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Beginner Paddling Tips: Improving Your Paddle Stroke

Improve Your Paddle Stroke
If you are new to stand up paddleboarding, the first thing you should focus on is improving your paddle stroke. A good paddle stroke will help you maintain a steady and straight course in the water, improve your speed and maneuverability, and even help you feel more stable on a SUP. As you improve your stroke, it will become more natural, and soon you’ll have the experience and confidence you need to paddleboard not just in calm flat water, but in fast moving rivers and even ocean waves alike.

So how do you improve your paddle stroke? Here are our top tips and recommendations for making the changes to your form so you can paddle like a pro:

Quick Tips to Improving Your Paddle Stroke: Preparing to Paddle Properly

Tip #1: Find the proper length and grip:

Most paddles on the market come in two to four pieces, and are adjustable lengths so they can fit any adult paddler height. While it’s great that you can adjust the length of a paddle, most paddles don’t actually include a chart or guide on the shaft to tell you what the proper length is. How long you need your paddle to be will also vary by the type of paddleboard you’re on, and what kind of activity you intend to engage in once you’re in the water. So, before you even get on the water, make sure to put the paddle together and find the appropriate height so you can maintain a proper grip.
As a quick way to setup your paddle, we recommend starting off by adjusting your paddle to be about 6 to 8 inches above your head. Most paddles have a height measurement guide printed on one of the pieces, making it real easy to figure out the perfect height. If your paddle doesn’t have a height guide, a quick way to approximate the right height is to assemble the paddle and stick it up vertically. You will now want to extend the length of the shaft until you can comfortably grab the handle with a straight arm. This will get you within the 6 to 10’’ range, at which point you can make further adjustments once you start to paddle until you feel totally comfortable.
Once you have the proper size, figuring out where to grip it is easy. Hold the paddle above your head, with one hand gripping the handle in a ninety degree or right angle shape. Then, move your other hand down the shaft until it is also in a right angle shape. If you can hold a paddle over your head with both arms forming right angles, you are holding the paddle properly.
It’s not an exact science, and different body shapes and sizes are going to like different lengths fine tuned for their own personal performance. Our best tip when it comes to paddling length is to get out there and start paddling, making adjustments until you feel comfortable and maintain a proper form!

Tip #2: Find the proper place to stand and maintain good posture:

Feet placement Improving Your Paddle Strokes
While it might not seem obvious, where you stand will also have an impact on the overall effectiveness of your paddle stroke. You can have a great stroke, but if you’re too far forward or back you’ll find yourself slower in the water, less stable in calm and chop alike, and have a harder time manuverwing with the board. Unless you have an extra passenger or are surfing, always try to stand in the middle of the paddleboard. Most paddleboards have a center carry handle, so use that as a guide by standing just above the center carry handle or an inch or two in front of it.
Good posture will also impact the effectiveness of your strokes as well. Not only will your strokes be less powerful, causing you to be slower in the water, but you can develop back pain and other aches with poor form and posture. When you’re standing on a paddleboard, space your feet equally apart so that they match the length of your shoulders, with your feet turned about 15 to 20 degrees away from each other. Keep your back straight at all times, but bend your knees a little bit, to the point that you can just see your toes if you look down. When paddling, make sure you’re always looking forward and that you keep your head up, as your SUP will want to go where your eyes look.
This might seem like alot to keep track of, and it can feel overwhelming the first couple times you go out. After a couple trips though, you’ll be doing it all without even thinking about it, and will be able to get a good full body workout in with the proper posture while maximizing the effectiveness of your strokes.

Tip #3: Always make sure your Paddle is facing the right way:

This is our last quick tip, which we’ve saved for last because it is among the most common mistakes made by first time paddlers. The vast majority of paddles have a teardrop shape, with the paddle blade angling away from the shaft. Make sure that the blade angles away from you and towards the nose of the board. While you can still paddle by holding it the other way, you won’t be anywhere near as effective if the teardrop is angled towards you. If you need something to help you visualize if you’re holding it right or wrong, we recommend putting a sticker on the back of the paddle blade. That way, if you’re paddling and you see the sticker, you’ll know to reverse the paddle immediately since you shouldn’t ever see it when you’re in the water.
These are our top recommendations when it comes to the paddle itself, but you’re probably also wondering how to perform a stroke properly. Reverse strokes, side strokes, step-back turns, and many other techniques are important to know, but we’ll discuss those in another article. Instead, we’re going to break down the forward stroke, the most common and important stroke in your arsenal when you’re paddleboarding. Once you have this stroke down, you’ll be able to make use of the full potential of your SUP, able to navigate the water with ease and win any race against your friends.

