AUG 2015 - SUP
Paddle Longer and Faster
An Efficient Forward Stroke
By Kathy McDermott
Over the last four or five years I have come to love the sport of standup paddleboarding. While SUPing you have the option to sit, kneel, or stand. You can make it a yoga class, a cardio workout, an interval workout – or you can make it a relaxing family paddle and enjoy the amazing scenery. One of my favorite activities is paddling with a select few friends and catching up with each other’s lives. No matter what you choose, it’s therapeutic.
Whether paddling for recreational purposes or looking to improve your skills, an efficient forward paddling stroke allows you to enjoy the experience for a longer period of time – and at a whole other level.
Here are steps to an efficient SUP forward paddling stroke. Always set yourself up in a comfortable, athletic stance with knees slightly bent.
Your grip on the paddle is important. First, determine your best hand placement: with one hand on the T-grip and the other hand holding the shaft of the paddle, put the shaft of the paddle on your head. When you are holding the paddle there, you want both of your elbows at a 90-degree angle. This is approximately the distance you want between your hands on the paddle. I recommend that you put a piece of electrical tape on the shaft of the paddle to remind you where your bottom hand should be for every stroke.
As you paddle, you may make minor adjustments to your hand placement, but these tips will give you a starting point. The top hand should grip the T-grip as if you are making a “duck” with your hand. The bottom hand should grip the shaft by making the “OK” sign. Your grip should be loose and comfortable. The most important part of the grip is always keep your hands stacked – like you are holding a stack of pancakes between your hands. This is an important step to help you keep the paddleboard going in a straight line.
The catch is where the blade first makes contact with the water. When you are ready to begin your forward stroke, reach the blade of the paddle out in front of you by rotating your waist and your shoulders.
Remember to keep your hands stacked and your elbows only slightly bent. The twisting at the shoulders and the waist, along with keeping your elbows only slightly bent, will give you a bigger and longer catch.
Keeping your hands stacked, bend at the waist while you “fire” or stab your blade all the way down and into the water. Do not pull the blade toward you with your bottom hand, as this only allows you to use your biceps of your bottom arm, instead of the power of the muscles of your entire body.
It is very important to push the blade down into the water by bending at the waist – and pushing down with your “duck” hand.
Be sure to take the blade out of the water at the end of the stroke, and keep it parallel to the line from your foot and hip. Don’t paddle past your feet or hips, because it will only result in wasted energy and efficiency.
To finish the recovery, twist your top thumb so the power face of your blade is facing away from the board. Rotate your shoulders and waist, and then slice the blade forward, and set up for another forward stroke.
Finally, a couple tips in regard to cadence and turning… I usually do about five strokes on one side and then switch to the other. With each pull, try to focus more on speed and cadence than you do on power, which will keep you moving fast. For a basic turn, simply paddle more on one side than the other. For a tighter turn, use a sweep stroke by putting the blade on edge as it enters the water, and then sweep it out and away from the board.
As you practice the key steps to an efficient paddling stroke, you will quickly learn that SUP is a total body workout – from your toes to your nose on every stroke!
Kathy McDermott (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a physical education teacher and coach at Queensbury School District. She has spent the past 18 summers at Lake George Kayak in Bolton Landing, and is an American Canoe Association level 2 SUP instructor. She works with people of all ages and skills in both flatwater kayaking and standup paddleboarding.