Skills: The Stroke
The paddle stroke is everything in standup paddling. The pros work on their technique constantly; you can get as technical as you want with yours. The most important thing to remember is to be comfortable. Don’t overdo it. If you feel pain or off-balance, slow down. A great way to practice your stroke if you can’t get to the water is to use a pool or a friend’s hot tub. Stand next to the edge, feet shoulder-width apart and practice these tips.
Stance: Staying loose is really important. From your shoulders down, your whole body has got to be like a big spring: feet parallel, knees bent. Your legs are your shock absorbers, reacting to current and bump in the water. Be comfortable and remember to have fun.
Reach: Place the blade next to your board about four feet in front of your toes with your lower arm extended, using your top hand as a guide. Reach only as far as is comfortable during your stroke. Be sure and keep the elbow of your top arm close to your head to avoid shoulder stress.
Catch: After reaching as far as possible, place the blade smoothly (think no splash) next to your board.
Power: The power phase of your stroke starts where you plant your paddle. Pull smoothly through the water, bending at the waist with the stroke ending at your feet, and no farther. If you pull past your feet it’s wasted energy that will actually slow the board down.
The perfect stroke is 90 percent body and 10 percent arms. Your reach and power come from twisting your body at the hips, torso and shoulders, using your core to drive your stroke through the water. With your blade placed, uncoil your body using the big muscles of the core and again, bending at the waist. You’re pulling yourself through the water and the blade stays stationary. Keep the blade as close to the board as possible. And try to look where you’re going, not down at your feet.
Recovery: Once the blade gets to your feet, start your recovery. Try feathering the blade or dropping the shoulder of your top arm, twisting the power face away from the rail, that smoothes out the release and helps the paddle move aerodynamically back to the catch. Remember to extend your reach. There is no rush. You’re not racing so take your time and dial in your stroke. And we probably don’t need to remind you: have fun.