How to Improve Your Paddle Stroke: The Forward Stroke Technique

Step 1: Planting the Paddle:

While maintaining good posture by keeping your back straight and your knees bent, plant the paddle blade into the water until the blade is completely submerged. The more that the blade is submerged, the more powerful your stroke will be, though avoid planting too much of the shaft in as it will both waste your energy and can make you feel tipsy. Another important thing to remember when you plant your paddle is to keep your arms straight and perpendicular with each other. The less perpendicular your arms are, the less powerful your strokes will be, and the more you’ll veer off course as you perform the next two steps. If your paddle is straight in the water, with your handles and hands all lined up with each other, then you have planted your paddle correctly.

A good example of a proper paddle plant is demonstrated below.
SUP Board Reviews Gili Air

Step 2: Pulling with the Paddle:

With your paddle blade fully submerged, you now want to pull back on the paddle to perform the main stage of the stroke. Keep your arms straight and away from your body, moving the paddle by rotating your shoulders and flexing the core and back muscles. As you’ll already be leaning forward, you’ll want to straighten out your back as you pull with the paddle, which will further help you rely on your core instead of your arms. Pulling with just your arms will tire you out quicker than using your body, and will also result in a stroke that is only a fraction of the power that a full body stroke has behind it. Here is an example of how you should look mid paddle.
SUP Board Guide Gili Adventure
Moving with your core instead of your arms is tricky for many beginner paddlers, and can be especially difficult if you’re in less than pristine water. Fortunately, there is an exercise you can perform on land without standing on a paddleboard or even needing to get out a paddle. Extend your arms above you as if you were gripping a paddle, and then bring them to your side with one hand above the other. Pretend you are paddling, always making sure that you aren’t altering the shape of your arms and instead are moving by adjusting your hips, back, and core. If you do this for several minutes and find your core burning instead of your arms getting tired, you know you’re doing it right. While this isn’t a perfect replication of the paddling technique, it will form a great base that you can adjust once you’re in the water. Just a few minutes practicing this movement a day will help you learn how to properly paddle much faster than doing nothing at all.

Step 3: Retrieving and Resetting the Paddle:

While you’ll normally want to keep your eyes focused on the horizon, use your feet as a good indicator of when to lift your paddle from the water while you’re perfecting your stroke. If you lift before your feet, you won’t be making use of the full momentum of your paddle stroke. If you lift too late you’ll be wasting energy as you lift the paddle.
Once you lift the paddle, quickly swing your hips forward and plant the paddle again. You’ll want to lift the paddle high enough that you’re completely out of the water, but low enough that you’re not fighting the air or wasting energy planting the paddle again. A good visual indicator is that your paddle should never be higher than your knees, and if they are you need to lean forward a bit more so you aren’t lifting as high.

Conclusion: Practice, practice, practice!

There’s alot to keep track of when it comes to perfecting your paddle stroke, and the truth is that your stroke is never going to be 100% perfect. You might be feeling off that day, you might get sore and tired from paddling, or maybe the wind and chop will be throwing your technique off. Even so, while it might not be absolutely perfect every time, having a great stroke that is almost perfect will improve your paddleboarding performance and experience compared to just settling for a subpar stroke. So, remember these tips, keep practicing the proper stroke form until it feels automatic, and soon enough you’ll be able to keep up even with the pros!
Thank you so much for reading! If you have any questions about paddling technique or about paddleboards in general, we welcome you to leave a comment below or to send us an email with your thoughts. We love to talk paddleboards, and are more than happy to help you not only have a better experience, but to find the perfect paddleboard that fits your needs.

Otherwise, remember the most important tip of all: have fun SUPing!

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Heyo! At we are a team who love the water, the outdoors, and are more than grateful that our full-time job allows us to review stand up paddle boards. We paddle year round (it helps that we are just about 2 hours outside of Las Vegas), and we bring in a wide range of paddlers with the goal of providing our readers with the best, most in-depth, and accurate stand up paddle board reviews.

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