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Strokes and Turns

Forward Stroke

It’s one of the best ways to stabilize yourself.  It propels you straight ahead through the water

  1. Catch: The beginning of the stroke when the paddle first enters the water.  The catch should not be thought of as power, but as a smooth set-up for increasing power throughout the stroke. Maintain a good center of balance and extend the paddle as far forward as possible by rotating the torso.
  2. Power: The transfer of power through the paddle in the water, driving the board forward past the submerged paddle. Keep hands “stacked,” one hand over the other, with the lower arm straight. Keep the shaft vertical while paddling. This will minimize the serpentine motion of the board, and allow movement in a straighter line across the water.
  3. Release: The end of the paddle stroke when the blade exits the water.
  4. Reset: Bringing the blade back to the catch position.  The Recovery should be a smooth fluid movement.

Draw Stroke

Good for paddling sideways, there are three methods

  • Side Draw:
    • Rotate the torso to the side you want to move toward.
    • Bending knees slightly, place the paddle in the water about 2-3 feet from the rail with the power face parallel or facing the rail.
    • With upper arm straight, pull the blade towards the board using the lower hand.
    • Just before the blade hits the rail, rotate the shaft so the blade slices in the water back to the starting position
    • Rotate the shaft so the power face faces the rail, repeat the above steps.
    • Tip: Keep shaft vertical and the blade in the H2O for the entire stroke.  Pull towards the board, slice back to the starting position and repeat
  • Slicing Draw:
    • Using the same body and blade position as the Side Draw, slide the blade left and right continuously quickly in the water while simultaneously pulling it towards the board.
    • This movement is better on your shoulders and has origins in outrigger canoeing
  • Sculling Draw:
    • Using the same body position and concept as the Side Draw, place the blade in the water at a 45 degree angle and slide it back and forth across the surface in a figure eight motion.
    • Pulling toward the board with the lower arm, begin to move sideways to the destination.
    • Tip: If paddling a shorter board or one with a lot of rocker, place the blade behind the feet to perform each draw. Doing this won’t compete with the fin, which will want to rotate the board.

Brake Stoke

Bracing is another way to find stability on the board.  It is using the paddle to slap the surface of the water to avoid falling in.  It will feel unnatural for most at first, but with practice it can become a natural movement that allows for a smooth recovery from loss of balance.

  • Static Brace: This is used to stay stable while standing still.  It can also be used for stability when turning to look up or behind.  Place and hold the blade flat on the water at the side of the board, usingthe power face or back of the blade.
  • Sculling Brace: Using the same motion as the Sculling Draw, this brace can be used to keep balance while standing still. It’s especially helpful in slightly choppy water, as it will maintain balance better than the Static Brace.  Place the blade in the water at the side of the board, about 2-3 feet from the rail.  Rotate the blade face back and forth in the water using a figure-eight pattern, applying light pressure with the lower arm.  Instead of pulling the blade toward the board, keep it in one location.  Bend knees in rough water to allow the board to move up and down like a spring.

Sweep Stroke

This stroke is good for turning in either direction.

  • Sweep Turn/ Forward Sweep:
    • Bend the knees and place the blade next to the nose, with the power face facing away from the board.
    • Keeping the lower arm straight, swing the blade in a semicircle from the nose of the board towards the tail.
    • When placing the blade on the left side of the nose, the board will turn to the right and vice-versa.
  • Sweep turn/Reverse Sweep:
    • Bend the knees and place the blade by the tail.
    • Keeping the lower arm straight, use the back side of the blade as the power face, and rotate the blade in a semi-circle toward the nose.

Cross Bow Stroke

This stroke is good for turning.

  • Reach arms out, holding the paddle with a loose grip at waist level with the blade on the left side.
  • Bend knees, and rotate torso to the right side while dropping the blade in the water.  The power face should face forward.
  • Rotate arms forward, taking a stroke towards the nose.
  • At the nose, cross the blade to the left side without changing hands, then do a Forward Sweep turn on the left side rotating the blade in a semicircle to the tail.
  • Start over and keep turning as necessary.

Pivot Turn

Is the quickest way to rotate the board.  It’s used in races to make buoy turns, and in surfing to make quick pivot turns to take a wave.  It’s also a great way to practice balance.

