Welcome back to our Intermediate SUP Lesson series! Now that you’ve gotten more in-depth knowledge about boards, paddles, and fins, it’s time to take it to the water with our first skills lesson: the efficient paddleboard stroke. 

No doubt you know the basics of a SUP stroke and are able to paddle your board forward. We covered this in Paddleboard Lesson for Beginners, learning the correct hand placement and general movements of a forward stroke. This is great for a novice but let’s take it a step further and learn how to complete an efficient paddleboard stroke.

Intermediate Paddleboard Lessons – List of Posts

Woman walking to the shoreline while carrying a Thurso Surf inflatable stand up paddleboard and paddle

Robin is ready to get out on the water with the Waterwalker 120

What is an Efficient Paddleboard Stroke?

A basic paddleboard stroke is great for casual days cruising at the cottage or beach, or having a chill day on the water with your friends. You don’t have to think about it too much and that’s fine. However, with a more efficient stroke, you’ll be able to go further, faster, using your whole body rather than just your arms. This is especially useful for touring and racing.

The Five Phases of the Paddleboard Stroke

An efficient paddleboard stroke can be broken down into five steps or phases: setup, catch, power, exit, and recovery. Let’s learn the mechanics of each phase with SUP instructor Robin demonstrating the steps.

Woman paddling on a Thurso Surf inflatable stand up paddleboard

The first phase is the setup with the A-frame

1. Setup – 5 Phases of the Paddleboard Stroke

The first phase of an efficient paddleboard stroke is the setup. This sets you up for the other phases and happens before your blade even touches the water. In this phase, you’ll want to rotate your body away from the paddling side. So if I’m paddling on the right, my body is opening up to the left. The result will have you forming an A-frame shape, as Robin demonstrates so well. This will maximize your reach and help engage the whole body in the paddling process. Don’t forget those straight arms!

Woman paddling on a Thurso Surf inflatable stand up paddleboard

Robin is burying the blade for the catch

2. Catch – 5 Phases of the Paddleboard Stroke

After the setup comes the catch. The catch is when we are planting the blade in the water. With an efficient paddleboard stroke, we want to load the blade with our body weight by hinging forward with our upper body, bringing that top hand down. The goal is to fully submerge the blade in the water, as far forward as possible. The angled blade of a SUP paddle helps to maximize the reach.

Woman paddling on a Thurso Surf inflatable stand up paddleboard

Bring your body to the paddle in the power phase

3. Power – 5 Phases of the Paddleboard Stroke

Next up is the middle phase, known as the power phase (sometimes referred to as the “pull” phase). We are now in the process of unwinding our body from that initial rotation in the setup. We do this by engaging our core, bringing our body to the planted paddle, instead of bringing the paddle to us. Doing so will generate power and speed from more of your body’s muscles, rather than just relying on the arms. In fact, the arms should serve only as a connector from your body to the paddle. Remember to keep your paddle at a neutral angle, close to the rails, to help with tracking.

Woman paddling on a Thurso Surf inflatable stand up paddleboard

A slight flick of the wrist feathers the blade during the exit

4. Exit – 5 Phases of the Paddleboard Stroke

As we take our blade out of the water, we begin the exit phase. The exit phase should occur around your feet or slightly behind. The key to making this efficient is to feather your blade, which minimizes any resistance from the wind or air. This is accomplished by a slight downward rotation of your hands, or a subtle flick of the wrist. The blade will now be much more aerodynamic, slicing through the air with ease.

Woman paddling on a Thurso Surf inflatable stand up paddleboard

Keep the paddle low during the recovery phrase

5. Recovery – Phases of the Paddleboard Stroke

Finally, we come to the recovery phase. Now that your blade is out of the water and your body is back to the starting point, you can take a moment in the recovery phase as you start to bring your paddle forward again for the next stroke. The top hand should be down in front of you. As you do this, keep your feathered blade low to the water. This will ensure you are conserving your energy and are ready to re-enter the setup phase and do it all again.

Woman giving a thumbs up while standing on a Thurso Surf inflatable stand up paddleboard

Thumbs up for an efficient paddleboard stroke!

Practice Each of the Five Phases

And there you have it; the five phases of an efficient paddleboard stroke. It can be a lot to take at the beginning. When you are starting to incorporate these techniques into your SUP stroke, it is best to take it slow, focusing on one phase at a time.

Next time you’re out on your board and have some free time, try practicing each phase separately. Use your first 10 paddle strokes to focus on your setup, then the next 10 on your catch, and so on. Take it nice and slow, honing on the key points of each phase. You can even practice at home with your paddle and a balance board or gear up and hit the water!

Recommended Gear

If you’re an intermediate paddler or confident beginner looking for a board that accelerates fast and is easy to maneuver, the Waterwalker series has you covered. Its all-around shape and balance of speed and stability offer a versatile, confident ride so you can go anywhere and do anything! Robin was on the Waterwalker 120 for this lesson.


We hope this post has all the tips you need to take your paddle stroke to the next level! With a little practice of the five steps or five phases, you will be a paddling pro in no time. Join us next time when we guide you through two of the most challenging SUP turns to master: the crossbow and the pivot. See you then!



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