Stand Up Paddle Technique Breakdown

Before you get on the water for any kind of stand up paddle training, we need to talk about your performance foundation, stand up paddle stroke technique. There is no point in training hard throughout your SUP season if you are using improper stand up paddle technique and creating bad habits.

Not only will you be paddling inefficiently, you will greatly increase your risk for injury and overtraining when using poor technique.

If you are a somewhat experienced stand up paddler, you have probably seen the classic stroke breakdown videos, articles and information available with a quick Google search. There is a stand up paddle stroke technique breakdown video here. 

What you have probably not seen or read about are the other details of stand up paddling technique that include body positioning on the board, stroke rate, rhythm, power and technique adaptation. These details can help you reach your goals and pull away from your competition. Watch the classic stroke breakdown above and then you can watch video’s about more advanced elements of stand up paddle technique.

Video stroke analysis is one of the best ways to determine any flaws in your technique and keep track of technique improvement. Pro members recieve a voucher for the video stroke analysis included with membership.

All other members and non-members can purchase a video stroke analysis and find more information here. We advise paddlers to take advantage of a stroke analysis before starting their paddle training program. However, video stroke analysis can be valuable for beginner and veteran paddlers alike.

A stroke analysis and one-on-one coaching for stand up paddle technique improvement will help set the foundation for all of your training on the water, prevent injury and maximize your abilities.

If you don’t want to purchase an analysis and one-on-one coaching, have a friend film you, read the technique information on the site, and make improvements to your technique on your own.

Whichever you choose, it is much easier to catch bad paddling habits and fix them before you begin a full stand up paddle training and racing program.

If you have already started a training program, or have been paddling for years, it is never too late to improve and work on your technique!

Stand Up Paddle Technique

Do not ‘PULL’ the water.

The fact is, we are not ‘pulling’ the blade through the water as we paddle. Instead, we are planting the blade in the water and bringing ourselves up to the stationary blade.

Imagine a cross-country skier planting their poles and bringing themselves forward to the poles. The poles do not drag through the snow but remain firmly in place.

This visualization will help you implement proper technique. Your stroke has four phases. Each phase is as important as the next. They all work together to help you paddle faster, stronger, longer and prevent injury. Watch this video for an example of ‘pulling’ yourself up to the blade.**********



This is the distance you are reaching forward to put your blade in the water. Reach as far as possible each time you stroke. In my experience, reach is sometimes over-stressed when discussing paddle stroke.

You need to reach only as far as you feel comfortable. SUP athletes may reach too far and find themselves off balance when their blade hits the water. Losing your balance is counter-productive to developing a fluid and powerful stand up paddle stroke.

On the other end of the spectrum is not reaching far enough. I refer to this mistake in technique as ‘T-Rex Arms’.

Have you ever seen a T-Rex paddle?

They have short stubby arms that couldn’t possibly reach very far.

Make sure you are attaining full extension with your bottom arm, while relaxing the grip on your paddle and the rest of your body. A tight grip with a tense body will not allow you to reach as far as possible.

Your top elbow should be slightly bent during this phase. Bring your top hand to your ear to get the motion for bending the elbow.

As in most activities, a lack of mobility will restrict your movement and prevent you from getting maximum reach, rotation and power. Read about mobility for details on how to improve this area of fitness.

Pro Tip Pro Paddle Trip

In flat water, reach your paddle to the front of the stroke and mark you board with a piece of tape where the paddle enters the water comfortably.

This is your baseline reach.

Make an effort to reach to this mark on your board in your stand up paddle technique and training sessions. If your reach is too short, work on extending your reach past the tape with each practice session.



The part of the stroke when the paddle blade enters the water. Allow the blade to completely enter the water before beginning your power phase. The catch should have as little splashing as possible as a by product of a clean entry. Visualize sticking the blade into wet concrete as the motion you will need to get a connected and clean catch.

Power Phase


This is where you are applying power to the stand up paddle stroke. Use all of your muscles for this part of the stroke.

Your arms are much weaker than the rest of your body. Use the rotation of your torso, hips and shoulders to drive your paddle while keeping your knees bent and engaging your legs to produce power.

Think about falling onto your paddle by bending at the waist and ‘bowing’ to fall forward onto the blade. Watch the close up hip paddling video below for an example of the bowing motion described.

It was once taught that stand up paddlers needed to get the blade out of the water at the feet to keep a positive blade angle and not decelerate the board. However, it has been found that the power generated when your hand is close to your body (just past the feet), outweighs any deceleration from a negative blade angle.

Therefore, I advise bringing your paddle back to the point at which your bottom hand hits your leg. The effectiveness of going further back in the stroke has been scientifically measured in Olympic canoe paddling and  it works for stand up paddling as well.

Pro Tip Pro Paddle Trip

Think of your arms as ‘rubbery’ to get them to relax during this phase. This should help you to concentrate on engaging your bigger muscle groups, like your legs, core and back, for more power output. Grip your paddling lightly with only the tips of your fingers to work on using bigger muscles, not your arms, during slow stand up paddle technique practice.




After the power phase you will be releasing the paddle from the water. Similar to our catch, we want as little splashing as possible. Feathering the blade is helpful in creating a smooth release and setting yourself up for the next catch.

You can achieve feathering by dropping your top shoulder, by ‘breaking’ your wrist inward (imagine the motion of trying to touch your forearm with your middle finger), or a combination of both.


sup stroke breakdown recovery

Relax your entire body during the recovery phase. This will help create a rhythm and allow your body to reach as far forward as you are comfortable to set up the next stroke. Use the recovery phase to concentrate on your breathing and technique.

This phase is as important as the other phases even though the paddle is not in the water and you are not applying power. The rhythm of your stroke can affect your entire technique and should be dialed in during this phase.

Stand Up Paddle Technique Foundation

The outline above is the basic foundation of stand up paddle technique. This is not the one and only way to paddle. Each paddler has a different body type, fitness level, experience and equipment that will affect the way in which he/she paddles.

Observe a group of professional baseball players, golfers or runners. No two athletes hit a ball or run the 200 meter sprint using the exact same technique. Individuals employ different techniques to perform the task for their sport. Paddling is no different.

Use this stand up paddle technique breakdown along with the rest of the information in the technique category and adapt it to find your optimal technique. In other posts and videos we discuss stroke adaptation to external factors such as wind and chop, timing in the race and drafting.

Keep these basic stand up paddle technique fundamentals in mind but remember that they are only a baseline from which to work.

Pro Tip Pro Paddle Trip

We recommend that you work on your fitness separately from your SUP technique. Allow yourself several times each week to focus only on technique. This can easily be done for 5-10 minutes before or after a workout. During your technique training sessions you are not working to make fitness gains. Slow down.

You should be paddling at an intensity of no higher than Zone 1 or less than 70% of your maximum heart rate effort in the very beginning and then slowly increasing intensity as you progress.

Technique training is designed to build a foundation for stand up paddle efficiency. You want to put in the least amount of effort for the most amount of reward. The more efficient your paddle stroke is, the faster and longer you can paddle with less fatigue and injury. Who wouldn’t want that?

What are you struggling with when it comes to SUP technique? Let us know and join the conversation on the Paddle Society forum.