  • This turn involves stepping back on the board to get the nose of the board out of the water while doing a Sweep Turn.  The further the nose is out of the water the less surface resistance the board has to make a quick rotation. You don’t have to go back very far behind the handle to get the nose out for many boards.
  • For beginners, the process involves gradually stepping or jumping back on the board with a progression of Sweep Turns, so they get the right balance, footing and confidence.  
Board Terminology and Types

Board Terminology

  • Rails:  The rails are the side of the board.  Hard (sharp-edged) rails help with directional stability and tend to be toward the tail on longer displacement or touring/race boards.  Usually a hard rail is harder to turn. Soft rails (rounded) are easier to turn. Boards may have a soft rail near the nose and hard rail near the tail.  Surf style boards have a variety of rail shapes to help with performance.
  • Hull/bottom:  The hull is the bottom of the board.  Most SUPs have planning (flat) hulls under the deck. Some boards have a concave shape on both sides of the center to add stability.
  • Nose/Bow:  The bow or nose is the front of the board.
  • Tail/Stern:  The back of board is the tail or stern.  Most common types of tails are square, pintail, swallow, diamond, rounded pin, and rounded square. Square is the most stable. Pintail is the least stable but most efficient in shedding water. Swallow is usually seen in surf SUPs. Diamond is a cross between a pintail and a square.
  • Rocker:  Rocker is the curve of the hull from nose to tail.  The more rocker the easier the board is to turn but the more difficult to keep straight.  Boards with less or no rocker are harder to turn but are faster and easier to track straighter.
  • Foil:  Foil is the rate of change of a board’s thickness from nose to tail.  Most surf style boards are thin in the nose, get thicker in the standing area, and then are thin again towards the tail.  This determines how much floatation is needed in each area. Inflatable SUPs are usually the same thickness from nose to tail.
  • Deck:  The top of the board, used for standing.
  • Deck pad:  This is used not only for traction but also to protect your feet and knees from the hard surface of the board.  Standing on an epoxy deck without a pad is similar to standing on concrete. If your board doesn’t have a pad, you can purchase from a surf shop or online source and adhere it to your board.
  • Handle:  Located in the middle of the deck, the handle is used to carry the board suitcase style.  There are several handle products available. One pops out like a true suitcase handle, but most require you to put your fingers inside the board.  The ledge-style handle, which allows the hand to more naturally grab inside, is most comfortable for your hand and wrist.
  • Vent plug:  Located on some SUP decks, the vent is used to release board pressure on hot days or when moving from the low to high altitudes.  It looks like a screw, and, depending on the board manufacturer, it is found on the deck, nose or tail of a board.
  • Deck screw:  Some boards have a deck screw, which is an inset screw that can be used for attaching a sailing rig or windsurfing mast.
  • Leash plug:  This is located near the tail, and used to attach the leash.
  • Forward deck leash plugs:  Touring boards may have four leash plugs on the deck that are used to attach bungee cords for gear tie-downs.  A few boards have leash plugs in the nose, which is useful for securing a camera safety line or adding an additional handle for carrying the board.

Types of Boards

  • Surf Style or All Around Style Board: These round and sometimes pointy nosed boards resemble large surfboards. The nose rises up to avoid ‘pearling’ or digging into waves.  They are the most common and most affordable, and they work best for all types of paddling.  Sizes range from 6 to 14 feet long.
  • Displacement Hull: These boards are actually a combination hull in that they have a pointed nose which transitions to a planing hull underfoot. The pointed nose which resembles a kayak bow for more speed and wind reduction.  Many have a subtle “V” shape on the bottom under the nose to assist with keeping the board straight and moving more efficiently through the water. Common nose shapes include plump, upturned, sturgeon, and ram nosed bows.  Displacement boards can be used for all types of paddling, but were designed for racing and touring.  There is no standard length range for this type of board, but they usually range between 10 and 17 feet long.
  • Downwind: Downwind boards use displacement hulls and are usually 12’6” and longer. They tend to have considerable nose rocker – the curve on the front of the board – for going over waves. Board lengths extend to 17’ and sometimes are narrow in width, which makes them faster.
  • River: River boards range between 6’ and 10’ to allow the rider to surf in the pocket of standing waves or make quick turns for control in swift water.  Boards are think on the rails, but may be carved out in the standing area to allow for a lower center of gravity for more stability in rough water.
  • Yoga or Fitness Boards:  These are generally extra wide to allow for the space to do yoga or fitness exercises while maintaining stability on flat water.  Some are equipped with outfitting to allow for exercise bungees on the deck.
  • Surfing SUP: Like a river board, surfing boards are also short, usually 6’ to 11’ to allow for more control on steep waves. Some are quite narrow which allows for tricks on waves but less stability on flatwater.  Their tails and noses vary in shape to allow for different effects on waves. Longer more stable boards up to 12’ allow for more stability for beginners.
  • Touring Boards: Touring boards vary between 10’ and 17’ long to allow for easier tracking, greater speed and storage of day trip or camping gear on the deck.  Some come with leash plugs on the nose for tying down gear. Both surf style and displacement noses are available.
Paddle Terminology and Types


