3 Tips on How to Paddle Board in Choppy Water

Paddle boarding is a sport in which a person lays, kneels, or stands on a paddleboard and paddles with his or her hands or a paddling tool. It is a popular water sport that is a variant of surfing and can be enjoyed by nearly everyone because of the different forms of paddle boarding that are available.

When it comes to paddle boarding in choppy or rough water, you have to take precautions. Three tips on how to paddle board in choppy water are:

  1. Perfect Your Paddling Technique.
  2. Learn Proper Bracing.
  3. Know Correct Foot Placement.

You can control many things about your paddle boarding experience, but you cannot control how water will behave. Being prepared to handle choppy water is important for your safety while paddle boarding.

Perfect Your Paddling Technique.

The first thing you must master in order to paddle board in rough waters is your paddling technique. Since there are three different kinds of paddle boarding, there are also a couple of different paddling techniques.

If you lay down on your paddle board, you will paddle with your arms. However, if you have hit choppy water, chances are you have risen up to a kneeling or standing position. (If you haven’t, then you should have.) In these positions, you will use SUP, or Stand Up Paddle boarding, paddles to move your board.

There are five phases to a proper SUP paddle stroke.

  1. The Reach – This is the part of your paddle stroke that you extend your paddle forward with your arm for placement into the water. For this phase, it is recommended to twist your shoulders a bit, lean forward toward the tip of the paddleboard, and keep your back straight while bending the knee closest to your paddle. This will keep your body in a position to land your reach safely.
  2. The Catch – For this phase, you will be placing your paddle into the water. Once you have reached as far forward as you can safely manage, place the paddle into the water until the paddle is fully submerged. The focus during your catch should be to make as little splash as possible to decrease any possible resistance.
  3. Power – This phase focuses on sending the paddleboard forward and speed. It’s also the phase where good stroke technique is most important – the better your technique, the faster you can paddle. Once you’ve submerged your paddle, ready your arms to be the primary pull force and keep your lower arm straight and the paddle shaft upright. Then, you will pull your body toward the paddle and end the stroke right when it reaches your feet. (Be careful to not go past your feet because it can cause you to slow down your strokes and your speed.) Make sure to hold your paddle as steady as you can.
  4. Release – In this phase, you will be pulling your SUP paddle up from the water. When the paddle reaches your feet, drop your upper hand down and pull inward while keeping the paddle as vertical as you can. Avoid twisting the paddle or catching water with it as you pull it out of the water.
  5. Recovery – Recovery is the phase that takes you from release back to the reach. It is the space between strokes. For the best recovery, you will twist your wrists inward and turn the shaft of the paddle 90 degrees.

Make sure to give your muscles a break and relax them as you move into the reach phase. A light paddle is recommended for quick paddling that won’t strain your muscles. For this phase, make sure to focus on technique over speed.

These tips will help you learn how to properly paddle from a kneeling and standing paddle boarding position. When you hit choppy water, knowing the steps to proper paddling technique can help you focus your mind on staying afloat and moving forward to get out of the rough water as soon as possible.

Red Paddle Co On learning to paddle.

Learn Proper Bracing.

When you are participating in standing paddle boarding, you have to learn how to brace your body in the case of rough waters. Bracing helps to hold your body on your board to prevent falling off when you are facing choppy water.

There are two types of SUP braces: low brace and high brace.

  • Low bracing requires you to use to non-power face of your paddle. Place this face of the paddle down to the side of your board and slap the water with your paddle. This can stabilize your board and your body.
  • High bracing requires you to use the non-power side of the of your paddle as well, but you place the paddle out from the paddle board about 2 or 3 feet. Again, you slap the water to stabilize yourself. You can combine this type of brace with your reach to stabilize your board while also propelling you forward.

Know Correct Foot Placement.

Foot placement is important for being able to stand and stay up on your paddle board. There are three different types of foot placement to master: standing up, balancing, and getting back on when you fall off.

Standing Up

To stand up on your paddleboard, follow these steps:

  • Bring your board into knee-deep water and stand beside it.
  • Hold the edges of your board and bring yourself onto the center of the board in a kneeling position.
  • Bring yourself up onto your feet one at a time while holding the sides of the board for stability.
  • Instead of standing up in one motion, raise your chest higher while keeping your knees bent. Once your chest is vertical, you can stand up fully.


