How to Hold a Paddle When Paddle Boarding

As we discussed in a recent article, paddle boarding requires bodily strength, the right gear, and of course, a paddle board. You won’t get very far on your board without a paddle, though. How exactly do you hold a paddle when paddle boarding?

To hold a paddle when paddleboarding, you have to:

  • Stand straight
  • Put one arm atop the other depending on which side of the board you’re on
  • Keep your blade away from your body

It may sound simple when put into a few bullet points, but trust us when we say it takes some time to master holding your paddle the right way. Luckily, with this guide, we’ll explain exactly what you need to do. From sizing your paddle, holding it correctly, and using it, we’ll cover it all. We even have pictures so everything is laid out crystal clear.

Getting Started: Tips for Holding Your Paddle

Before you can ever venture out onto the water, you need to make sure you’re holding your paddle correctly. Yes, that’s right, there’s a certain art to gripping your SUP paddle. Misusing yours could slow down your stroke speed and leave you extra achy after a day of paddle boarding.

If you don’t know the first thing about holding your SUP paddle, that’s alright. Just read this section, as we have some great pointers for feeling like a pro right away.

Keep Your Posture in Mind

As a SUP rider, your posture is paramount. You need to have great balance to remain standing on your board amongst the waves, and you can only achieve that by keeping your back straight. That good posture will also come in handy when you’re holding your paddle. You want your knees to bend just a bit, but not to the point where you’re locking them. That’s too stiff otherwise.

Your back shouldn’t be stiff either, nor should your shoulders. Instead, position your shoulders so they’re flat and straight but not forced. Your back should be naturally straight as well. You want to angle yourself at your waist, like so.

Adjust Your Top Grip Depending on Which Side You Use

Which side of your body do you rely on more during your paddling? Based on how you answer, you will want to put a different arm atop the other. For instance, when you stand on the left side of your paddle board, then your right hand should go atop the left one. Then, if standing more to your right, put your left hand over your right one.

This can feel a little strange and awkward at first, but you’ll get used to it the more you do it.

Watch Your Blade Placement

Besides the paddle itself, the angle of your blade matters, too. This dictates how easily you can glide through the water. If you keep your paddle so your blade is nearest your body, that’s okay, since most people do. It’s what feels more natural as a beginner, but it’s not the correct way to go about SUP riding.

Instead, you want your blade facing away from your body. This puts more downward force on the water so you get some lift and can ride with ease. Doing things the opposite way creates upward force and more drag. Your ride isn’t nearly as seamless or quick then.

Avoid injuries by learning proper techniques

Which Material Should You Choose for Your Paddle?

Before you can hold your paddle, you need one. What’s the best material for your SUP paddle? Like you had a variety of options with your paddle board, the same will be true with your paddle. You want to make sure you the paddle is stiff but not too stiff, as that could lead to joint and muscle pain. Also, ensure the paddle is of a weight that suits you. If it’s too heavy to use, then you won’t want to spend long in the water.

I’ve posted before that all of the various paddle types will float if dropped, so don’t let that be a concern when choosing which to buy. Okay, so which materials can you pick for your SUP paddle? Let’s go over the different options now.

Wood

Wooden paddles have less give to them, and they also tend to weigh more. Surprisingly, the more wood your SUP paddle has, the more it tends to cost. If you like the look and feel of a wooden paddle but don’t want to spend a lot of money, then get one with wooden blade veneers. This will weigh and cost less.

Carbon Fiber

Your next option is carbon fiber. This material is advantageous in that it doesn’t weigh much, but carbon fiber has a stiffness that can leave inexperienced SUP riders feeling sore after a day of paddling. However, the stiffness isn’t all bad. It also allows you to paddle with more ease, so it feels great at the time.

Carbon fiber paddles will cost you more than any other type of paddle out there. To lower costs, you could always get a SUP paddle that’s made of fiberglass and carbon, also known as a composite paddle. Alternately, try a paddle where only the blade is carbon fiber, not the entire thing.

