To get the most out of your equipment in any sport, you need to know how to use it properly.
Hold your bat incorrectly during a game of baseball, and you’re going to swing a sub-par game.
Take the wrong stance while you’re skiing, and you might be eating a face full of snow. The same concept applies to paddle boarding; if you hold your paddle wrong, then you’re going to get a poor stroke, have less power in your paddle, and potentially be diving face-first into the water if you lose balance.
Holding your paddle board the wrong way is actually one of the most common mistakes made by newbies to this sport. You’ll immediately know if you’re doing something wrong; the water won’t flow properly around the paddle, and you’ll feel it moving from side to side as the water tries to flow around it.
paddle boarding, in general, can be done without any paddles; you might’ve seen enthusiasts cruising along the surf while lying on their stomachs and gliding through the water using their arms. But in this article, we’re looking at SUP specifically. This isn’t a paddle boarder’s way of saying hello; no, SUP is simply shorthand for stand up paddle boarding. Before we get into the proper way to hold your paddle, let’s talk about stance.
Best SUP Stance for Beginners
SUP is more than just an entertaining sport; it also gives your core a killer workout, leading to improvements in stability and flexibility. You can hit the ocean or even a freshwater lake with your board, so you really don’t need to be living by the beach to get started. But if you don’t have the correct stance down, then your balance will be affected, and you’ll be more likely to go diving instead. Thankfully, learning the right stance is straightforward and will have you cutting through the surf in no time.
Start Kneeling Down
While this won’t work for everyone, practicing on your knees can help you to get used to the unique movements of the board on water. You’ll typically have more stability on your knees than you will on your feet, as your center of gravity is closer to the surface.
For this position, you’ll want to kneel in the center of your paddle board, with your kneecaps just slightly behind the centerline. Then, raise yourself upwards so that you’re kneeling upright. Once you feel like you’ve mastered the kneeling position, you can rise to your feet directly from here. To keep your weight distribution even and reduce the chance of toppling sideways, lay your paddle horizontally against the board, gripping it with both hands. Push yourself upwards into a standing position one slow and steady, fluid motion.
Don’t be afraid to give the kneeling position ago when you’re first starting out. Even the most advanced — and olympic — paddle boarders will use this position from time to time, when the winds become strong or the waves get higher.
Use a Staggered Stance
So, now you’ve mastered paddling on your knees; it’s time to stand up. To ensure that you’re stable, you’re going to want to assume a specific stance known as the ‘staggered stance’. This means that you won’t be planting your feet side by side as if you’re queueing for the movie theatre. Plant your feet hip-width apart, with one foot extended a little in front of the other foot. You’re not aiming to assume the same position as a surfer; your feet need to be closer together than that, with several inches of space between them.
Imagine you’re standing on a moving bus or train. You’ll tend to stagger your feet to stop yourself from falling over when the vehicle suddenly starts moving or jerks. The same applies here; if a strong wave hits your board, you’re far more likely to take a dive if you’re not staggering your feet.
You’re also going to want to leave a slight bend in the knees, as this will reduce the pressure that’s placed on your spine, and help to avoid the chance of debilitating back injuries. Keep both feet pointing straight ahead, and look in the direction that you’re traveling. Try not to move your shoulders around a great deal, even when you’re paddling, and if you need to perform a maneuver, use your hips rather than your back to turn.
Holding a Paddle Board Paddle
So, now you’re at a point where you can adopt a staggered stance on your board, and won’t fall off at the slightest hint of wind or waves – great! The next thing you’ll need to know is how to hold your paddle correctly. We’re getting to that, but let’s quickly take a look at the construction of these pieces of kit.
The structure of a paddle
Paddle board paddles have a unique shape, with a blade that’s shaped like a droplet of water. Getting closely acquainted with your paddle is important, as it’s going to be your main source of propulsion across the water. Here’s a quick breakdown of the tool and its parts:
T-Bar Grip — This is the ergonomically designed top of your paddle. It’s designed to fit in the palm of your hand.
Shaft — The shaft is the longest part of the paddle, extending from the T-bar grip down to the throat, where the paddle begins to widen.
Throat — This is where the shaft connects with the blade.
Blade — Your blade is the broad, flat surface of the paddle, the part that you’ll submerge into the water to propel yourself.
Tip — This is the very end of the blade, where it rounds off.
