SUP paddle strokes and fundamental techniques that you should have in your arsenal.

SUP and paddle strokes are like cars and engines. Neither works without the other. Yet pair the two up and suddenly you have an efficient mode of transport.

It’s easy to think (and act blindly) that hopping aboard your stand up paddle board, and just paddling, is all that’s needed. Yet refinement of the forward stroke is often needed as well as adding other types of paddle strokes to your ‘tool box’.

Forward SUP paddle stroke refinement.

One of the biggest tips any progressing paddler can take away is ‘bury the paddle blade’. Often times riders just ‘tickle’ the water with no dynamism.

Submerging the whole blade will ensure that maximum power is delivered. Complete submersion also encourages the paddler to ‘reach’. And reaching combining with paddle blade’ submersion goes a long way to developing an efficient forward paddle stroke. 

SUP paddle strokes and techniques to nail down.
Whatever type of SUP you practice a solid forward stroke is definitely needed – here shown in SUP foil mode.

There are a few other elements to also work on but if you only concentrate on the above two points you’ll be winning. And stand up paddle boarding better. Whether recreational SUPing or aiming to become more technically proficient you’ll be well on your way.

The SUP J-stroke.

Paddling in a straight line, whilst continually changing sides, isn’t as efficient as it could be. There are also situations that require the same side paddling for long periods of time – such as with crosswinds. Using the J-stroke will help keep your SUP straight and true whilst removing the need to constantly swap from one rail to the other. You lose less efficiency and can pilot narrower, more unstable boards. Especially if you stand with offset foot placement (think surf stance) which tends to favour either left or right side paddling.

Reaching forwards as normal, riders should bury the blade in standard fashion but slightly wide of the nose. Draw the stroke in towards your SUP and continue through the power phase as normal. The ‘drawing’ of the stroke gives forward propulsion as well as keeping your board tracking straight. Taking time to practice the J-stroke yields desired results.

A demonstration of the J-stroke for SUP.

The SUP sweep stroke.

A paddle stroke for all occasions the sweep can be used in so many SUP scenarios. Stand up paddle surfers put the sweep stroke to good use when paddling for and riding waves. 

Spotting their chosen swell (having positioned his/herself accurately in the line up) a sweep can be used in tandem with a tail sink pivot turn. Having spun on the spot the rider doesn’t lose ground nor stray either side of the wave’s peak. As such a few hammer down forward paddle strokes will see a smooth roll in and the wave caught.

The sweep stroke asks the paddler to perform a wide arcing motion with their paddle. Depending on the wants/needs of the rider the sweep stroke can pull out wide from the board’s nose to tail or be a shallower, snappy maneuver. 

The reverse sweep stroke. 

Where the standard sweep stroke means pulling wide, nose to tail. The reverse sweep starts on one side of your SUP, with the blade facing in towards the rail. And passes over the board’s nose to end on the opposite side. So the rider will stretch (and stand) quite a way forward. 

Some paddlers prefer the reverse sweep stroke to standard sweeps. As with all skills it has many uses and should therefore be practiced. Mixing and matching paddle strokes intuitively ensures your standing as a skilled stand up paddler.

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Reverse sweep strokes are great in scenarios like white water river running where you need a whole bag of techniques at your disposal.

Brace strokes.

Bracing is used mostly for balance and to stop the rider from falling. It’s often that a SUPer can overegg their balance and tip the board too far into its rail. Using a brace stroke will stop dunkings and bring the stand up paddle board and rider back upright.

A classic use of the brace stroke is during bottom turns on waves when SUP surfing. As the paddler carves off the bottom the paddle is extended to the inside, onto the wave’s face, and allows proficient surfers to carve harder and not fall into the wave.

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A high brace stroke used to support the rider whilst bottom turning along a wave.

You can employ a high brace – which in SUP surfing mode sees the paddle rest higher up the wave face. If it’s smaller swell then the paddle can brace on top. Or adopt a low brace where the paddler’s blade feathers the wave’s surface, tapping or pushing harder into the water as needed. 


Sculling paddle strokes are mostly a positioning tool. With the paddle pulled in close to the board’s rail, he/she moves the blade back and forth, just below the water’s surface, with a slight angle. This angle of attack gives paddle pressure as it engages with the water and serves to keep rider and board stationary. Or as stationary as possible.

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Sculling has a variety of uses that require sideways movement in confined spaces.

A typical sculling scenario could be when coming into land in deep water next to a jetty or pontoon. Having slowed to a crawl the rider can skull on the side closest to the landing platform. This slowly draws the paddler closer to the get out. And all without slamming into a hard surface and dinging the SUP. If you’re using a hard shell board then this is important. Inflatables can brush off knocks like this easier.

Back paddle strokes.

Used for stopping abruptly or reversing – especially in tight spaces where a pivot turn or sweep stroke won’t work, back strokes are simple but effective.

Unlike all the other SUP paddle strokes mentioned already a back stroke uses the reverse side of the paddle blade to push water as opposed to pull. Hand grip will be exactly the same with no need to change. SUPers then need to avoid angling the paddler’s blade otherwise it won’t work.

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Back strokes help when you need to stop and/or reverse.

Practice, practice, practice.

As with everything the more knowledge you have the more you can progress and develop your SUP skills. And have a bag of paddle strokes to call upon will see you enjoy your SUPing more and be able to cope with a broader set of paddling conditions.

If you want more effective and efficient stand up paddling then learning to put to good use all these paddle strokes is best practice.

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The more you practise the better you’ll get a SUP.

For truly rapid progression and understanding, getting some SUP coaching is worth its weight in gold. A qualified, experienced instructor will guide and help you develop paddle stroke skills much quicker than going it alone. So instruction is definitely worth considering.

Paddle Monster have some great resources and tips for SUP paddle strokes you can find here.

If you’re after more stand up paddle boarding articles like this then check out the following. And don’t forget to give us a shout if you have any questions.