Whenever you try something new, odds are you won’t have pro skills right away. “Practice makes perfect” is a common saying for a reason, after all.
Stand-up paddle boarding (or SUP) is no different. The more you learn before your SUP session, the easier your excursion will be. Seemingly simple details can have a huge impact on your efficiency while paddling.
And the opposite is true, too. A few basic mistakes can have you burning all your energy without making much progress.
Don’t get us wrong— getting out on the water is always fun and relaxing! But you’ll have a better time if you know what you’re doing.
That’s why we put together this complete beginner’s guide on how to hold a paddle board paddle. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know exactly what to do (and what not to do) next time you’re paddling a SUP.
Parts of a SUP Paddle Explained
As paddle boarding becomes more popular, SUP tech evolves faster and faster. (1) You can find all kinds of paddles these days—adjustable length, fixed length, two-piece, three-piece, and so much more.
But paddle anatomy is generally the same across all types. Once you know the terms for each part, learning how to hold a paddle board paddle will be much easier.
- T-Bar Grip: The T-shaped handhold at the top of your paddle. Most paddle grips are ergonomically designed for your hand and fingers.
- Shaft: The tube-shaped part of the paddle. Your other hand goes here.
- Blade: The wide, flat part at the very end of your paddle. The blade is offset to make paddling easier.
- Throat: The spot where the paddle’s shaft meets the blade.
Handy Design Features
Now you know the basic, standard parts of a SUP paddle. But there are a couple additional design features you’re likely to see. Knowing how to make use of them can get you out on the water faster and help you paddle more efficiently.
- Lock and Pin Clasp: The mechanism found on adjustable length paddles and multi-piece paddles. The lock and pin design allows you to adjust the length—very commonly found at rental shops. It also locks pieces together if you have a two- or three-piece paddle.
- Scale: A measurement system found on some adjustable length paddles. If your paddle has a scale, setting it to the right size for you is easy. Simply find your number and lock the paddle at that length.
- Marked Paddle Face: Many paddles these days have an identifying logo or graphic on the paddle face. Since holding your paddle the right way can feel a bit unintuitive at first, the logo makes it easy to check your paddle direction.
Looking for a paddle? For the least expensive beginner’s option, we recommend this paddle. Funwater also has a range of inexpensive and durable paddle boards that are built to last while making it easier to cruise on the water:
Paddle Board Paddle Direction and Blade Angle
The direction your paddle faces is incredibly important. As you now know, every paddle blade is offset from the paddle’s shaft. We’ll spare you the physics lesson, but basically, this design makes it easier for you to move through the water. But only if your paddle’s blade faces the right way.
When the blade slants towards the front of your board like it’s supposed to, you can push forward with little effort. The blade’s shape helps pull water back behind you and maintain your momentum.
When the blade slants back towards you, the water doesn’t push backwards the same way. Your muscles have to work much harder for less power in every stroke.
So, no matter which side you’re paddling on, check the direction of your paddle. There’s nothing more frustrating than struggling all day just to realize your paddle has been backwards the whole time!
How Beginners Should Hold a Paddle Board Paddle
With all this terminology, it’s important to remember that its OK to forget the technical terms so long as you focus on learning the technique. Before you know it, you will understand how to hold a paddle board paddle better. Don’t worry—it’s really not that technical.
1. Make sure your paddle is the right length for your height. It should be 9” – 10” longer than your height. If you’re renting your SUP gear, the rental shop employees can help you double-check too.
2. Check that the paddle’s blade angles away from you, towards the front of your board. Facing your paddle the other way forces you to burn way more energy for way less momentum.
3. Place one hand on the T-bar at the top of your paddle. Your other hand goes on the paddle’s shaft, at least shoulder-width distance from your other hand. A wider grip means you get more torque and need to expend less energy per stroke.
4. You’re ready to start paddling! Keep your grip somewhat loose on the paddle—no need to squeeze hard and risk hurting your hands.
Which Hand Goes on Top of a SUP Paddle?
The side you’re paddling on decides which hand goes on top of your SUP paddle. If you’re paddling on the left, your left hand goes on top and your right hand goes on the shaft.
Stand-up paddle boarding is one activity where your dominant hand really doesn’t matter. There are no such things as “left-handed” paddles like you’ll see with other sporting gear.
If you’re worried about remembering this rule while out on the water, don’t stress. You’ll notice right away if your hands are mixed up—getting anywhere is going to be extermely difficult. Hand placement is one of the more intuitive aspects of stand-up paddle boarding.
SUP Paddle Hand Position (and Arm Width)
We’ve talked about spacing your hands and arms the right distance apart. But it can be hard to tell if your hands are shoulder-width apart without a mirror. Luckily, we have a great trick for checking your hand position and arm width anytime:
Put one hand on your paddle’s T-bar and the other on your paddle’s shaft. Now, place the paddle on top of your head, parallel with your shoulders. Picture trying to make a Y with your arms. Your head should be between both hands
Adjust the arm holding the T-bar until your elbow is at a 90-degree angle. Adjust the position of your other hand until you can bend that arm at a 90-degree angle, too.
Take note of where your hands are. This is the perfect distance between both hands while you’re paddle boarding.
You can do this quick exercise anytime you’re feeling doubtful about your hand or arm position. Just keep your motions smooth and slow if you do this on a SUP—fast, jerky motions are an easy way to fall off your board.
Looking for a little extra grip and comfort to combat cramping and sore hands at the end of your day on the water? We love these inexpensive yet durable grips:
Do You Paddle on Both Sides of a SUP?
