If you are paddling to your right, it’s your left foot that pivots, if it’s to your right it’s the left foot. 
  2. On your next paddle stroke, you want to step back your other foot towards the tail on the center of the board.
  3. On the next paddle stroke move further down leading with your foot closest to the tail and then inch back the other foot using small steps
  4. Depending on the length of your board you should be able to do this within a one or two-step adjustment.
  5. As soon as you are at the pivot point of the board (which is usually the middle point of the rear bungees) You want your feet to be just over shoulder width apart.
  6. Your rear foot will be used to plant the rear of the board while the front foot will be used to drop the board back down as soon as you’ve completed as many strokes as you wanted to.
  7. Hold the paddle to the opposite side of your front leg and reach as far forward as possible. From here you will be doing a nice Wide Forward “C” or Sweep Stroke.
  8. While doing this keep your knees bent and stay low.
  9. As soon as you are in the position that you want your board rotated to, use your forward leg to stomp the board down to stop it from turning
  10. You will then be using each paddle stroke (close to the board) to start shuffling your feet back to the parallel position near the center handle. 
  11. Again this may take a few strokes to get the feet back into position. 

Chances are it will take a few times of losing your balance and falling into the water. This is natural for everyone as you are starting to test the balancing limits of the board. Check out the video above for a great detailed description done by SUPBoarder. 

And Now Onto You!

These are just some of the most common techniques to use in paddle boarding. Try them out and let us know how you get on! Videos on this subject matter will be upcoming from us.

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Hey, My name is Derek Lenze and I'm the owner of Inflatable SUP Authority. I've had over 20 years experience with watersports and over 10 years of various paddle boarding experience. My new-found passion is bringing my stand up paddle boaring knowledge in an explainable and actionable way all the while giving you my unbiased takes.

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