So You Have a New SUP Board --- Now What?

Get Ready for Summer with These Basic Techniques

Stand up paddle (SUP) boards provide a fun, relaxing way to explore the water while also getting a full-body workout, but many people new to the sport are intimidated by not knowing how to balance or paddle correctly. The good news is that it’s really not very difficult once you master these basic techniques:

Climbing Aboard

For newbies, it’s best to start in shallow calm water with plenty of open space around you. Place your SUP board in the water and stand alongside it at the center of the board, holding your paddle across the deck of the board. Slowly climb onto the board one knee at a time and stay in a kneeling position just behind the center of the board. Sit a while in this kneeling position while holding the paddle across your knees to get a feel for the balance of the board. If the nose is popping out of the water or the tail is sinking in, adjust your position to find the center balance point. When you feel stable, stand up one foot at a time, placing your feet where your knees were. Generally, by standing with your feet straddling the handle hole, shoulder width apart, you will be at the center point of the SUP.

Put the Stand Up in SUP

To maintain balance, make sure your feet are parallel, about shoulder-width apart, and centered between the rails (edges) of the board. Toes should be pointed forward, back should be straight, and knees should be slightly bent. Look up at the horizon --- not down at your feet. SUP paddling is similar to riding a bike; just as it’s difficult to maintain balance on a bike if you’re looking down at your feet, it becomes easier when you look forward. With one hand gripping the top handle of the paddle and the other somewhere near the center of the shaft, hold the paddle above your head and adjust the location of the second hand’s grip so that your elbows are at 90-degree right angles. This is the optimum distance between your hands for efficient paddling.

Reach for It

You’ve mastered the stance, so now it’s time to focus on a powerful stroke for less effort. The first part of the stroke is the most important because it’s when you use the power of your whole body. At first glance, most people think that SUP paddling is about arm strength, but that’s not the case. Arms are simply the levers that allow you to use the more powerful muscles in your back, core, and legs. SUP paddling is a full-body experience and is why so many people use it as a great cross-training workout. In fact, fitness experts say that 30 minutes of SUP is equivalent to running six miles.

With your feet stationary, extend the paddle with your top arm across the board to your stroke side and your bottom arm fully extended. The curve of the blade should be facing away from you --- this is counterintuitive but it is how the blade displaces water to propel the board forward. When the blade catches the water, pull through by bending the elbow of your bottom arm and pushing down with your top arm for forward motion, power, and speed. The deeper you push the blade into the water, the more you will be using the power of your whole body and the more effective your stroke will be.

Keep your head and shoulders straight and shift your weight with your knees and hips. If you are paddling on your right side, move your right hip forward when you reach, and then move your left hip forward as you stroke back. Keep your paddle parallel to the rail (edge) of the board, without touching the board. Remember to keep looking up and forward and use the power of your core body; when forward momentum increases, stability also increases. In addition, using the muscles of your back, core, and legs will reduce strain on your elbows, arms, and shoulders which will also reduce the chance of injury.

When the paddle reaches your ankle, pull it out of the water, quickly angle the blade to the side in a 90 degree turn towards the board to reduce air resistance, and reach forward in a straight line. Many beginners think that a long stroke to the back of the board is more efficient, but that technique actually makes it harder to pull the paddle out. Another common mistake is to bring the paddle to the front in a wide, semi-circular motion, but this causes the board to lose momentum.

Keep going forward by not losing much time between paddle strokes. Depending upon the style of your SUP board, going in a straight line is possible by paddling about four or five times on one side. When you switch sides, simply reverse hand positions --- the most efficient method is to switch while you are reaching forward by sliding your lower hand up the shaft to the top and grabbing the center of the shaft with your other hand.

When It’s Time to Turn

The final technique to master is how to turn your SUP board. There are several ways to accomplish this, so play around to find the technique that works for you and the style of your board:

  • Side stroke: The easiest way to turn is to simply paddle on one side in a long arching turn until the nose of your board is turned to the direction you want to go. Turning right means continuous paddling on the left, and vice versa.
  • Back stroke: The faster way to turn is to put the board in reverse by dragging the paddle in a backwards (back to front) stroke. This will cause the board to quickly turn around.
  • Arch stroke: An alternative turning stroke is to push the paddle down into the water near the front of the board and then stroke in a long sweeping arch motion back to the tail end of the board. This technique will cause the board to turn in the opposite direction of the stroke.

These are basic turning techniques, and after you get comfortable it will becomes fun to test different strokes to find what works for you. For instance, some paddlers use their dominant side muscles to step back on the board on their dominant side, bend their knees quite a bit, put weight on their back foot, and paddle hard on their dominant side to make a quick turn.

Final Tips

Our last piece of advice is to just keep practicing. The more time you spend on your SUP board, the better your technique will become and the more comfortable you will be. Using these simple techniques will make a big difference in how efficiently you paddle, which will make the whole experience more enjoyable.

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