2 Rookie Mistakes for Paddle Boarders

When the masses appear on the waterways in summer (or anytime in tropical places), we begin to see a lot of poor paddling form.

Here’s 2 most common but easily fixed mistakes –

1. The Backwards Paddle

“They told me to do it this way.”  We’ve heard that one a few times and unfortunately, some of lesser quality instructors probably did teach them do paddle that way.  I’ve seen entire classes with a backwards paddle.

What confuses people is that most SUP and many outrigger and canoe blades are canted, in that the blade has an angle to it. This is the 10-13 degree angle of the blade to the paddle shaft.  Or cheaper paddles tend to have no canter or curve to the power face – the spoon shaped part of the blade you pull towards you.

How to Correct the Paddle Blade Face:

The Power Face is the smooth curved spoon shaped part of the paddle that you paddle with. In other words it faces behind you while at your feet.  We use the power face as it gives you extra reach forward at the catch (nose) when you take a stroke.




At your feet the blade will be vertical in the water thus will allow for a cleaner exit leading to a smoother transition to feathering and recovery (bringing blade back to the catch).

If the blade is backwards, you get a shorter reach to your stroke, and at your feet the blade will be curved at a backwards angle thus will scoop water up when you exit the blade from the water.  You’ll have to cock your wrists back way back to get a feathered blade on the recovery.

For bracing at your side, the power face will be upside down and won’t give you as much surface area to slap the water with.

2. Long Forward Strokes

I saw a guy yesterday putting the blade in at the nose then with the help of really bent knees, pulled the blade all the way to the tail bringing the paddle forward in the air at shoulder length plopped it back in at the nose. It looked like a lot work and yet is very common.

Downside to Long Strokes:

  • The super long stroke people do to the tail means you’re working twice as hard.
  • If paddling upwind we use shorter strokes or cadence to prevent the wind from pushing us backwards sometimes taking the blade out at our toes. If you’re pulling the blade out at the tail, you have twice the recovery distance to get back to the catch thus in some wind conditions you won’t move forward and even may be pushed backwards. Also when the blade goes behind you your body rotates slightly and can lead to the board turning a bit thus making it hard to go straight.
  • If you finish on the left tail, you’ll turn the board right or left. as your body twists to make the long stroke. Use a slight bend in your knees not a full bending which also doesn’t add any benefit other than looking like you’re working out.

 How to Paddle More Efficiently Using Shorter Strokes:

  • Take the blade out at your feet or slightly behind as the most useful power for the forward stroke is in the forward part of the board.  Placing the blade in at the nose actually slightly lifts the nose up thus lightening the board. By bending at your waist (called hinging) we reach as far forward as possible putting the blade in adjacent to the nose (or catch), then with a lower straight arm we rotate our torso leading the paddle parallel to the board (power phase) back to the feet.
  • Using the above correct use of the power face, we exit the blade from the water out to the side slightly and rotate the blade forward into a feather to lead it back to the nose/catch (power face up) just above the water surface (a few inches) while reaching forward again to the catch.  Keeping the blade just above the surface for your Feather means it’s going to have less wind resistance, a more efficient recovery and if you need to brace, the blade is flat and close to the water thus ready for a nice slap on the surface to keep your balance.  While paddling keep you hands super loose on the paddle and body over the center line. How to stay straight? I’ll cover the next.. 
  • Loose grip on the paddle shaft
  • Try standing in staggered stance meaning one foot slightly behind the other vs parallel feet


Images show a shorter forward stroke ‘hinging at the waist for power

About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP and Kayak school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races.


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