7 Tips for Paddling a SUP Upwind

Paddling a sup upwind has its own challenges. Having some proven techniques to work with will get you to your destination faster and easier.

When you Can’t Shuttle Upwind:

I often paddle upwind to turn around and downwind. When the northerlies blow on Shilshole Bay in Seattle, we have a short epic downwind section that bucks the Ballard Locks current and builds up well. It’s so short and has limited shore access that it doesn’t make sense to run a shuttle. Over the years, we’ve gotten pretty good at upwind paddling.

When Wind Changes Direction:

Sometimes wind may reverse direction forcing paddlers to either slog it out to the the finish upwind, or downwind it back to their starting point.

Learning to Paddle Upwind as a Beginner:

In my basic classes, the first thing I teach is how to paddle upwind by sitting or prone paddling. Then we work on standing up.  Someone once told me ‘be a man, stand up.’  That only works sometimes, in others you’ll be much less of a man when you end up on the news after you got blown far from your car.

Art Aquino paddling upwind on Puget Sound

Prone Paddling:

Prone paddling is the most efficient way get upwind in heavy wind.  You might try paddling upwind in 15 plus knots standing, kneeling, sitting, then prone.  See which one works best.  Prone can be tiring if you’re not used to it.  Ever see traditional surfers paddling prone on flat days?  They’re training for getting caught inside, in a rip or for paddling in cross or head winds.

6 Tips for Better Paddling Prone with a SUP:

1. Try paddling your sup a mile or so prone.  If your neck is sore from being in the ‘cobra position’ (prone – top of back raised up, knock/head back and hands in water) then stick a PFD, chunk of foam or similar under your upper chest for support.

2. If your board is too wide to get your hands in the water, move towards the nose where the board narrows for better reach.

3. Place the power face of your paddle down on the board under your chest. The shaft/handle will stick out over the nose suspended above the deck.  (power face is curved side of blade face).

4. In waves you may want to slide back to prevent being covered in oncoming water. Downside of this is that the wind may catch the raised nose.

5. Use an alternating arm stroke and close your fingers to get the most out of strokes.

6. Rock your lower legs back and fourth while paddling – you’ll go faster.

Photo: PNW paddler Art Aquino paddles prone upwind in approx 30kts of wind on Puget Sound.

Other Techniques for Paddling a SUP Upwind:

  • When standing, always use short quick strokes to your toes. Longer strokes will be harder and on your recovery (feather) the wind pushing you back will slow you down. I also use short strokes paddling up current.
  • Slide your lower hand down the shaft of the paddle. Often this will give you a bit extra power.
  • Use the Sweeping Brace to keep your feathered paddle blade as low as possible to prevent drag.
  • Tack upwind like a sailboat. Hit the wind/wave at an angle, then another angle. Upwind your flat facing body creates a lot of drag. Turning sideways reduces drag.
  • Get low – Sit down.  Kneeling is still pretty high up. Sitting, you’ll fly past your buddies, have more points of contact to the board in rough water, and less drag. Choke up on the paddle by holding it above the blade. Some folk think sitting it cheating. But your shoulders will thank you.
  • Find a wind protected area to paddle upwind. Below docks, behind buildings or a point will create wind protected areas called a ‘lee’. You’ll be surprised how many folks don’t see these advantage areas.

More Wind and Downwind Tips:

10 Downwinding Tips

Seattle’s Shilshole Bay Downwind Tips

10 Tips for Safer Downwinding


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, Surf Ski and Kayak school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle

Salmon Bay Paddle SUP Tips

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