How to Paddle Efficiently: Tips on the Perfect Paddle Stroke

July 2, 2021

When you first purchase a SUP board, it is a very exciting time. You’re immediately ready to get on the water to feel the rush of the paddle through the ripples, the sun on your face, and the wind in your hair. Plus, you now have the ability to explore new areas you were only able to see in the distance from the shore.

When you bubble with this type of excitement, the tendency is to rush into the water without actually taking the time to learn anything about SUP or how to do it properly.

That is okay! We believe the best way to succeed is to just do. Get out there. Mess around. Figure it out.

But after your first few times on the water, as you become more comfortable, you may start to think that you can get better at the activity.

Your stroke maybe needs some improvement, your stance just isn’t quite right, and you start to begin to question the way you are holding your paddle.

This is good news! It means you’re out of the beginner stages and now you’re looking to become a bona fide paddler.

The best way to become better is always to find an in-person teacher who can guide you on where you might be falling short. But we know, that isn’t always possible.

If this happens to be you, check out this short guide on how to improve your paddling technique so you can start to begin to feel the power of the correct stroke while you’re out on the water!

how to paddle

Holding the Paddle

“Which way does the blade face when I paddle?”

As a SUP company with fairly active social media, we tend to receive a message with this question often.

And for good reason – it can be confusing!

Typically there are two ways you can tell if you are holding your paddle correctly.

The first is with the blade. Even though we have two different paddle models you can use the same way for both. The side with the word Atoll on it is the part of the paddle that is facing you when taking a stroke. On the standard paddle, the blank side is facing away from you. On the carbon fiber upgrade, the little buffalo (or bison) logo is facing away from you.

The second way you can tell if you don’t own an Atoll paddle is with the handle. Typically, a SUP paddle handle will have a cuffed part where your fingers can curl in order to maintain a better grip and a flatter side where your palm is supposed to sit for comfort. If you are using it backwards, you can usually notice how uncomfortable the hand grip is.

If this still doesn’t make sense, you can always find a video on Youtube explaining with visuals or contact us directly!

The Correct Stance

The proper stance involves three parts.

  • Center Point
  • Hip Width
  • Knees Slightly Bent

First, when you transition from your knees to your feet, they should always be located in the center of the board for best balance. How do you know where the center is? Just look for the handle.

The handle marks the center point of the board. This is done on purpose so when you’re carrying and transporting your board when it is inflated it maintains balance in your hand and doesn’t lurch forward or backward.

So, when standing on the board, take a quick look down and see if the handle is in between your feet.

Second, your feet should always be about hip-width apart. SUP is all about balance and what is the best position to maintain it on the water. If your feet are too narrow you’ll have to reach farther to the side just to get your paddle in the water and might lose balance. Too wide and you’ll be standing on the rails causing the board to tilt and rebound. This will also greatly diminish your balance. Keep your feet hip-width apart and you’ll be good to go.

Last, use more of an athletic stance with your knees slightly bent. This will help you develop a better paddle stroke by putting you in the right position to hinge from your hips.

And that leads us to our next point…

The Paddle Stroke

The perfect paddle stroke can be done in five movements. Don’t worry – it’s a lot less complicated than it sounds! It’s basically what the beginner does, but just done more efficiently.

Movement 1: The Reach

When people first begin to paddle they tend to stand up straight and plop the paddle in the water in front of them and pull back. Not a big deal – it will get you where you want to go. Plus, most beginners are concentrating solely on their balance.

But to really get an efficient stroke, it all begins with the reach. With your correct stance in place, gently hinge at the hips forward with your top hand above your head and your paddle blade going as far forward as is comfortable.

This part of the stroke is called the reach. The longer the reach forward the more you will be able to pull back and propel your board in the water.

Movement 2: The Catch

The catch is the point where the blade enters the water. The important thing to remember here is to fully submerge your paddle blade.

Beginners have a tendency to only use half of their blade when they paddle as it is sometimes easier to maintain balance if they are not moving a lot of water with their stroke. To paddle in the most efficient way, fully submerge your blade in order to move more water, and pull yourself farther with each stroke.

Movement 3: The Pull

Once you’ve submerged the blade it’s time to pull your body forward to the blade. Keeping your arms straight and using your obliques and traps as your primary force, keep your lower arm straight as you pull your body towards the paddle, ending your stroke at your feet. If you leave your paddle in the water behind your feet you decrease efficiency over time.

Movement 4: The Release

The best way to release your blade from the water is to slightly turn the blade away from the board to release the built-up pressure. This will allow the paddle to exit the water in an efficient manner and increase the speed with which you can continue your stroke.

Movement 5: The Recovery

The recovery is simple, this is the point between paddle strokes where you can reset yourself, and make any adjustments to the next stroke that you might have noticed on the previous one. Are your feet in the correct position? Hinged at the hips? Are your knees bent? Are you reaching as far forward as you can and putting your paddle blade fully submerged into the water?

It’s all a process of trial and error but luckily you will have plenty of repetitions to get it right!


We hope this makes sense and gives you a bit of clarity when it comes to improving your paddle stroke on the water. Much like everything in life – it’s all about practice. Just keep going, keep trying, and eventually, you’ll acquire the skills to teach your friends and family the correct way to paddle your Atoll iSUP. Until next time paddling fam, adventure on!

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