The first steps to finding a powerful race stroke.

Knowing how the blade works and what it does to the board is very important. Working the body correctly and maintaining a smooth rhythm is also key.

So for these first things I will be discussing, it is important to do them very softly and slowly on flat water, to watch and feel what is happening. It also helps if there is no wind. I always start any sessions I do by going through these movements.

All of the graphics are taken off video and done in time when they are shown as a sequence. Done at the rhythm that I feel is best to show that stage. At no stage in this article I will show anything near full race pace and power. When you are practicing some of the stages you may feel you are not moving very fast.



The first thing you will see in this graphic is that a race board has straighter rails, so is easier to keep the stroke parallel to the board. You can see in 1.) that by changing the angle of the blade, we can ether pull the board or push it, to slightly change direction. I call this drift.

2.) Shows that with the shorter wave boards you need to think a bit. It is important NOT to follow the outline! At A.) the board is being pushed to the right, you are paddling on the left, so the board is going right. At B.) the tail is being pulled to the left. This is why people find it so hard to paddle a short board straight. You have the same effect if you do not keep your paddle vertical through the stroke, shown in 4.) Play with these principles working exactly how you can keep the board going straight through the stroke and then how to make the board drift to one side rather than turn.

We can also play when bringing the paddle back to start the new stroke. The board has a good glide speed.

The first exercise in 3.) is to just take the blade all the way back to the front, without taking it out of the water, this is shown in 1.  2. is just a classic tail turning position, the paddle is not vertical but it is important the blade is. In 3. it is important the paddle is vertical and you change the blade angle slowly, the water will force the blade away from the board. So if you resist this it will pull the board sideways. This is the same with 4. we can also use 4. at the beginning of the new stroke, we will be going into that later. 5. is a steering we almost never do in SUP, it is more a canoe stroke where they have there hand very near the blade.

Now for Rhythm.


It is very important to do this very slow for learning, as what ever cadence you choose to do for a period of a race it must be exact and stay the same. At this stage we are only looking at the rhythm but every time I change something in my stroke, I always then go back to the beginning and the rhythm.

The count is 1….2….3    1….

1. is the Plant, the blade going in the water at the start of the stroke. 2. is the moment the blade comes out of the water or the moment there is no more power in the stroke. ( you may choose to do a correction stroke, it will count as part of the glide.) 3. is the glide.

You will notice I have placed a level for the head, this we will be going into later. You will also notice the body angle does not change.


A small note, I am using my wave paddle as I have sold my race board and using Noah’s for these pics. Thanks Noah. The paddle is a bit short for this board. in 2) the blade should be more in the water.

For this first exercise you stand square on the board with your lower hand near the centre of the shaft.

The Plant.1). The lower arm is straight, your top arm is bent over so you can get the paddle as vertical as possible. Rotate the shoulders so you can reach forwards. Do not have the paddle angled forwards to much, at this point we are not looking for a large reach forwards.

Adjust. 2). For the first stroke keep the blade square as we need maximum drive forwards to get the board moving. Keeping the lower arm straight bring it towards the back, this lowers the blade into the water. Rotate the right shoulder forwards as the left arm gets closer to the body.

Power.3). The power comes from the power in the lower arm combined with the rotation of the shoulder which give the power to the top arm. As the rotation gets further round you will find that the right leg likes to bend, creating drive through the legs.

Release.4). The release starts the moment your lower hand reaches your knee, it stays there and you let the water pressure lift the blade, this will create a small correction stroke and your top hand will go down. Your top arm will be quite straight at this point, so keeping both arms straight, rotate the shoulders back to position 1which is 6. This brings the blade out away from the board and it should just glide above the water as in 5.

Once you have got the movements correct (remember we are not working true power yet) go to rhythm and try to do a very slow count. The moment any part of the steps are not perfect go back to them without the count and get it correct. Do this for both sides, 3 or 5 strokes ( you can do the side change out of timing as we are working on the paddle technique but the moment you feel it is going well you can try to do the change in time, it is not important at this stage).

Now for an interval and back to pure technique.


A draw stroke or front steering can be so useful some times. Later we will go into when and how we use it but you have to learn it first.

When you are doing a correction stroke, you change the angle of the blade at the beginning of the stroke but it is in the parallel line of the stroke. With a draw stroke it is way out, how far will depend on your fitness and level.

A draw/steering stroke turns the board in the direction of the side you are paddling on. When using it in racing it always has to be in the timing you are doing at that time.

