Holding a SUP Paddle The Right Way

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I know it sounds silly. Can someone really hold a paddle the wrong way? Unfortunately, yes. You’d be surprised how many people make really common errors when it comes to holding their very own paddle. So while you may be thinking, ‘that can’t be me,’ let’s find out!

In this article, we’re going to dissect the paddle, learn to understand it better, and explore some helpful techniques, so you know exactly what you’re doing. So let’s not waste any more time and instead just dive right in!

Parts of a SUP Paddle

Before we talk about the right way to hold a paddle and the different strokes you should know when it comes to paddling, we need to dissect the paddle. What are the parts of a paddle, and how do they work together to guide you through the water.

The shape and size of a SUP paddle vary from paddle to paddle. There are, however, certain elements that remain the same regardless of the model. It’s good to know the basic anatomy of a paddle so that you’re never out of the loop when someone starts bringing up what part is what.

So these are your elements to a SUP Paddle:

  • T-bar Grip = the t-bar grip is a part of your sup paddle you’ll become incredibly familiar with as your hand grips the part of the paddle. It is where you put most of your energy. Designed for comfort, these are usually made of rubber.
  • Shaft = Your other hand will be placed on the shaft, which is a long cylindrical part of your paddle.
  • Throat = Where the shaft and blad collide and the paddle begins to widen out.
  • Blade = the blade is the part that makes exceptional contact with the water and is a flat, wide aspect of the paddle. Combined with your efforts up top, this pushes you through the water.
  • Tip = the top is the end of the blade and where your paddle comes to its natural end.

Other features sometimes appear on your SUP paddles. Still, these are considered ‘premium features,’ so not all paddles are equipped with them.

Scale = when a paddle features a scale feature, you can adjust the paddle to your desired length.
Dual lock pin and clasp = when a dual lock pin and clasp are present, it makes for easy assembly. The locking clasp secures the blade more efficiently.

Become familiar with every aspect of your paddle, no matter how benign they might seem. As a paddle boarder you should want to be intimately familiar with all aspects of your gear to understand what it all is, and how to use it to its fullest potential.

Sizing a SUP Paddle

Sizing a SUP Paddle

Before you even hit the water, you need to size out your paddle. The last thing you want is to be out on the water with a paddle too short or too long, causing you more stress than assistance.

Recommended length per SUP type:

Racing 12 inches taller than the paddler
Touring 9 – 10 inches taller than the paddler
Surfing 6 – 7 inches taller than the paddler
Casual 9 – 10 inches taller than the paddler

A good test to see if your paddle is relatively right for you is to stand up straight, lift an arm in the air, and measure the paddle against your body. The paddle should end at your wrist. This is one reason why having an adjustable paddle is a good idea so that if you need to alter the height, you’re not just in a situation where you have to borrow a friends or buy a new paddle altogether.

How To Hold a SUP Paddle the Right Way

This might seem redundant, but just keep an open mind as we run through a step-by-step process of correctly holding a paddle board.

  1. Take your dominant hand, and place it on the top of the paddle, with your less dominant hand taking the shaft in a firm grip.
  2. Take the shaft and lift it over your head with both arms on either side at a right angle.
  3. Thanks to your actions in step 2, you should now have your dominant hand on what is known as the ‘sweet spot.’ You need to maintain control of this spot when you shift hands. Your less dominant hand will go underneath, and you’ll then slide the dominant hand back to the top.
  4. When actually paddling, you always want the blade of your paddle to be forward in order to create lift as opposed to drag.

This method is perfectly illustrated on Dick’s Sporting Goods’ website, so check it out here if you’d like to see a more visual representation! They’ve even made a truly helpful video explaining it all;

Some Essential Strokes

It’s important to remember a few things when it comes to paddling.

  1. Paddle with your core
  2. Have good posture
  3. Attempt to stay balanced
  4. Paddle straight
  5. Conserve energy
  6. Don’t overthink it!

Beyond the basics, however, there are some essential strokes you should consider incorporating into your workout.


Forward stroke

When performing the forward stroke, you’ll have your paddle in the water on either the left or right side (depending on which hand you have on the shaft and grip). When putting your paddle into the water, you need to plant it as far forward as you can. Pull it back towards you and propel yourself forward.

Attempt to keep your arms straight and rely on your torso. So you’ll be pushing down on the grip, pulling towards you, removing from the water, and repeating.


Reverse stroke

A reverse stroke is essentially the forward stroke but the opposite way around. Instead of putting your paddle as far forward as you can, you’ll instead put it behind you. Then you’ll pull it forward, remove it from the water, and repeat.


Sweep stroke

Need to turn your board? Now it’s time to master the sweep stroke. Depending on which way you want to turn, you’re going to bend the knees, rotate your shoulders in the direction of your paddling, reach forward, and thrust the paddle into the water.

Once the entire blade is submerged, you’ll sweep the paddle away from the board in a semi-circle motion and complete it on the opposite side of where you started, from nose to tail. Then repeat until you’re facing in the direction you want to face.


Crossbow stroke

A crossbow stroke is a more advanced sweet stroke. It allows for tighter, more efficient turning without the need to unnecessarily change your stance. In order to perform a crossbow stroke, you’ll need to rotate your torso to either the left or right – depending on where you’re turning – and have the turning side shoulder rolled forward.

Place the paddle in the water on the opposite side of the nose, then maneuver the paddle around the nose and complete the sweeping motion until you reach the tail. If you can’t clear the nose of the board, then sweep, remove, and re-submerge before continuing the motion.

Draw Stroke

Draw stroke

Draw strokes are very simplistic strokes that are designed to help you get out of the way or get closer to the docks, etc. When it comes to performing a draw stroke, you’ll keep your forward-facing stance but wisting yourself to face the side you want to perform the draw stroke on. Then you’ll submerge the paddle in the water, parallel to the board with the power face towards the board. Finally, you need to decide if you’ll be starting away from the board and pulling in to pull your board closer to whatever you’re trying to get closer to. Or, will you be pushing outward starting at the board?

Online outdoor retailer Rei goes much more in-depth on this matter, so if you want to see some more tips that complement these strokes, be sure to check out their article here.

In Conclusion

So now you should know a heck of a lot more about paddles and how to hold them than you did before! Don’t let this freak you out or deter you. It is a lot easier than it seems and just takes a moment to adjust and reconfigure the correct way of holding and maneuvering a paddle.

If you know your friend could use some help in this department of understanding what is a paddle, and how to use it, then just share this article with them!


Paddleboarding has been one of the few activities that's allowed me to take a mental break from life and just be in the moment. Whether you're looking for an outlet, a method for physical fitness, or even just a way to meet new people, paddle boarding can put you on a path to achieving all these goals. Every article I post on this site is made with the intention to spread sup love and get more people to stand up and paddle!

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