March 19, 2021 10 min read

Improving Your Paddle Boarding Technique Today

There is always room for improvement when it comes to paddle boarding techniques. You may be holding yourself back without even realizing it! Perhaps your paddle stroke needs fine tuning or your overall stance needs improvement. 

Lucky for you, these are easy fixes that can help fire up your paddle board technique practically overnight.

Whether you are a beginner or a more experienced paddler, you could be making one of these common mistakes. Develop and enhance the way you paddle to heighten your stand up paddle boarding experience. Who knows where your adventure will take you next.

Why Improve Your Stand Up Paddle Board Techniques

why improve your stand up paddle board technique

We should always be looking for how we can improve ourselves in all walks of life, and paddle boarding is no exception.

There are five key areas that most paddle boarders need to look at to improve their technique and performance:

By focusing on your techniques and improving your stance, body position, and paddle stroke, your overall performance will benefit and excel. You will get more out of your paddling session, increase your exercise and fitness regime, and ultimately have more fun.

Perfect Your Stance

Perfect your stance to improve paddle board technique

First up, let’s start from the feet up and take a look at your stance — this means how you are standing on the paddle board. 

Foot position and how you stand affects the balance and stability while you paddle. As a beginner paddle boarder, these are the two key areas to nail so you can exceed.

Correct SUP foot position

Imagine there is a line running from the nose to the tail of the SUP. You need to keep your weight balanced over this line by having your feet parallel on either side. 

A common mistake is to be too far forward or too far back. The middle point of the board gives maximum stability. Standing here will allow you to glide effortlessly and efficiently across the water without having any drag.

As you progress your paddle boarding skills, you will be able to test out other foot positions for faster turns or stops. SUP Surfing requires adjustments to the feet to carve the face of the wave and perform maneuvers.  

If you are cruising with a passenger on board, then you will need to distribute the overall weight across the SUP. This will mean you need to stand further back with your partner more towards the nose.

Expert tips for proper foot placement on a SUP: 

  • If you are a newbie to the SUP world, run a line of tape down the center of the board to remind you where to keep your feet.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • The middle of the board is generally at the carry handle.
  • Keep your feet parallel or angled slightly away from each other.
  • Focus on distributing your weight evenly across your feet and grounding down.
  • Don’t grip with your toes — this won’t help you balance!

Keep your knees bent

Not strictly about your feet, but it’s all connected! Keep your knees bent slightly. This will cushion any movements of the water and oncoming waves if you are out in the ocean. 

With your knees slightly bent and feet shoulder width apart, there is no stopping you from achieving excellent balance and stability out on your SUP.

Perfect Posture

perfect posture to improve paddle boarding technique

Moving on to the body as a whole — posture. How you stand and hold your shoulders, spine, and hips makes the world of difference to your paddle technique. 

Perfecting your posture is a quick and easy way to tune your paddle boarding, taking it to the next level.

5 points of body posture for SUP

Just how we keep our weight central horizontally across the board, we need to keep our body straight and aligned vertically. There are five points of the body that you should check on throughout your session:

  • Feet - shoulder-width apart and parallel over the centerline.
  • Knees - slightly bent and softly supporting your legs.
  • Hips - square and facing forward (unless you are surfing).
  • Arms - relaxed yet powerful (more on this in the paddle stroke breakdown).
  • Shoulders - relaxed and held back, keeping your back straight.

Doing a systems check on your body regularly is a great habit to get into, even the pros do it! Keep your back straight with everything aligned to squeeze out the maximum amount of power from your paddling. 

Engaging your core

Engaging your core is a common phrase used in SUP yoga, on the land and the water. Bring this practice into your paddle board technique. 

When you keep your back straight, it’s important to engage those abdominal muscles to support your body and make your paddle stroke stronger. You will be able to maintain a higher stamina level and become a better paddler in doing so.

Expert tips for correct SUP posture:

  • Keep your back straight.
  • Look out the horizon and keep your head up.
  • Engage your core muscles.
  • Keep your knees slightly bent, so you can just see your toes if you look down.
  • Pull your knees out when paddling (don’t let them fall in).

Correct SUP Equipment

Correct posture improves paddle boarding technique

Of course, your SUP equipment is crucial to being successful at paddle boarding. After all, you can’t cruise across the water without a board! 