While paddles come in different shapes, styles, and designs, they’ll all have these five main design components. That said, some paddles will have more! As you move into more professional circles, you’ll find that these pieces of equipment can be customized further.
One of these customizations is called the scale. Part of the T-bar, this component allows you to lengthen or shorten your paddle, meaning you can use it for both SUP and kneeling positions. It typically uses a numbered scale, so you can remember your settings for future sessions.
- Dual Lock Pin & Clasp
Further down the T-bar, just before the throat, you can find the dual lock pin and clasp on some paddles. These two components are essentially designed for storage and portability; they let you break down the paddle into two parts. But what’s great about these mechanisms is that they allow you to affix another blade to the other side of your paddle, making it suitable for kayaking.
- Paddle Blade Designs
This one is less functional and more for those who want to add a little flair to their equipment. Many paddles have a logo or design emblazoned onto the front face of the paddle blade. While this gives you more customization, there’s a second reason to personalize your paddle. By picking a paddle that has a design printed onto the front of the blade, you’ll be less likely to hold it the wrong way round ever again.
How to Hold a Paddle Board Paddle
Knowing how to hold your paddle correctly is simple, but it’s an absolute essential. If you hold the paddle backward, you’ll be working against it instead of working with it. The paddle is designed to scoop the water and drive you forward quickly, and the blade is designed to maximize this effect.
- Getting the right grip
Using the correct grip will make your strokes through the water more efficiently. You’ll travel more quickly and cover more ground – well, water – and overall, you’ll feel more comfortable. One hand will be at the top of the paddle, gripping the T-bar. The other hand will be placed partway down the shaft, approximately one shoulder’s width away from your first hand.
Having your hands too close together will reduce the power of your strokes, in addition to making the paddle harder to control. Having them too far apart reduces your mobility and could put you at risk of tiring more quickly, or causing a muscular or spinal injury.
One way to perfect your grip is to grip the paddle and hoist it onto your head so that it rests flat on your scalp. Place one hand on the T-bar and then slide your other hand down the shaft until your arms are at a perfect right-angle – imagine you’re flexing your muscles.
- Face the paddle in the correct direction
When you get started, make sure that the blade is angled facing away from you in the water. A paddle board paddle isn’t completely straight from top to bottom. The blade curves away in one direction like a scoop.
And you’d be forgiven for using it incorrectly, as logic suggests that you’d want the ‘scoop’’ shape to face towards you. However, that’s not the case with paddle boarding. Again, using a paddle with a design emblazoned on the blade can help you to remember which side is which.
- Which hand should be holding the T-bar?
Deciding which hand to place on the T-bar and which hand to place on the shaft isn’t a matter of choosing your dominant hand. Instead, it depends on which side of the paddle board you’re paddling from. Your inside arm should always be on the T-bar. So, if you’re paddling on the left, your right hand should be holding the T-bar, and your left hand the shaft. If you’re paddling on the right, the opposite is true. Next time you hit the surf, try doing it the other way around and you’ll soon understand why this technique applies.
Tips for Beginner Paddle Boarders
Before we part ways, we’ll leave you with this list of beginner tips for paddle boarding:
- Make sure you use a leash
No, we’re not suggesting you take man’s best friend paddle boarding with you. While there are different types of paddle board leash, in addition to different ways of attaching them, a leash simply stops your board from floating out to sea when you bail.
- Face the correction direction
If you’re just starting out, you might not realize which end of the board is the front and which end is the back – or that there’s even a difference. Flip your board over and look for the fins; these should be at the back of the board when you’re paddling.
- Remember to use your core
Your core muscles We’ve touched on this already above, but you should be paddling with your core muscles and less with your arms. Your core muscles – the torso and abdominals – are the strongest muscles in your body and will give you the greatest power.
- It’s OK to fall off your board
If you can pick up paddle boarding and never once fall off your board, then you deserve a medal. Even the most practiced professionals fall off their boards from time to time, so it’s something you’ll need to accept and get used to. However, falling off your board the right way is important. When you feel the inevitable coming, don’t try to fight it and aim for your board; getting a face full of fiberglass or carbon fiber is painful and far less pleasant than a dunk in the ocean or lake.
- Understand your limitations
The ocean is an unforgiving beast and a big wave can quickly put an end to your paddle boarding if you’re not ready for it. Don’t try to take on weather conditions that are beyond your skill level, and understand your own limitations as you’re improving.