3 Steps to Standup Paddleboarding Success

August 30, 2013
standup paddleboarding: woman SUP stand up paddleboard picture

If you’re looking for a fun way to get active out on the open water this Labor Day weekend then look no further than standup paddleboarding (SUP). This fun fitness endeavor not only strengthens your entire body—challenging everything from the muscles of your feet to the muscles of your arms—but it also helps to improve balance and can serve as a great cardio cross-training option, depending on how you choose to approach your SUP session. To reap the many benefits that SUP has to offer, check out these tips from Gillian Gibree, Roxy professional SUP athlete and owner of Paddle into Fitness. They’ll have you paddling like a pro in no time.

Step #1: Know your equipment  
As a SUP yoga instructor—trained by Gillian herself—I know firsthand that the paddle and board you use can make or break your SUP experience. Make sure the paddle is the right size for you—approximately six inches over your head—with this simple trick: Stand with your right arm extended overhead and flex your wrist. The correct size paddle will be at about this height, allowing you to grip the T-top of the paddle in your right hand while placing your left hand about half way down the shaft.  To make sure your hands are placed the right distance apart, Gibree suggests holding the paddle over your head and moving your hands until your arms form a ninety-degree angle.

When it comes to boards, bigger isn’t necessarily better. “Opt for something that isn’t too wide, so that you can still stroke with the paddle as vertical as possible,” says Gibree. “And make sure the board isn’t too heavy either.” Keep in mind that you will have to transport the board in and out of the water, so a lightweight board that isn’t too wide will make for a much easier carry. For beginners, an all-around board that is about 10-12 feet in length and about 30-34 inches wide should work perfectly for any type of activity you want explore on the water, including fitness, yoga, and surfing.


Step #2: Hone in on your paddle technique
With SUP being such a beginner-friendly sport, Gibree says that she commonly sees individuals paddling with incorrect technique, which can have negative consequences long-term. “Not paddling correctly can lead to muscle overuse and injury.  Your entire stroke should be in front of you, and the majority of the power should come from core—not your shoulders or arms.

To break down how to properly paddle, Gibree recommends a three-part paddle stroke that includes a catch, power, and recovery phase. When the paddle enters the water—the catch phase— pretend as if you’re spearing a fish, keeping the shaft of the paddle as perpendicular to the water as possible with the blade full submerged in the water just out in front of the hands. Your arms and paddle will look almost like a triangle as you enter the water, with the bottom arm straight and a slight bend in the top arm, helping the hips to open up which is where much of your power will come from. “Slightly rotating your body as the paddle enters the water will give you better reach—without overreaching—and will also allow you to use your core strength in the stroke.

As your paddle starts to move through the water, the power phase begins. Gibree shares that this phase is all about using the power of the core, not the arms or shoulders, to avoid becoming tired too quickly. Use an 80/20 push-to-pull ratio to drive down with your top hand while unwinding the body to utilize the strength of the core, which includes hip muscles. To save your energy, make sure the paddle doesn’t pass your body. “Many beginners will pull the paddle all the way to the back of the board and waste energy by throwing the water up in the air,” says Gibree. “It’s key to remember that all of your power is in front of you—not behind.”

The final portion of the stroke is the recovery phase in which the paddle will “slice” through the air with a low release, grazing the top of the water to minimize wasting time or energy as you make your way to your entry position.

If you’d like a little extra help perfecting your stroke, consider working with a qualified SUP instructor or coach. Or, if you can’t work with someone one-on-one, Gibree recommends watching techniques videos online from the great Danny Ching, one of the greatest standup racers on the planet.

Step #3: Enjoy the ride
Equipment and technique are so important, but even more so is having fun with your SUP experience. Whether you want to enjoy the sunshine as you leisurely paddle or break a serious sweat with a challenging workout, Gibree says it’s important to get out there, paddle hard, and have fun.

As you hit the water this holiday weekend, remember the tag line of Gibree’s company: “Live. Laugh. Paddle.” It really doesn’t get much better than that.

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