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Fiberglass

Carbon fiber and fiberglass are two different materials, although it’s easy to get them confused. For instance, they both don’t weigh much. Fiberglass also provides similar stiffness to carbon fiber SUP paddles. The main difference is the price tag. While still not super cheap, carbon fiber costs more than fiberglass every time.

Aluminum

Rarely will you see a full paddle made of aluminum. Instead, it’s used for the paddle’s shaft. It weighs more compared to carbon fiber or fiberglass, but the price is not anywhere near the same. Since aluminum is one of the most inexpensive materials around, you can get a SUP paddle with aluminum for a low price.

Plastic

Even cheaper than aluminum, plastic gets used in SUP paddles for the grips and blades. You will always see it with an aluminum paddle shaft.

Sizing Your Paddle Board

With the information above, you chose a SUP paddle material that worked best for you and your budget. Before you complete your purchase, you have to check the size of the paddle as well. Yes, paddles come in different sizes designed for an array of body types.

Depending on how much you weigh, one of the three paddle sizes would work for you best. If you’re 150 pounds or under, then you need a small to medium paddle. This is 80 to 90 square inches.

If you weigh between 150 and 200 pounds, then the medium to large paddle is for you. This is 90 to 100 square inches. Finally, for anyone over 200 pounds, you must use the large to extra-large paddle that’s 100 to 120 square feet.

The smaller the blade, the further your strokes will take you without you having to work as hard. This can put less pressure on your muscles and joints while improving your stroking cadence. Bigger blades improve the power of each stroke. With more power, you’ll find it easier to accelerate.

As we said, you don’t really get to choose whether you get a smaller or larger paddle board. It’s all dictated by your body size. It’s just good to know what kind of advantages await you with each paddle size.

How to Paddle When Paddle Boarding: Strokes to Know

Alright, so you’ve used our guidance to buy your first SUP paddle. You know the right paddle size for you and now, thanks to the tips above, you’re familiar with the correct way to hold your paddle as well. Sure, it feels a little strange to you right now, but, like we said, you’ll adjust with time.

Now you will stroke, or use your paddle to traverse the water so you can ride your paddle board. Although we’ve talked about strokes in general terms to this point, the way you stroke with your paddle is not universally the same. Instead, you may do one of five strokes. These are the cross bow stroke, the draw stroke, the sweep stroke, the reverse stroke, and the forward stroke. We’ll now tell you how to do them.

Cross Bow Stroke

First, we’ve got the cross bow stroke. This is admittedly a more difficult stroke, but it allows you to turn in narrow or sudden situations. For that reason, it’s worth taking the time to master.

To begin, you want to be on either the left or right side of your paddle board. If you’re turning left, you’d put yourself on the right side and, if turning right, be on the left side of your board.

Next, cross your paddle so it’s over your board’s nose. Then you want to submerge your paddle’s blade on the opposite side you’re on. Now twist your torso in the same side of the board you’re on so your paddle gets nearer the board’s nose.

Rotate the paddle past the nose, raising the paddle if necessary so you don’t have an accidental collision. Keep moving the blade until you’re on the opposite side of the one you started on. This stroke should look like a giant arch.

Draw Stroke

When you do a draw stroke on your paddle board, you can switch directions or even land near a dock. You’d want to begin by moving your shoulders in the desired direction. Your paddle should be in the water on that same side.

Next, pull along through the water until the blade of your paddle is at an angle that’s parallel to your paddle board. Move your board blade inward now so your paddle moves in the direction you chose. Finish the maneuver by pulling the blade up and out in a swinging motion that faces either your paddle board’s tail or nose. Keep doing it until you reach the destination.

Sweep Stroke

You can turn even when you’re in motion if you know how to do the sweep stroke. You’d want to begin with somewhat bended knees. Your arms should hold your paddle so it’s beneath your shoulders. On whichever side you’re on, your one shoulder should lean out a bit more than the other.

