Beginners guide to improving your SUP paddling

How to paddle your SUP - 1First time on a Stand up paddle board?

Great feeling.  Great time!  So many folks are amazed at how hard it is to even stand up and maintain balance.    A mixture of frustration and elation!

I was out today and met a first time paddler.  He boasted how good he was going, and how he'd SUP'd up and down the beach 8 times.   Sure was impressive - it was a fair distance, and he looked a very fit bloke as well.

Beginners have so much energy for a new sport that it's easy to invest many hours at the start enjoying the buzz.  But what a waste of energy if you're putting all that effort into practising the wrong thing!

Read on about a few mistakes that other newbies are making (probably not you though...  ;-)

Not using your legs.

First time paddlers tend to lean forward at the waist, and use their arms like they're stirring a big bowl of soup.  Completely neglecting the bigger muscle groups - back, core & legs.

Gripping the paddle with arms too close together

You get no leverage this way, and usually a symptom that you're using your arms, and again .. not your powerful back, core & legs.

Looking at the board

Looking down at their feet the whole time, it's surprising they don't beach themselves.  Your body follows where you look.

Not putting the paddle in the water

Only putting half the paddle in the water, and splashing water everywhere when stroking?!

How to paddle your SUP - 2Paddle not entering the water forward enough, and remaining in the water way past your feet

Doing this, you're missing out on the most powerful part of the stroke, and paddling past your feet is counter-productive and energy sapping.

The solutions...

As Mr Myogi said in Karate Kid, "First come balance.  Then everything else follow".   

Some suggestions to fix your stance, and fix your stroke.  The benefits you will soon reap are stability and a powerful stroke for less effort.

Some fundamentals first:

The power source:

Here's a tip - it's not your arms.  Sure, it looks like paddlers use their arms, but the arms are simply the "structure" or "levers" that allow you to engage your (soon to be) powerful back, core and legs - muscles that are much stronger than your arms.  Stand Up Paddle is a full body experience.    Straighten your arms, bend your knees, twist your core and engage your back.  

The power stroke:

Once the paddle passes your feet, you're essentially "shovelling water".  The paddle is in an upward arc and you're driving the board down into the water - not very productive.  The most power is attained by having a long forward reach, and finishing the stroke not far past your feet.

How to paddle your SUP - 3To help you identify the feel of all these, try these "Take it to the rediculous" tests.

Hand:  One hand on the handle, other hand just 5cm below it and paddle.  Almost impossible.  Now begin to  inch your lower hand down the paddle until you find the sweet spot.   Remembering to use your whole body to drive the paddle, straighten those arms, and use your back, core and legs.     Visualise the paddle as "see-saw".  Your lower arm is the central pivot point, your upper arm pushes, and the rest of your body rotates & pulls the paddle through.

Legs and Torso:  If you're like most beginners, you've probably got straight legs and bent forward at the waist.   Straighten up a little, and bend those knees.   Go stupid and squat low and paddle.   Keep squatting at different heights to feel the effect it has on your balance and paddle power output.

At first it may seem a bit like learning to play drums where there so much going on.  So, slow the whole paddle action right down.  Feel every muscle involved.  Feel the "bang for buck" you get as your try different things - legs, core, back, head and arms.

If you're new to paddling, you can make rapid progress.   In the early days, you simply may not have the muscles available to get a powerful fluid stroke, but I can assure you that after a week, your muscles will respond and they will already be growing, making more and more power available each session (if you eat right.. but that's another article :-)

You know you're making great progress the day you paddle hard, and paddle yourself right of the front of the board!

Just remember that Rome wasn't built in a day, but using a few of these tips, and watching some of the Stand Up Paddle videos here on, you can make sure that your precious time and energy is not wasted practising the wrong things.

Main thing, enjoy yourself - and if you're SUPing out in a surf break, please keep clear of surfers/bodyboarders.  A wave can easily wash you and your SUP through other water users and hurt them/damage their gear.  Keep clear & keep safe.