Whatever type of board you have, inflatable SUP or hard, all-around SUP or a touring SUP, there is one thing that remains constant — the paddle.

Measuring up your SUP paddle correctly and how you hold the paddle can be one of the fastest ways to improve your technique.

How to size your SUP paddle correctly

Sizing your SUP paddle is a necessary step to successful paddle boarding. A SUP paddle needs to take into account the rider’s height, arm length, and the thickness of the board (how high it sits out of the water). Having a poorly sized SUP paddle can be uncomfortable, be inefficient, and even cause injury. 

Generally, the best SUP paddle length is 8 to 12 inches taller than the rider. Adjustable paddles are perfect for beginners, giving you a chance to find the best length for you. You can double check this by using the hands up method before you hit the water:

  1. Stand next to the paddle with the blade gently resting on the ground.
  2. Reach your hand overhead and measure against the paddle.
  3. The grip needs to be level to the bend of the wrist. Adjust your paddle in relation to where your arm measured to.

If you are SUP Surfing, you’ll need a slightly shorter paddle as your posture will be lower and more compressed to the board. However, if you are SUP Racing, then you’ll want a longer paddle to have a larger reach. 

How to hold your SUP paddle correctly

Now you have a correctly sized SUP paddle, focus on how you hold it. If you are holding your paddle wrong, you will experience fatigue across your arms, shoulders, and back.

To begin with, your paddle blade needs to be facing away from you to have the most efficient and powerful stroke pulling through the water. 

Always hold your paddle with one hand on the grip at the top, and the other hand on the center of the shaft.

Expert tips for SUP paddles:

  • Check your hand placement by lifting your paddle overhead. Your elbows should bend at 90 degrees, keeping your shoulders down, with your arms in a goal post position.
  • Always keep the blade facing away from you when paddling. 
  • Adjust your paddle to fit with your height.
  • Regularly swap the side you paddle on.

PFD’s and paddle board clothing

What you choose to wear while paddle boarding can affect your movements and technique. Make sure you aren’t being restricted by your clothing!

Equally, you should be wearing a life jacket to keep within USCG regulations. Ensure the PFD fits you properly, again, not restricting your reach or movements.

Paddle Stroke Breakdown

Paddle boarding stroke breakdown

Here’s how to paddle like a pro! The paddle stroke is what separates hobby-paddlers and the experts. Unlike stance and posture, this takes time and practice to perfect. But don’t worry — you’ll get there! 

The paddle stroke is the major aspect of your paddle board technique and requires breaking down into four steps.

Step 1: Reach and Dip

With the paddle blade facing away from you and keeping your back straight, reach forward and dip the paddle in the water. Hinge from your hips and lean forward to get a further reach. You need to aim as far as the nose of your stand up paddle board to get maximum reach and power. 

With the dip, you need to submerge the whole blade into the water and try to keep the shaft perpendicular to the surface and the SUP rail. This will give you the most amount of force in your stroke. A perfect stroke will produce minimal splash.

Step 2: Power Strokes

Next, is all about power. With your top hand gripping the top of the paddle and your other hand on the center of the shaft, pull the paddle through the water with power and force. To increase your strength, engage your core muscles.

Try to keep your arms straight and rotate from your shoulders and core as you pull the paddle towards your body. Pro riders will tell you that the core is the driving force behind each paddle, not the arms. 

Step 3: Exit and Release

You want to end your stroke level to your feet. This will ensure you don’t decelerate while paddling. Lift your paddle efficiently by lowering your upper hand, avoid twisting the shaft. The exit should come naturally to your arm movement in a seamless stroke.

Step 4: Recovery and Transition

In between strokes is a time for your muscles to recover, albeit for seconds, before the next power paddle. Allow your shoulders to relax as you swing to paddle forward for another reach and dip.

In this transition, remember to keep a slight bend in your knees and your core engaged. This will allow you to maintain a strong paddle stroke technique.

Types of paddle strokes

As you improve your paddle boarding skills, you will begin to play around with different types of paddle strokes. There are three main ones you should be aware of:

  • Forward Stroke - this is the basic type of stroke to get you moving forward, the breakdown is outlined above. 
  • Reverse Stroke - essentially the forward stroke just in reverse. This is used to slow down, stopping, or turning.
  • Sweep Stroke - change direction and turn your board while moving or stationary.

