Darren Forward Stroke

5 Common SUP Beginner Mistakes

Standup Paddle Boarding (SUP) is for everyone. Well, it can be for everyone. Sadly, there are those who become deterred after their first paddle and sign off on the ocean sport. So what exactly goes wrong for that percentile of potential paddlers? Darren Forward StrokeIs it the cold wet element or the sore muscles the morning after? There are countless reasons this comes about, but what it boils down to is the sport is more technical than it looks. If you have never stand up paddled before, then you my friend, are a beginner. I have accumulated the top mistakes I see new paddlers make in order to give you a jump start on your paddling experience.

  1. Overconfidence
    We welcome new people to the sport, but we find the favorite time for new paddlers wanting to go out is between the hours of 11-3 when it is sunny. They want to get tan while working out, and I don’t blame them.  The trouble with this time slot in Santa Barbara is the wind picks up! Wind + 1st time SUP’er = not the best experience. Look to our previous post about the benefits of Paddling on Glass. We highly recommend that if you want to grow into becoming the best paddler you can be, take a SUP Lesson first. We can’t emphasize this enough. Sure, some can hop up and fly off the dock on their first time, but we continuously see errors in stroke, position & Ocean awareness among many other things. Our goal is to share what we know, so that you can be the best paddler you can be.

  2. Entering and exiting
    Entering and exiting the water on your feet is a no-no unless you are extremely experienced. Departing and the returning through the surf zone are the most dangerous parts of SUPing. The Paddle Sports Center has two ways for you to enter the environment; through the surf or into the harbor. I strongly recommend the harbor for beginners because of the flat water environment. The harbor location has a floating dock where you simply slide onto the board. SUP Launch BLOGThis gives you the time to feel out your balance without the open ocean swell challenging you. When landing from the harbor, again you have the potential for an easy end. Simply pulling up to a dock is much less risky and very easy. But harbor and surf landing should BOTH be done on your knees unless you are extremely experienced. Attempting to cruise in on your feet has the potential for personal and equipment injury. I have seen expensive boards snap, thumps to the head and many a bruises. Coming into shore or the harbor on your knees lowers your center of gravity; giving you more stability. The same applies to launching. 

  3. The Motion of the Ocean
    Keeping your body stiff while on the board is not good for your balance. Balance is a huge part of SUP’ing. One of the most common problems is when paddlers fight the roll of the water. Keeping your body stiff will put you into the water faster, being relaxed will make your paddling experience easier. The ocean is going to constantly move the board beneath you, so why fight it? You must keep your balance in your core, allowing your legs to absorb the roll and rock from the ocean much like the shocks on a bicycle. And move your feet! Being comfortable wiggling those toes will make you more stable and present.

  4. Paddle Position
    how-to-hold-paddle-board-paddleHolding the paddle wrong does you no favors. The forward stroke takes time to master, but let’s talk about the basics. You will want the paddle to cross over your body. Switching your hand position when you switch sides! Hands are meant to be a little wider than shoulder width apart. Be aware of which side of the blade face you are using and when the paddle enters the water, and it should be vertical. Don’t paddle past your feet, it is wasted energy.

  5. Your Core is strong!
    Use your core, not your arms. Many people have been taught the push and pull technique, don’t do it! This technique highly focuses on the arms for power, not your strongest muscles. Engage your core and focus on using you back, chest and hips. It is a full body exercise. Your hands are only stabilizing your stroke, and not the source of your power! As you bring the paddle into position, bend with your knees in order to drive the paddle down. Thinking about driving the paddle down, rather than pulling will lead to a twisting motion of your torso. As you reach the end of your twist, straighten your legs back up in order to lift the paddle out of the water.  As you stroke the paddle through the water, you’ll want to tighten your core with each stroke in order to obtain the true technique of SUP.


I paddled out with a Member of the Adventure Co-Op a few days ago to enjoy the day. Later that day he sheepishly told me that during our paddle he realized he’d been paddling wrong for months! He was glad we had gone out together, now he felt more confident. Ask any of our ASI certified instructors to go over the any of these techniques. And as always, practice practice practice.

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