Some tips for holding your balance on your paddle board are:

  • Place your feet so that they are centered on the board, hip distance apart, and parallel.
  • Toes should be pointed forward. Slightly bend your knees and keep your back straight.
  • Use your hips to shift your weight while keeping your head and shoulders steady and straight.
  • Don’t look down at your feet. Keep your gaze straight ahead and level with the horizon.

Getting Back on When You Fall Off

Falling off of your paddle board is inevitable. However, there are ways to avoid hurting yourself when you fall off and a proper technique for getting back onto your board.

If you feel yourself lose your balance, try to aim yourself to the side. This way, you fall into the water completely, and you don’t hit your body on the board and risk injury. Furthermore, you should try to hold on to your paddle while falling, so you don’t lose it.

If you do lose your paddle, get to your board first. Once you are on your board, you can use your hands to bring yourself to your paddle to get it back.

To get back onto your board, follow these steps:

  • Get back to your board and position yourself near the center.
  • Grab the handle at the center of the board with your main hand.
  • Allow your legs to float up to the board. Kick your legs while pulling yourself onto the board. This will allow you to easily get back onto your paddle board.

Paddle Boarding Strokes to Master

Paddling technique is just one part of paddling that you have to master. The other part of paddling that you have to learn are the different strokes. Paddle strokes will propel you in different directions. The main strokes are forward stroke, reverse stroke, and sweep stroke.

Forward Stroke

Forward stroke is a very basic stroke that simply propels you forward.

  • Reach about 2 feet forward and submerge the paddle into the water’s surface, then bring the paddle back toward your feet.
  • Bring the paddle up out of the water.
  • Make sure to keep your arms straight and twist with your torso. Use your top hand to push and pull the paddle.
  • Alternate strokes on both sides of your board to make sure that you move forward in a relatively straight line. There isn’t really a set number of strokes to do on each side, but make sure they are even. For instance, 2 strokes on right side, 2 strokes on left side, back to 2 strokes on right side, etc.
  • Hold your paddle vertical to go as straight as possible.

Reverse Stroke

The reverse stroke is the stroke you use to slow down, stop, and turn. Essentially, it is the forward stroke’s opposite.

  • Reach back on the side you are paddling on and place the paddle into the water by the back of the board. Completely submerge the paddle.
  • Remember the tips from the forward stroke. Keep your arms straight. Twist at your torso.
  • If you do this on the right side of your board, you will turn right. To turn left, do the reverse stroke on the left of your board.

Sweep Stroke

The sweep stroke is what you will use to turn while standing still or moving.

  • While paddling on the right side of your board, rotate your right shoulder forward.
  • Reach your paddle forward and place it fully into the water.
  • Take your paddle and make a large, sweeping arc motion from the front of the board to the back of the board by moving your torso. Make sure to maintain your balance and stance with your legs and hips.
  • A sweep stroke done on the right side of your board will turn you left, and it will turn you right if done on the left side of the board.

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Necessary Paddle Boarding Gear

Safe and efficient paddle boarding is done with proper gear. Before you set out into the water, you should make sure that you check all necessary gear off of your list. The Abahub line of accessories receives great reviews. You can view their entire catalog on Amazon.

Necessary paddle boarding gear includes the following:

  • Paddleboard – There are different kinds of paddleboards that are used for various activities. You choose your board based on your body weight and your paddle boarding skill. Additionally, what you intend to use it for and the conditions you intend to paddle board in effect your choice. There are boards for recreational paddling, surfing, touring, racing, and even yoga.
  • Paddle – A SUP paddle is a long, stretched-out version of a canoe paddle with a blade that is teardrop-shaped that is angled forward for efficiency. To determine if you have the correct length of paddle, stand it up in front of your and raise your arm above your head. The paddle should reach your wrist.
  • Personal Flotation Device or PFD – Since paddle boarding brings you into open water, it is necessary to wear a PFD. There are different styles of PFDs that you can choose from – over the head vests, side zip jackets, and front zip jackets.
  • Safety Whistle and Light – The U.S. Coast Guard mandates that you carry a whistle and light with you for safety. The whistle can warn boaters that you are in the water, and the light is important to have if you end up being in the water after dark.
  • Proper Clothing – Depending on the climate where you are paddle boarding and the current weather conditions, you may wear different things. For warm weather and water, you can wear a combination of swimsuits, swimming clothes, and rash-guards. For cool weather and water, you may want to opt for a wetsuit or dry suit.
  • Leash – Your leash will connect you to your board so that you don’t lose it if you fall off. Furthermore, your paddleboard itself is a flotation device, so being connected to it can help you stay afloat in the event of falling off as well.