Ok The Draw stroke. ( To start this it is better to be stationary.)

1.) Have the paddle at the plant position and go about 50 cm away from the board. Angle the blade at 45 degrees, place it in the water and bring it at 45 degrees towards the board. This brings the front of the board towards the paddle. Be careful as you see the body is at quite an angle, so rotate the hips a little towards the angle of pull, not to have the pressure sideways on the body.

2.) Once the blade is inline with the normal paddle stroke, continue with a normal stroke.

As you get speed, you can bring the blade into the board more at 90 degrees. Making the power stroke longer.

Once you have got this working you can try to do it in rhythm. and then combine it with say 1 draw 2 normal. Play around with patterns.

A slightly more advance stroke is combining a steering stroke at the beginning.

If you look at GRAHIC 1 you will see at (3.1) we have the front steering. So what we can do is, place the blade out at the draw position, placing the blade as (3.1) open the blade to (3.4) which turns the board. Then rotate the blade round doing the draw stroke.


You will notice that the paddle technique I am using we are using the power of our shoulders and hips so I like to have a little stretch exercise when the paddle is going back to the Plant. It is a movement I do on all of the boards I use, wave, just playing around and race.

1). is the plant. 2). is the release. 3). Paddle, shoulders at 90 degrees to the board……………. Relaxed. 4). Winding up and preparing for . 5). The plant.

The transition between (2) and (3) is the most important position for all of your SUP. It is where we can do a support stroke! ( More on that in later articles.) The release is always when your lower hand reaches your back knee, the lower hand stays there. The paddle pivots on the lower hand, so as the blade comes out of the water and your shoulders rotate. the blade goes away from the board and the top hand goes down. It is very easy to do a support stroke at any point though this stage.

From (2) to (5) try to keep both arms straight, the blade will stay just above the water as you rotate your shoulders.

Changing the paddle when you change sides needs to be smooth. It can be done at (3) when the paddle is at 90 degrees or at (4) on the way to the Plant.

You can see at (4) my lower hand is coming across the board, so this is where I change my lower hand. Keeping the blade close to the deck as it travels forwards. If you are in the staggered stance, you must also change your feet. This I do at (3).


Now to start to put power into the stroke. To do this we need to rotate the hips a little to free the shoulders more. When the conditions are hard we need to be in the square position for stability but I still have my feet a little bit staggered. If you are paddling on the left, the right foot is slightly forwards.

The first thing that happens when the feet are staggered is that your natural plant position will go further forwards as in A. The further you lean forwards over your front foot the further the plant will be. However there is an optimum angle, going further does not increase your speed. The further the feet are staggered, the more power you can put through your shoulder, hips to generate more power through your legs. Again there is an optimum as the further apart they go the harder the balance.

There is a lot going on in graphic (B). I will go through points slowly as we need to build up the power slowly, remembering to  convert each stage to rhythm.

Stage 1). (a) Do not plant to far forwards, the arms are going down to place the blade in the water. (b) As the blade goes into the water start to pull back on the lower arm, push forwards on the top arm, start to rotate the shoulders and most important bend the knees to lower the blade further into the water. c) Try keep the pressure on the upper and lower hand the same and the rotation in the shoulders smooth. You are continuing to bend the knees while bringing your weight over the front foot, driving through the front leg. The bottom hand reaches the front knee, start to de-power and release.

Stage 2). Get the pressure the same in the top and lower arm is very important. Once the upper arm gets towards horizontal, it is your hips going forwards from (b) to c). In c) when the front hand reaches the front knee, bring the body back with the stroke. This drives the hips forwards in (d). You release the blade when the lower hand reaches the back knee in (e).

If you look at the main graphic you will see that we get an increase in power between (b and c) and then again in (d) to finish the stroke. You will also notice that the paddle stays in one place and pivots around a point and it is you and the board going past the paddle.

For the graphic I have placed the count markers at the back of the board.

This stage is a bit complicated and you will have to spend time feeling the power. When you are ready to do it in rhythm start slow. During a race the tendency will be to do slow with a lot of power and the fast cadence is with less power and shorter strokes.

In C. I am showing an extended Plant. Notice the body angle change during the stroke. In (b) the blade goes into the water with the lowering of the hips. As you place power through the arms and shoulders, the hips drive forwards and up as in c). This is very physical, it is not a stroke that is sustained for long periods.

Have fun and be patient. You will need to work power and rhythm. It is always power first then find the rhythm for the power you are putting in.

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