SUP Paddle Strokes Guide

There are four main paddle strokes that every new stand up paddle boarder should practice. Each different stroke has its own purpose. There are stokes that help you go straight, go in reverse, turn to the left or right, and a stoke that moves your board sideways.

Many beginner paddlers can get frustrated while paddling across the water. They see other paddle boarders seemingly move straight across the water with very little effort. While the beginner is moving in a zig-zag pattern while getting extremely worn out.

Don’t worry! This is very normal and with a little practice, you will be cruising across the water in no-time.

Biginner Paddle Boarder Water Path
Experienced Paddle Boarder Water Path

SUP Paddle Stroke Techniques

We are going to walk through a few helpful types of SUP strokes. These will help you paddle where you want to go with the least amount of effort. Every paddle stroke can be broken down into four main pieces; reach, drive, exit, recovery.

1) reach – Bend your hips, lean forward, and extend your arms. Place your paddle as far forward into the water as possible while maintaining a good balance.

2) drive – Submerge your paddle blade in the water and move it alongside the rail of your board. As you do this, keep your arms mostly straight and use your core muscles for balance and power.

3) exit – Once the blade is level with the position of your feet, exit the paddle out of the water.

4) recovery – Keeping the paddle close to the surface of the water, bring the paddle back to the reach position and start the sequence again.

See the four listed strokes below to see the proper technique and purpose of each stroke. It is also a good idea to practice these strokes on dry land before getting on the water. Then you will be more familiar with the movements and will get a feel for the paddle.

4 Main SUP Paddle Strokes

1) SUP Forward Stroke

The name of this stroke is pretty self-explanatory. The main goal of the stroke, is to push your board forward in the direction the nose of your board is pointing.

  • With the paddle blade angling away from you, reach out and start the stroke in front of you, slightly away from the rale of your board.
  • Fully submerge the blade in the water so you are utilizing the full surface of the blade to push you forward.
  • Then pull the blade back towards your feet. When the blade is in line with your heal, pull it out of the water and repeat.
SUP Forward Stroke

To move forward and straight through the water, you will need to occasionally switch the side you are paddling on. You can decide how many strokes you want to do, but probably start with two or three strokes on one side and then switch to the other.

Keep in mind your hand positions on the paddle. (Don’t copy the guy in our image. His left hand should be at the very top of the paddle. We need to fix that.) If you are going to be paddling on the right side of your board, hold the paddle shaft with your right hand and place your left hand at the top of the paddle. Keep your arms firm and mostly straight, but try not to lock your elbows. Switch hand positions when paddling on the left side, with the left hand on the shaft and right hand on top of the paddle.

You can paddle at your own pace and put in as many or as few strokes per minute as you want. For comparison, a fast SUP stroke per minute rate is around 30 to 40 strokes.

2) SUP Reverse Stroke

The reverse stroke is the exact opposite of the forward stroke. You use this stroke to help slow your board down, stop your board, turning, and to help you back up.

  • With the same hand position as the forward stroke, reach behind you toward the tail of the board. Submerge the blade all the way in the water and pull it towards the front or nose of the board.
  • If you reverse stroke on the right side of the board, hold the paddle shaft with your right hand and keep your left hand on the top of the paddle. (Again don’t copy the guy in our image. His left hand should be at the very top of the paddle.)
  • Keep your arms and core firm and careful of your balance.
SUP Reverse Stroke

3) SUP Sweep Stroke

This is a helpful stroke to help you turn your board left or right while either stopped, moving forward, or backward.

  • Balance and stabilize your body with feet apart and bent knees.
  • If you want to turn left, performing the sweep stroke on the right side of the board will turn the board left. To turn right, perform the sweep stroke on the left side of the board.
  • Reach forward with the hand that is holding the shaft of the paddle and submerge the whole blade in the water.
  • In an arching motion, pull the paddle out and away from the rail of the paddle board and back toward the tail.

You can also do the sweep stroke in reverse to turn your board in the opposite direction of the forward sweep stroke. For example, the forward sweep stroke on the right side will turn the nose of your board to the left. Performing the reverse sweep stroke on the right side will turn the nose of your board to the right.

4) SUP Draw Stroke

This is a helpful stroke when you want to move up close to something like a dock, boat, or other paddlers.

  • Slightly angle your feet and shoulders in the direction you want the board to move.
  • Reach out and submerge the blade in the water with the blade parallel to the rail.
  • Gently pull the blade toward the rail of the board.
  • Slide the blade out of the water towards the tail of the board.
  • Repeat the stroke until you’ve reached where you want to be.

Keep in mind that the tail of the board has fins that will move slower through the water than the nose without fins. To help with this, place the paddle in the water a little farther back towards the tail.

SUP Draw Stroke

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