On sunny days when the general population of paddle boarders show up, nearly half have backwards paddles. Some insist they were taught that way, others didn’t know and some don’t care.
Here’s a few tips on how to hold your SUP paddle..
Why that side (power face)?
Looking at the paddle if held up horizontally, you’ll see an offset angle, called canter. This is usually angled at 10-13 degrees. The canter allows for more reach in your stroke. The spoon shaped side below the canter is the power face. The spoon angle and canter vary per paddle model.
|Bottom pic, see power face below canter angle|
Cheap or older paddles may not have any canter and/or curve on the blade face. In those cases, I’ll ask a student to place a sticker or pen mark on the below side of the canter so they know which side it is.
Benefits of using the Power Face
- Like a spoon, the power face will better catch water thus propelling you forward with less effort.
- The backside isn’t shaped in such a way that benefits moving you forward. Usually there’s a bulge down the length of the paddle that helps prevent breakage of the paddle.
- The opposite side of the power face curves away from you thus doesn’t grab the water as well as the power face.
- Backwards paddles don’t have a clean release from the water. They tend to scoop water.
- Also, when you reach forward in your forward stroke to place the blade in the water at the catch, the power face gives you more reach which makes you more efficient.
|First frame shows reach. Third frame shows neutral exit angle|
- After your forward stroke, at the exit, the blade should be in a vertical position which allows for the cleanest low drag exit from the water. If the blade is backwards, it’ll pick up water like a shovel thus adding more work, drag and thus slowing you down.
Downsides to a Backwards Paddle
- A backwards paddle reduces your reach
- Scoops up water at the exit (end of forward stroke, beginning of feather)
- Creates more work which may lead to a shoulder injury
When to use the back side of the blade?
Here’s another way to hold your SUP paddle – Somewhat contradicting myself, I do teach to use the back side of the blade for backwards or reverse strokes. They’re not performance or speed paddling strokes so the main benefit in efficiency here is that you’re not flipping the blade face around to paddle backwards.
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 school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races throughout the year.