Five Fundamentals of Building a Powerful SUP Stroke

Steeve blurring ahead of the competition.
Damien Girault strokes seamlessly toward the head of the pack in Tahiti. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Standing up and paddling are, in equal part, two fundamental skills of SUP.  Once you’ve got the former down, perfecting the latter is the primary goal. Whether entering an elite race or simply parting from the dock for a leisurely outing, a solid stroke will undoubtedly improve the overall experience. Use these fundamental phases of proper stroke technique to fine-tune your paddling to perfection.

The in-form stance of Mo Frietas on fine display. Photo: Johann Meya (808 Photo)

Stance: A good stance is all about staying loose. From your shoulders down, your whole body should act like as spring. Keep your feet parallel (if not slightly staggered for fore-aft balance support) and hip-width apart with your knees slightly bent. Your legs are your shock absorbers for current and bump in the water, so keep them nimble and not stiff. Find your comfort zone and sink into it.

The reach-to-catch in action. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Reach: Twisting your shoulders slightly to activate your core and extend your reach, hinge at the hips and place the blade next to your board as far in front of your toes as your straightened lower arm is comfortable extending. Use your top hand as a guide while using your lower hand as a hook to place and pull on your paddle. Be sure and keep the elbow of your top arm close to your head to avoid shoulder stress and keep your lower arm relatively straight to maximize power.

Catch: After reaching as far forward as possible, place the blade smoothly (think no splash) next to your board. The perfect catch should barely ripple the water and leave no trace of splash or bubbles.

Initiate the power phase of your stroke by hinging at the waist, twisting at the core and using your major core/back muscles to pull yourself to the paddle. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Power: The power phase of your stroke starts where you plant your paddle. Pull smoothly through the water, activating your trapezius and oblique muscles as the primary force for the pull. Bend at the waist to reach as far as possible for your catch, then sink the blade fully and pull the board to the blade with the stroke ending at your feet, and no farther. If you pull past your feet it’s wasted energy that will actually slow the board down. Picture it as though your paddle is the pole of a street sign and your goal is to pull your body to it, i.e. pulling yourself through the water and the blade stays stationary.

SUP Magazine digital editor Mike Misselwitz in recovery mode. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Recovery: Once the blade gets to your feet, start your recovery. Release the blade from the water and feather it by turning it to cut through the air with less resistance. Do this by dropping the shoulder of your top arm and twisting the power face of the blade away from the rail, that smoothing out the release and helping the paddle move aerodynamically back to the catch. Remember to extend your reach. There is no rush. You’re not racing so take your time and dial in your stroke. And we probably don’t need to remind you: have fun.

More stroke technique pointers.

The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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