SUP Turning Techniques For All Experience Levels

Turning SUP breakdown

Similar to paddle stroke technique, SUP turning takes practice. Beginners or experienced paddle boarders can always improve their turning techniques. This will help preserve your energy and allow you to keep paddling for longer.

Forward sweep stroke - Beginner

A forward sweep stroke is the easiest way to turn a paddle board. It’s similar to the paddle stroke used to propel the stand up paddle board forward. This is the first technique you should learn to get you started:

  • To turn left, you need to have the paddle on the right side
  • Keep your feet wide and knees slightly bent
  • Reach the paddle forward and submerge the blade into the water
  • Sweep the paddle around in a circular motion (instead of straight back) in a wide-arching movement, as if you are drawing half a circle in the water towards the tail of the SUP

This is a slow but stable way to change direction. The forward sweep stroke can be performed stationary or while on the move.

Crossbow turning - Intermediate

The crossbow technique is used for faster turns. You need to be comfortable and stable on your SUP, as it requires you to shift your weight forward and across slightly:

  • To turn left, begin with your paddle on the left side
  • Twist your body to the left and place your paddle blade in the water on the left side of the SUP toward the nose
  • Bend your knees and get a lower stance for better balance
  • Sweep your paddle in an arching sweep to the tail on the right side

You will feel your board quickly snip around. Again, this can be performed stationary or while traveling forward.  

Step back turn or pivot turn - Advanced

SUP racing requires speed and agility to get a fast snap around a buoy. Advanced paddle boarders will want to master the step back or pivot turn:

  • Set up your turn by keeping your paddle out of the water
  • Shift your weight back on to the tail of the paddle board to raise the nose up. As you progress you can even take a step back for an even tighter turn
  • Try to keep your front foot close to the center of the paddle board
  • Use a sweep paddle stroke to turn left or right

This is a developed technique built on beginner turning methods. By raising the nose of the stand up paddle board you are reducing the surface area and drag in the water.

Wrapping Up: Expert Tips to Improve Your SUP Technique

Take these expert tips and see where you can improve your technique and efficiency while on your paddle board. Remember to always use a leash and keep safety on your mind. If you feel unbalanced, simply put your paddle blade into the water to increase your stability. 

Keeping a low stance is always recommended for beginners. It’s not all about speed. Focus on nailing your form and getting the correct technique to become a better paddle boarder. 

You’ll be paddling like a pro in no time.


🏆 How can I improve my paddle boarding?

Do regular checks on your posture and stance to improve your stability in paddle boarding. Breakdown your paddle stroke into a catch phase, power phase, and exit phase. Remember to take it one step at a time — the small elements of a technique will all add up to improve your paddle boarding overall.

👍 How do you paddle board like a pro?

A top pro tip is to use your core. Engaging your abdominal muscles will give you more power and strength in each stroke. The stronger you paddle, the better your balance will be. Start to paddle like a pro and you will quickly notice a difference in your sessions.

🏝️ How can the SUP stroke technique help me?

Incorrect SUP stroke technique can result in fatigue and even injury. Breaking down your paddle technique into parts allows you to focus on your form rather than speed. Nail the form and the speed will come.

Remember to keep your knees slightly bent, back straight, and core engaged. Always have the blade facing away from you to avoid hitting your shins and to maximize efficiency.

❓ Does paddle boarding build muscle?

Paddle boarding does wonders for your core! Forget the gym, grab a SUP and hit the water for a full body workout. You’ll be amazed at how toned you can get with regular sessions.

📦 How do you get in shape for paddle boarding?

The best way to get fit and in shape for paddle boarding is to get out paddling. Practice makes perfect. The best thing about using a SUP to get in shape is that it’s super fun and you are outdoors.

📦 Can You Start Off On Your knees First To Master The Balance Technique?

Beginners often find balancing on the paddle board to be a hard thing to grasp at first. It’s ok to start off on your knees while you get to grips with how the board moves in the water. We all have to start somewhere!

Abi Leach
Abi Leach

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