Now you want to place your blade in the water at a perpendicular angle, submerging it fully. Move the paddle back in a sweeping manner, again like an arc. You should start this at your board’s nose and move all the way to its tail. Keep your hips and legs square and move your torso if necessary.

If you want to turn right, then you’d need to do this stroke on the left side of your board. The same goes for turning left, do the stroke on the right side.

Reverse Stroke

Despite the name, you can trust in the reverse stroke when you want to turn, stop, or slow down the pace. You’d want to be on either the left or right side of your board. This time, if you’re on the left side, your board will move left. When on the right side, it’ll move right.

To begin the reverse stroke, push your paddle behind your body near the paddle board’s tail. You want the blade submerged when you do this. Then, rotate your torso and straighten your arms as you move.

Forward Stroke

The easiest stroke you can do by far is the forward stroke. You want to keep your right hand on top if you’re on the left side of your board and your left hand on top if you’re on the right side.

Then, push your paddle before you into the water, the exact opposite of the reverse stroke. Aim for a distance of two feet with your paddle. Once again, rotate your torso and straighten your arms as you travel in the water.

To help you further, here are a few more tips to follow for using your SUP paddle when paddling boarding. Whether you want to just get faster, avoid stress injuries, challenge the top speeds or beat the averages, these tips can help.

Push Your Paddle

We’ve talked a lot about strokes, but how do you do them efficiently? That’s a good question, and it’s an important one to answer. After all, wasted strokes will fatigue you early, preventing you from getting the most of your paddle boarding experience.

Instead of forcing your body too much, give the paddle a push when you want to stroke. Yep, that’s it. The paddle should be completely in the water when you push like this (well, the blade, anyway). Then, when you’re done stroking, take the paddle from the water and lift it around where your ankle is on the paddle board. This will especially help you when doing forward strokes.


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Don’t Rely Exclusively on Your Arms

Since you use your arms a lot when paddle boarding, it’s understandable to think that your arm strength would push the paddle along, right? Sure, but your arms will get cramped and sore within 20, maybe 30 minutes. That’s no fun.

Obviously, you have to use your hands to hold your SUP paddle. That’s unavoidable. What you can do from there is let your core take care of the rest of the work. You want your torso twisted a bit so you trigger your core muscles as you paddle. Keep your head focused on what’s ahead of you and your knees bent a bit to achieve this ideal positioning.

Related Questions

What are the different shapes of paddles?

Not all SUP paddle shapes are the same. Depending on which shape you choose, you get different power and force.

A rectangular blade has a bottom that’s quite narrow. You will expend less effort with a SUP paddle with this blade shape, and your strokes won’t be nearly as hard, either.

With a teardrop-shaped blade, the bottom is wide. This lends your stroke much more power than with a rectangular blade.

How do you get on a paddle board?

Once you have your paddle and know how to use it, you can start riding your paddle board. How exactly do you get on your board? Make sure you follow these pointers:

  • Bring your paddle board out to shallow water that’s at least up to your knees.
  • Put your hands on the board on either side. Keep your paddle in one hand, specifically the one nearest you.
  • Taking it one knee at a time put yourself on the board. You want your first knee on the board’s midpoint.
  • Then, keeping your hands on the board still, pull up your other knee.
  • Use your paddle to ride out a bit on your knees if you want.
  • When you feel ready, release your paddle so it lays across the board. With your hands still on the board, lift first one leg and then the other until you’re on your feet.

Final Thoughts

Just like any sport or activity, paddle boarding has its share of correct and incorrect ways of doing things. Obviously paddling is a big part of the entire activity, so we hope you’ve learned some useful things in this article. You can also consider taking lessons if you want to get things right from the beginning.

Now you know what time it is? It’s time to get out there and practice. Stay safe and have fun.


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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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