Paddling Techniques For Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Arguably the best parts of the SUP sport is the variety, integrity, and agency. No matter what SUP style is your favorite, you're guaranteed a great full body workout. We'll go through every kind of SUP discipline and how to paddle the best for your sport.
One of the many positive things about SUP as a form of exercise is the comprehensive, full body nature of the workouts. Whether your favorite discipline is surfing, yoga, fishing, kayaking or straight-up SUP, all you need is your Glide paddle board, a paddle and a bit of gear to get you’re off to the races.
First, we need to address the paddle in the room.
So much attention is paid to the SUP board and yet the vitally important paddle is typically nothing more than an afterthought. Is your paddle too heavy? Is it adjustable? Is it ergonomically designed?
The quality of your SUP excursion has a great deal to do with not only your paddle board but your paddle as well.
Naturally, we’re biased in favor of our Glide paddle for some important reasons we want you to know about:
1. Our paddles are lightweight. The difference between a 100% carbon paddle and a heavy old-fashioned model is anything but subtle. Our SUP paddle weighs a mere 17 ounces. Compare that to a 2+ pound fiberglass paddle!
2. Our paddles adjust. If you’re tall, you need a long paddle. If you’re short, you need a shorter paddle. Seems obvious. Your favorite SUP discipline will also dictate your paddle length. Glide paddles adjust from 72” to 86”, and fold down to just 35” for easy breezy storage.
3. Our paddles float. Most paddles sink, enough said.
4. Our paddle blades are made for SUP. Glide SUP paddles are engineered specifically for SUP….at just right for stand up paddle boarding (or kayaking). Again, this attention to engineering matters as you’ll soon see.
Now that you understand what matters most when choosing a SUP paddle, let’s talk about how to use it.
Your paddle technique will vary based on your SUP activity. So we’re going to break it down by activity. If you favor one SUP activity over another, you may want to cut to the chase and skip to your sport.
TRADITIONAL SUP PADDLING TECHNIQUE
Whatever your SUP sport of choice, you’re going to need to paddle out into the water. For paddling out and for straight-up SUP (traditional SUP), there’s a right way and a wrong way to paddle.
The right way gets you where you’re going with relative ease and works symbiotically with the native glide/tracking built into a quality SUP board. The wrong way looks and feels wrong.
First, you’ll notice that your paddle blade is scooped/angled, not unlike an ice cream paddle. You might be tempted to place your paddle scoop side backward as if to scoop your way through the water. That’s the wrong way to paddle.
Instead, hold your paddle with the scooped side facing forward. To be clear, the Glide logo on the blade and shaft should be facing front of your board. This way, the back edge of the blade will do the hard work of pushing the water back as your board glides forward.
Next, adjust your paddle to your ideal height. What works for one SUPer might not work for another. A general guide is to test your paddle one foot longer than your height.
Like anything else it will take some practice to get the right feel. If it feels like hard work to glide through the water, you will be well served to adjust your paddle to a shorter length. If it feels like you’re not able to stand up fully, think about adjusting your paddle slightly longer.
Practice makes perfect.
SUP SURFING PADDLING TECHNIQUE
If you’re into SUP surfing, you will use your paddle differently than you do with traditional SUP.
With SUP surfing, you, your board and your paddle will adjust with the surf to control your speed and direction.
For SUP surfing, many surfers prefer their paddle adjusted to a longer length than straight-up SUP. This is because a longer length improves the surfer’s ability to remain standing as high as necessary to see through the water while paddling.
Most experts agree that the ideal paddle length for SUP surfing is about a foot longer than the surfer’s height.
The key to catching a wave on a SUP is first being in the right position, and second committing to the wave you select. When waiting for waves, it's best to line up parallel to the incoming sets, in a stance with your toes facing out towards the ocean and your paddle on the toe side of the paddle board. When you see the wave you want, you can then easily turn 90 degrees so that you're perpendicular to the oncoming wave. When the wave gets close, take some smooth but solid forward strokes on your SUP board to get up to speed. If you timed it right, after about four or five strokes, the waves should reach you and start to pick up the tail of your board. At this point, it's crucial that you lean forward to get established on the face of the wave, and then once you're sure you caught the wave, you'll step back and turn your feet into a full surf stance.
When SUP surfing, it’s ideal to keep your board going at 90 degrees over the waves. Doing this requires alternating strokes with your paddle -- a few strokes on the right, then a few strokes on the left, repeat -- keeping your board pointed where you want to go and at the right angle to get there.
You may find as you alternate sides, that you might want to adjust your hand position up or down on the paddle to maintain control. As you do this, think about always keeping the paddle blade perpendicular to the water.
By the way, did you know stand up paddle boarding got its start in the surf culture? We love the history of SUP as much as we love the sport itself.
SUP KAYAKING PADDLING TECHNIQUE
SUP kayaking is trending big-time. There are many reasons for this. For one, SUP kayaking can take you places you can’t go with traditional SUP. Think about swampy waterways with a low-hanging canopy, or rocky river rapids where you definitely want to be seated.
And for another, SUP kayaking gives you some relief from standing when you want it or, in the case of injury or recovery, when you need it.
The first and most obvious thing to know with SUP kayaking is that the paddle has blades at both ends as opposed to the single blade SUP layout. The good news is you don’t need to buy a new paddle. Simply to replace your SUP paddle’s t-bar with the second blade. Glide paddles can be easily converted so will not need to buy a separate kayaking paddle which can be quite pricey.
You’ll notice that once the second blade is attached, it will not face in the same direction as the original blade. This is not a mistake. It’s called “blade feathering” and it serves the purpose of allowing you to steer your board and control your speed.
The next thing you’ll notice is that you’ll use your paddle completely differently than you do with SUP paddling. If you’re an experienced kayaker, you know how to do it, though you’ll find the on-water movement of your inflatable stand up paddle board slightly different from the in-water movement of a traditional kayak.
To paddle correctly, use your strong hand to control the angle of your blade by turning it forward or back, and your other hand to loosely hold the paddle steady. We love the simple kayaking tutorial here. Click the blue arrows next to the text instructions to zoom the cartoon accordingly.
We also have more guidance on how to improve your paddle strokes here.