Yes, you paddle on both sides of a SUP. Alternating your strokes helps you travel in a straight line. But you don’t need to alternate every single stroke; how far you can travel in a straight line depends on the type of SUP you have. Try doing 3-4 per side before swapping.
Most importantly, you’ll swap your grip every time you switch which side you’re paddling on. If you’re paddling on the left, your left hand goes on the paddle’s shaft and your right hand goes on the T-bar grip.
The inverse is true for paddling on the right side.
When you’re trying to paddle in a straight line, you should also keep your paddle as vertical as possible. Angling the shaft forwards or backs will cause you to turn slightly.
Learning how to hold a paddle board paddle also includes being aware of your muscles. So, engage your entire body as you switch sides. It’s not all about using your arms—you’ll actually want to keep them fairly straight no matter which side you paddle on.
Try to twist from your core and torso as you paddle. This extra attention to detail will help cut down on muscle soreness in the days following your next SUP adventure.
Classic SUP Mistakes to Look Out For
Learning how to hold a paddle board paddle isn’t just about what to do. You also gotta know what not to do.
We’re not trying to say your technique has to be 100% perfect your first time out on the water. You have a lot to focus on, and it’ll take a few SUP sessions to dial everything in.
At the same time, you want to avoid creating bad habits. According to Harvard Health, breaking a bad habit requires mindfulness work and techniques to modify behavior. (2) Basically, undoing ingrained bad habits is so much harder than avoiding them to begin with.
So, every time you SUP, check yourself for these classic—and painful—mistakes.
Holding Your Hands Too Close Together
One of the most common SUP mistakes is not spacing your hands properly. Your first few times on a SUP, you’ll likely feel a bit stiff. Most people feel an instinct to stay straight up and down with their body posture.
This is because standing on a SUP can feel a bit wobbly at first—you’re basically standing on water, after all! And when you stand in this rigid pose, it feels natural to keep your hands very close to one another on the paddle.
But this seriously limits how much power you get from each stroke of the paddle. By having one hand on the T-bar and one further down the shaft, you have much more force and control.
Holding the SUP Paddle Blade Backward
As you learned earlier, SUP paddle blades are slightly bent. Another incredibly common SUP mistake is holding the paddle backwards, meaning the bend angles backwards towards you.
When you try to paddle this way, you move water up instead of back. You get way less momentum with every stroke than you would if the paddle blade angled forward. Many beginners feel it’s more intuitive to hold the paddle backwards.
So, during your SUP sessions, check your paddle blade every few minutes. You’ll get into the habit of holding it properly sooner than later.
Our 3 Best Tips for Learning How to Hold a Paddle Board Paddle
Now you know exactly how to hold a paddle board paddle—even if you’ve never set foot on a SUP. You also know the anatomy of a paddle, plus how to determine your perfect hand position and arm width.
All that’s left are a few final stand-up paddle boarding tips. Based on our SUP experiences, knowing these 3 tricks can take your paddling to a whole new level.
Check Your Paddle Size
One easily overlooked detail is the size of your SUP paddle. If it’s too big or too small, it won’t matter that you know how to hold a paddle board paddle. You’ll still be struggling to navigate on the water without completely exhausting yourself.
That’s why anytime you rent a SUP, you should check your paddle size.
Calculate your paddle size by adding 10 inches to your height. If you’re 6’ tall, that’s 72”. So, you’d want a paddle that’s 82” long as a beginner.
If this feels too long, you can add 9” instead of 10”. But most beginners find this rule of thumb works like a charm.
Keep in mind that you may see other SUP enthusiasts on the water using shorter paddles. These people are most likely intermediate-level paddlers practicing for SUP surfing or a competition.
Paddle with Your Core
Anytime you’re on a SUP, you should engage your core. Keeping your ab muscles tight reduces your chance of injury in any sport or activity. (3) When engaged, your core helps to stabilize your spine and keep it from moving the wrong way. You’ll also be less sore in the coming days if you remember to use these muscles while paddling.
Doing so might even improve your SUP performance. More research is needed to confirm whether tightening your core actually helps in this way. But anecdotally, people report feeling stronger and having more stamina while keeping their core engaged.
Good Paddle Boarding Posture is Key
Studies on paddling and posture have proven one fact time and time again: good posture makes a huge difference in many ways. (4)
There are side benefits to having good posture, like increased lung capacity, reduced lower back pain, and more energy. (5) But watching your form can also make it harder for you to fall off your stand-up paddle board.
Best of all, you’ll also spend less energy, paddle straighter, and get more power in every stroke. So, stand straight on your SUP—but not so stiff that you lock your knees. Keep your shoulders square with your board and level. Make sure your back is straight too, and you’re good to go.
Correctly Holding the Paddle: SUP Smarter, Not Harder
Holding your SUP paddle correctly plays a major role in your stand-up paddle boarding experience. Basic details like making sure your paddle faces the right way can help you travel further while spending less energy.
Now that you know how to hold a paddle board paddle, you can learn how to paddle board. Learning the basic strokes and guidelines is much easier when you aren’t stressing over the basics of paddling.
At Paddle Outside, we’re focused on providing as much information as possible about paddle boarding techniques, safety, gear, and more. We believe SUP is something everyone can enjoy.
So, please leave a comment below if you still have questions. Make sure you subscribe to our email list, too— we just might answer you the next time we update our guides and articles.
1. Forbes, Paddle Boarding Tech: How The Sport Is Evolving Thanks To Inflatable Board Innovations
2. Harvard Health, How to Break a Bad Habit
3. Very Well Fit, How to Engage Your Core
4. Men’s Journal, Sit Up Straight
5. Healthline, These 12 Exercises Will Help You Reap the Health Benefits of Good Posture