An Introduction to Stand Up Paddleboard Technique
Stand Up Paddleboarding is taking off in all corners of the world for several reasons: it is relatively easy for just about everybody, it is pretty unintimidating, you don’t need waves, you don’t need wind and it is great for fitness! It’s the perfect complement to windsurfing, kiteboarding and surfing, which is why so many people are adding it to their list of water sports.
Even though it’s easy to get on a board and go, good technique allows you to paddle longer, faster and have way more fun! Here are some tips for getting started.
SUP boards are surprisingly light and easy to carry with a convenient handle. Keep the board on the downwind side of you, and also help stabilize it with the hand that’s holding your paddle.
1) Wade out into knee-deep water and ease your way onto the board on your knees. Place your paddle across the board well in front of the carrying handle.
2) Stand up and place your feet on each side of the carrying handle, which is generally the balance point of most boards.
3) Bend your knees slightly and hold your paddle so that the angle of the blade is pointing forward.
Proper Forward Stroke Technique
The Reach: A good long reach is the foundation for an efficient and powerful forward stroke. The lower arm is straight and the lower shoulder and hip are rotated forward, knees and back are slightly bent, and the upper arm is also slightly bent with the upper hand over your forehead. This position allows you to achieve a nice long reach, setting up a great stroke.
The Catch: The catch is the act of plunging the blade into the water and is the beginning of the power phase. At the catch, try to plunge the entire blade into the water, creating maximum power right from the start. The upper body “collapses onto the blade”, with the upper arm straightening to push the handle forward, adding power to the blade. The lower arm stays straight. Engage your core as you exhale, protecting your lower back.
The Power Phase: The power phase should be short and smooth, with relatively little effort from any single muscle group. The key is to get your whole body working in sync with a compact, efficient motion. Here’s what’s happening in this image: the hips and shoulder that were rotated forward are now rotating back, adding power and allowing the lower arm to stay straight. The lower arm is drawing the blade backwards, allowing the board to glide by it (the blade travels only a few inches in each stroke, but the board moves 10’+). The upper arm continues to drive the paddle handle forward, also adding power.
The Release: When the blade reaches your feet, lift it out of the water with your lower hand, while you lower the top hand and move it away from the paddling side. The Power phase is over.
The Recovery: This phase is key to an efficient stroke. As the blade is pulled from the water, twist the paddle as if you are opening a door handle by turning your thumb forward, “feathering” the blade so it can move forward through the air with little resistance. The body has becomes more upright, as the hips and shoulders once again begin to rotate towards the blade and follow it as it moves forward. Both arms stay straight, and the upper arm stays high and swings slightly outward to allow the blade to be drawn forward again.
Those are the keys to an efficient and powerful stroke: A nice long reach, a deep and powerful catch, a smooth and short power phase using your entire body, a quick release and a fluid recovery with minimal motion.
Turning the Board
Now you have a nice forward stroke, but at some point you’ll need to turn around. Here are some basic turns.
Bow Sweep: With your legs bent low, point the blade at the bow of the board and draw it backwards, scribing a nice wide arc with the blade from tip to tail.
Cross Bow Sweep: From the same preparation position as the Bow Sweep, rotate your upper body across the board and begin to sweep towards the bow, then lift the blade over the bow and continue to sweep back to the stern.
Pivot Turn: From a surf stance (with one foot behind the other) and both feet well back towards the tail of the board, use the sweep stroke to turn the board towards your backside. With your weight back, the front of the board is lifted out of the water and is free to turn quickly. As you complete the turn, move quickly back to your forward stroke position.
Upwind Paddling Technique
Here in the Columbia River Gorge, many of us paddle in all conditions from calm and glassy to windy and bumpy. We’ve developed techniques, which allow us to be able to paddle successfully into strong headwinds and crosswinds, and are great for a killer workout!
The key is to choke down on the shaft and STAY LOW! A short, compact stroke is what many of us have found to be the most efficient when to working our way into a stiff 20+ mph headwind. Here are the images that demonstrate our Upwind Reach, Catch, Power, and Recovery.
Now that you have the basics to paddle efficiently in a range of conditions, get out there, get fit and have fun!
See you on the water!