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How Do You Hold a Stand up Paddle Board Paddle Correctly?

During my first few months of paddleboarding, I held my paddle completely wrong. Finally, after all that time, someone showed me the correct way, and it suddenly became much easier to navigate around. So, I thought I would share the technique with you.

How to hold a stand up paddleboard paddle:

  1. Hold the paddle with one hand on the grip and the other on the shaft. This should create about a 90-degree angle.
  2. Stack your Hands and keep one hand above the other when you are taking a stroke.
  3. Make sure that the curved part of the blade is facing forward.

1. One Hand on the Grip, the Other on the Shaft

This may feel like it is too wide, but this grip gives you the best efficiency when powering through the water. Your power forward stroke will consist of you pushing the paddle down with your top hand while you pull it along the rail of your SUP with your bottom hand. Holding the paddle with a narrow grip is a common mistake. When you widen your grip, you can produce more power with the paddle.

One quick way to find out if you have the paddle gripped at the proper width is to grip your paddle just like you would and then hold it with the paddle touching your head. Your head should be in the middle, between your two arms, and each of your arms should make a 90-degree angle. Take a look at the picture below.

Holding the paddle this way gives you a lot of power, but it also allows you to paddle in a straight line. By reaching straight forward and drawing straight back, you push the board straight ahead and not add any draw, which tends to make your SUP turn.

2. Stack your Hands

Stacking your hands is merely keeping one hand above the other when you are taking a stroke. As I mentioned above, in order to paddle in a straight line, you must pull the paddle through the water straight back.

To accomplish this, it is best to stack your hands, which will keep the paddle as vertical as possible. Stacking your hands also allows you to really push down on the paddle with your top hand while pulling the paddle straight back with your bottom hand.

The top and bottom hands will be opposite depending on which side of the SUP you are paddling on. If you are paddling on the right side of your paddleboard, you will have your left hand on the top and your right hand lower on the shaft. If you are switching to the left side, this will be reversed, with your right hand on top and your left lower on the shaft.

There is one exception to this, which is the cross-over stroke, but that is a little outside the focus of this article.

3. Curved Part of Blade Faces Forward

This is the part that confused me when I first started. When I took my first strokes with the paddle, I was on my knees, and my paddle was facing the wrong direction. I didn’t have any idea that it was wrong. But I did notice two things that I came to learn were caused by holding the paddle backward.

  1. When I finished a stroke, I would scoop water and spray it behind me.
  2. When I took a really hard stroke, the paddle would wobble from side to side, which I learned was called “flutter.”

My mistake was pointed out to me that I had the blade facing the wrong direction, and I could instantly feel the improvement when I turned the blade to face the correct direction.

First, the paddle blade is designed to be precisely vertical when it is drawn back to where it is parallel with your feet. As you pull the paddle through the water with the blade facing the correct way, you can get the most out of each stroke without the waste of the spray at the end of the stroke.

A SUP paddle can “flutter” or twist from side to side as it is pulled through the water. A dihedral spine on the blade helps solve this problem when the paddle is held in the correct position. The dihedral spine is raised in the middle that sheds water off the blade as it moves through the water. This reduces the power of the stroke but keeps the blade lined up correctly with no flutter.

There are some exceptions to holding the paddle this way.

The first exception is when I am trying to back up. When I have to go backward, I just keep the paddle in the same orientation as when I paddle forward. That way, when you want to proceed forward, your paddle blade is correctly positioned. Although there is nothing wrong with giving it a quick spin, I don’t do it.

I also use the “wrong” side of the paddle when I reach across the board to perform a draw stroke or just a cross-over forward stroke. This way, I don’t have to re-position my hands as I make small, quick course adjustments. This comes in really handy when SUP surfing.

More Paddle-Holding Tips

Here are a few more helpful tips so that you can perfect your technique.

Paddle Height

Paddles come in adjustable and fixed-height lengths. Before you buy a fixed-length paddle, make sure the height is right for you. If using an adjustable paddle, you can make any changes yourself.

The rule of thump for paddle height (length), is that the paddle should be between 8 inches and 12 inches higher than your height. So, if you are 6 feet tall (72 inches), you want to have a paddle between 80 and 84 inches long.

Most adjustable paddles will have the measurements marked on them. If not, a good guesstimate is to hold the paddle vertical on dry land and reach up to the handle. The top of the handle should be right around your wrist with your arm reaching straight up.

Just make sure that it is comfortable for you when you are out on the board. Make sure that the entire blade is in the water when you take a stroke. If it isn’t, you might want to lengthen it a bit.

Paddle height preference will also change based on what type of paddling you are doing. If you are SUP surfing, you might want a shorter paddle (maybe only your height plus 8 inches).

For racing, you might want a paddle that adds your height plus 12 or even 14 inches. When paddling for speed, the reach of your paddle (among many other things) is very important.

If you are simply touring on calm waters, you might want to stay in that range of your height plus 10-12 inches for a paddle length. Of course, these are generalities, and paddle height is more of a personal choice. Choose a paddle height that is comfortable for you.

Your Stance on the SUP

How you stand on a stand-up paddleboard will affect how you should be holding your paddle. If you are primarily paddling on calm, flat water, then you should have your feet positioned near the center of the board, facing forward about shoulder-width apart. With this stance, you will be holding the paddle as described above.

If you are SUP surfing then your stance will be a lot different, as will your grip on the paddle. To catch a wave on a SUP, I generally, paddle like I do on flat water until the wave has me. At this point, I will shift my feet to a more traditional surfing stance, and my paddle will act kind of like a rudder.

The traditional surfing stance is a lot wider than a flat water stance, and your feet will be facing sideways instead of forward. As I ride a generally small wave, I will let the paddle trail behind me and use it, along with shifting my balance to turn with the wave.

Final Thoughts

The key takeaway from this article should be that when holding a SUP paddle, the paddle’s curve should be pointing to the front of the board. This will dramatically improve the power of your stroke because all of the force is directed to the rear instead of up. And, remember to have a nice wide grip on your paddle.

Thanks for reading y’all