In addition to all of this gear, it is recommended that you invest in sun protection. You can wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and even clothing that protects against harmful ultraviolet rays.

Getting the Perfect Paddle Board

As much as technique is important for paddle boarding, getting the right paddle board for your body and sporting needs is just as important. With the different types of paddle boarding that are available, it’s necessary to know the variations of the boards to choose the correct one.

Some great paddle boards that you can choose are:

  • Starboard Extreme Astro Deluxe from WND&WVS– This board is designed a little shorter and wider than typical boards for handling and stability. It was created specifically for whitewater boarding, and can take you from beginner level Class 1 and 2 to choppier rapids when you are ready.
  • PEAK Expedition Soft Top Aqua Stand Up Paddle Board – This board is made with an RPS foam core with a wooden stringer and comes with a matching 2-piece aluminum paddle, deck bungee cords, a removable center fin, a leash, and a smartphone case. It can hold up to 250 pounds.
  • iRocker Cruiser Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board – This board is made of inflatable PVC and comes with a 3-piece fiberglass paddle, a dual-chamber pump, a backpack, and a leash. It can hold up to 400 pounds.
  • O’Brien Zephyr iSUP — O’Brien makes some of our favorite towable knee boards and skis. They’ve been a watersports name brand for decades. The Zephyr is a great single person beginner level board. Sized at 10’ 6” and 30” wide for maneuverability, it comes in a bright red and white color scheme. Check out the link to Summit Sports.

Paddle Boarding Mistakes to Avoid

When you are paddle boarding, you must remember to follow the guidelines and techniques as they are supposed to be followed. There are many common mistakes that are made that are easy to avoid.

Make sure that you follow these tips always:

  • Make sure your paddle is facing the correct way.
  • Don’t face your paddleboard directly into the sun.
  • Make sure your paddle is placed perpendicular to your board.
  • Research the spots you plan to paddleboard in.
  • Make sure to inflate your board to at least 12 PSI.
  • Don’t forget to use a leash.
  • Be sure that you have a good grip on your paddle always.
  • Don’t stand too close to the front of your board.
  • Check the weather before heading out to paddle board.
  • Never look down while on the water.
  • Always bring water and snacks.

In this article, we discuss the topic of proper ways to handle your paddle. Its a great followup to this post.

Planning Your First Paddle Boarding Outing

Before you head out to enjoy a day of paddle boarding, there is a bit of planning you should do. First, you want to make sure that you have chosen a safe, small, and calm body of water to paddle board in. You want to be sure that there are not a lot of obstacles that can get in your way, especially boat traffic. You may want to take a lesson or two before heading out on your own.

Choose a spot with a beach or a launch that allows you to safely get into the water with your board. Make sure that the day is sunny with clear skies and little wind. If you do encounter wind, make sure to paddle with the wind. Paddling against the wind can tire you out and put you at risk.

For your first outing, plan to be on the water for about an hour. You don’t want to overdo it. Bring a friend with you, so you are not alone. There is safety in numbers. If you somehow end up in rough waters, remember that technique is key to getting out of them safely.

In Conclusion…

Paddle boarding is not only a fun water sport. It is also a workout! Anyone can enjoy this sport, but it is very important to understand how to navigate choppy waters. Remember that you should perfect your paddling technique, learn proper bracing, and know correct foot placement.

Carlo Raffa

Carlo Raffa is a blogger, stand-up paddleboard enthusiast, water lover and local to Brighton city in the South of England. Paddle boarding is my escape and this is only the starting point. Being a larger guy at 260lbs I am finding it very good exercise as well, especially for building core muscles. This is something that believe it or not cycling 16 miles a day at 6 miles per hour doesn't seem to be doing. Paddle Boarding allows me to just grab my board and walk right through the busy bar filled beachfront between the two piers in Brighton and head straight out of shore. It's not long before the shouting and cheering of our buzzing beach fade into just the lapping waves and the people to just small dots of the Brighton shoreline.

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