  • Blade:  The blade is the wide flat part of the paddle that goes in the water. There are different styles of blades:
    • Wide blade face: Also known as a low aspect blade.  The most common blade, and the blade with the most width.  It has a teardrop shape.  Its width allows for more power, but its drawback is more pull on the shoulders.
    • Narrow blade face: A narrow width blade, sometimes called a high aspect blade, requires a shorter stroke or cadence to gain speed and has less effect on your shoulders.
    • Otter Tail Blade:  A few manufacturers have an otter tail blade with a design that comes from canoeing.  The blade is wide at the throat and tapers to a point. It’s designed to adjust its depth for different speed and control variances.
    • Small vs. Large blade size:  Paddle manufacturers now make varying blade sizes for small, medium or large paddlers.  The reasoning being that a larger paddle blade may create more effort for a smaller person to pull through the water and lead to hitting the board rails.
  • Power face:  The power face is the side of the blade that pushes against the water, and has a slight curve.  It’s the side of the blade that usually faces you as you paddle, unless you are performing a turn like a reverse sweep turn.
  • Dihedral: Raised section on the middle of power face, which prevents flutter from the blade on the forward stroke.
  • Throat or Neck:  Connection of blade to shaft.
  • Shaft: Long stick section of paddle between throat and handle. Shafts vary in flexibility. Some are oval for a more natural hold of the hand. The elbow at the bottom of the shaft, which brings the blade forward at an angle, is designed to give the paddle a longer reach as well as a cleaner entry into the water.
  • Grip, Handle or ‘T-grip’: Top of paddle- handles vary in design.
  • Canter:  The angle of the blade to the shaft, usually at 10-12 degrees. The design comes from outrigger and traditional canoeing. It’s common to see paddlers with the blade ‘backwards’.  There are three reasons for having a canted blade. You will achieve a longer reach towards the nose thus a more powerful stroke. Secondly, at the catch when the blade hits the water, the angled blade applies downward pressure on the water surface releasing the nose from the water, thus creating a more efficient forward glide.  Lastly, at the exit by your feet, the cantered blade will be vertical and will release cleanly from the water with no drag. If the blade were backwards at your feet, the reverse canter would pick up water on the exit, thus creating drag and slowing the board and the beginning of your recovery stroke.

Types of Paddles 

  • Adjustable:  Most of these come in two pieces that snap together at varying lengths,  and are great for families, rentals, and anyone seeking an option for varying paddle length.
  • Two-Piece or Three-piece:  Breakdown paddles are ideal for travel, as a backup on the board, and for car carries.
  • Bent shaft: These allow for a natural lower hand position, a longer reach and cleaner exit from the water.
  • Fiberglass: These are durable, yet slightly heavy.
  • Carbon Fiber: These are often lightweight, easing shoulder stress while paddling.
  • Aluminum:  Inexpensive, often quite heavy, and can sink if a foam core interior is missing from the shaft.
  • Wood:  Lightweight and durable, covered in carbon or fiberglass and epoxy for added strength.
  • Combination paddles:  These may have a carbon shaft, but plastic or fiberglass blade or aluminum shaft and plastic blade.  There’s a wide variety of paddles with varying materials in each.
PFD (Personal Floatation Device)

Two Types of PFD’s:

  1. Type 3-  This is the vest-style PFD secured by a front, side zipper or pull-over. Vest style PFDs provide the most flotation, especially in the case of a paddler being knocked unconscious or injured and in any situation in which they can’t swim.  Vest style PFDs also provide core warmth in cooler temperatures, have pockets to store items, such as a knife, VHF radio, energy power bar or camera. PFDs designed for instructors have quick release belts for attaching a tow line or leash, additional pockets and sometimes a hand warming pocket.  Type 3 PFDs also should have reflective striping to be made more visible to boaters or rescues. The only known fatalities involving a paddler wearing a Type 3 PFD has been when the paddler didn’t have the vest zipped up or on at all.
  2. Type 5– These are inflatable PFDs, which are inflated by pulling a handle on a string which fires a CO2 cartridge.  This inflates a Mae West type life jacket similar to those on airplanes. There are two types of inflatable PFDs. Most SUPers wear a waist attached fanny pack version, while boaters often use the horseshoe shaped vest which rests around the neck and over the chest.  The fanny pack is the most minimalist of all PFDs and ideally should be worn forward on your waist. Many find this uncomfortable and swing it behind them to rest on their lower back. The downside to this method is that if a paddler has an arm injury or is panicking while treading water, he/she cannot inflate the PFD.
  • Coiled:  Coiled leashes don’t drag behind the board (which can slow your progress), and they help you avoid catching on logs, kelp, or rocks (which usually results in a face-plant).
  • Straight:  These are ideal for surfing, but on flatwater they can slow your speed and catch obstructions in the water below the board.
  • Hybrid: These include the benefits of a coiled leash but also have straight sections.  Mainly used for flat water uses.
  • Quick Release Leashes: These are ideal for rough water, rivers, and surf, as they have mechanisms for separating the leash from the Velcro ankle attachment, which is important so you can separate yourself from a leash that gets caught on an obstruction to avoid entrapment.  Some are designed to break under immense pressure.

Citation: Certified Instructor’s Manual, Flatwater Level 1, 2nd ed., The Professional Stand Up Paddle Association/PSUPA.com, 2015