How to Hold a Paddle Board Paddle: Which Way the Blade Goes

How to Hold a Paddle Board Paddle

When my family and I first started paddle boarding, I noticed that my daughters would hold their paddles backward. Then again, I’d made the same mistake when I first started, because I had no idea how to hold a paddle board paddle. But after some quick research and observing other beginners, I found that it was a common mistake.

How to hold a paddle board paddle. The correct way to hold a paddle board paddle is with the blade bent or sloped forward. Your upper hand should have a light grip on the upper handle and your lower hand should grip the shaft with your arms wider than shoulder width apart. Holding your paddle this way reduces drag and increases power.

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How Beginners Hold a Paddle Board Paddle

The quickest way to spot a beginning paddle boarder is to see how they hold their SUP paddle. Most beginners make one or both of two common mistakes.

  1. Holding the SUP Paddle Backward – They either hold the paddle with the blade backward—bent toward them.
  2. Hands Too Close Together – And/or they hold their hands too close together on the handle and the shaft—shoulder width apart or less.

You can’t blame them, it’s a common mistake and I did the same thing when I started out. It seems like human nature and more intuitive to have the blade bent back toward you.

Holding a SUP Paddle Blade Backward

Holding a paddle board paddle with the blade bent backward (toward you), is actually a very inefficient paddling position. You end up pulling up on the water, creating more drag on your paddle board, instead of pulling straight to the rear on the water which provides the most forward force and momentum.

What I found interesting is that most grips on a paddle board handle are shaped to fit very comfortably with the rounded part forward so your finger joints wrap around the curved part. With your grip this way, your paddle board paddle blade is automatically bent forward in the correct position. (On a “T”-shaped handle, this won’t work and you need to make sure the blade is bent forward.)

But for some reason it seems more intuitive when you first start out to hold the blade backward, despite the fact that your hand feels more comfortable with the paddle in the correct position. I actually had to almost fight with both my daughters to explain to them why they needed to hold their paddles the correct way.

Holding Your Hands Too Close Together

The second most common error that beginning paddle boarders make when holding their SUP paddle is that they grip the paddle with their hands too close together. This is probably because when you first start paddle boarding you have a tendency to stand straight up and down. Literally “stand up” paddle boarding.

In reality, your stance on a paddle board is better with your knees slightly bent as you paddle. When you do this it feels more natural to move your lower paddling arm down the shaft farther in order to get the most power out of your stroke.

More on proper SUP stance below…

How to Use a Paddle Board Paddle

So, how do you paddle on a paddle board? To learn how to use a paddle board paddle you need to understand 5 things: Which arm goes on the handle of your paddle, how wide to hold your arms apart on a paddle, which direction a paddle board paddle blade goes, which muscles to paddle with, and the correct posture to use while you’re paddling.

Which Arm Goes on Top of a SUP Paddle?

If you paddle longer than 5 minutes you’ll realize that this is a pretty basic question. Nonetheless, we’ve all seen a total beginner make this mistake, so there’s no judgement here.

Simply put, your upper hand should be opposite to the side of the board you’re paddling on. Paddling on the right side of your SUP—your left hand is your upper hand and it grips the paddle board handle at the top of the paddle. Paddling on the left, it’s your right hand on top.

SUP Paddle Hand Position and Arm Width

In order to paddle smoothly, powerfully, and efficiently for long periods of time, you need to know how to properly grip and hold your paddle board paddle.

As I mentioned earlier, sometimes beginners grip the paddle backward. But equally inefficient that they tend to position their hands on the paddle too close together, reducing the the power and efficiency they can get while paddling.

Proper Hand Position on a SUP Paddle

Hold the SUP paddle upper handle with the rounded part forward. This will orient your paddle with the blade bent properly forward. Or if you have a “T”-shaped paddle grip, just make sure the blade is bent forward when you wrap your fingers around the handle.

When gripping the paddle, don’t grip to tightly. Your grip should be light and relaxed.

Proper Arm Width on a SUP Paddle

Now with your lower hand grip the paddle shaft. Then raise the paddle over your head, inline with your shoulders. Slide your shaft hand so that both of your arms are at a 90 degree angle at the elbow. This is most easily done by resting the center between your two hands on the top of your head.

To hit the right spot the next time, put some waterproof duct or electrical tape just below your lower hand’s shaft position. Then you can grab your paddle without thinking about it and be in the right spot every time.

Paddle Board Paddle Direction

This is where that unintuitive blade bent forward thing comes into play. With the blade bent forward it’s near vertical in the water during your entire paddle stroke. And the blade is vertical at the most powerful portion of your stroke, the middle.

In this way, your paddle transfers power to the water in the most efficient way possible.

With your paddle board paddle blade bent forward, the surface of the blade that’s facing you is called the “Power Face.” The proper paddle board paddle direction is with the power face toward you and the tail of the board.

Paddle With Your Core

We’re talking a lot about where your hands and arms go when you paddle. But what we need to emphasize is that all of your paddling power comes from your core muscles—mainly your stomach and obliques.

Say what?

Yes, that’s right. Because your core muscles are stronger than your arms. The correct, most powerful way to propel your paddle board is using your core muscles to twist at the waist and torso instead of pulling back and forth with your arms alone.

And this is where that proper stance that we mentioned earlier comes into play. The most efficient way to stand on your SUP is with your knees slightly bent with your head up and looking at the horizon.

Then twist at the torso to pull your paddle board paddle blade directly to the rear.

Correct Paddle Boarding Posture

Standing on your paddle board with the correct posture will help you:

  • Paddle stronger
  • Stay balanced
  • Conserve energy
  • Paddle straighter

To maintain proper posture while you paddle, stand straight up and down but don’t be stiff. Relax and bend slightly at your knees—don’t lock your knees.

Your back should be straight and your shoulders should be square to the board and level side-to-side. Don’t hunch or lean forward.

Doing these things will ensure that your body is in the proper posture to paddle the most effectively and efficiently.

Hold a Paddle and SUP Like a Pro

So, let’s put this all together. Because if you’ve ever watched an experienced paddle boarder pump and paddle effortlessly over the water, it’s a thing of beauty. A good paddle stroke makes all the difference when you’re paddling.

When your paddle enters the water, the blade should always be perpendicular to your SUP board. If it’s turned one way or another you’ll lose power in your stroke.

To start your stroke, reach forward and dip your paddle blade all the way down into the water. Then twist at the waist, core and torso, while simultaneously pulling with your lower hand and arm and pushing with your upper hand and arm.

Your back and core muscles should be doing most of the work. Trust me, this will take some time to master. Watch videos and watch other more experienced paddlers to get the hang of it.


I'm Steve, the research and technology workhorse behind Paddle Camp. I do tons of research on all our family's paddling gear before I buy or recommend anything. I grew up canoeing with my dad and brother. A few years ago I bought paddle boards for my daughters, myself, and my wife. Ever since then, we plan most of our vacations around kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding.

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