Fundamentals of SUP

DISCLAIMER: The following information is a general set of concepts to provide individuals with a fundamental framework to learn and develop their skills in the sport of SUP. This is not an exhaustive list, and this is NOT meant to supplement personal practice and instruction from certified professionals. This is the beginning of a series of short articles and videos on the fundamentals of SUP with the generous help of Aztron Sports. As the sport continues to grow, some of these may change and adapt.


A fundamental approach allows for the personalization of the skills since everyone’s bodies do not have the same ability or capacity. The fundamentals will also be applicable across the different types of SUP boards. They can also be used from a beginner to an experienced paddler to develop or fine tune their skills. These also share strong correlations with other paddle sports such as kayaking and canoeing.

Below is a helpful way to break down key areas to consider while paddling, and to note that safe, effective, and efficient paddling is supported thru appropriate use of the body, board, and blade.


The fundamental concept is in bold followed by a description of it. The photographs are to help provide an example. As this series progresses, there will be video footage as well as simplified drawings to better illustrate the fundamental concepts.

Balance: A flat, stable board will move faster and straighter then a board that is wobbling or at an angle. Think of the wobbles as energy going towards making waves that could be getting you where you need to go. A flat board has a longer water-length, which will allow it to have a higher speed. Having an angle to the board intentionally will be touched on later. If the board is balanced, then you yourself will be balanced, and this helps confidence and saves energy.

In the photo, balance is achieved by positioning myself towards the center of the board and using my legs and hips to assist in appropriate pressure on the board while paddling. Active knees will help with this!

Posture: This concept is looking at the stance you set, and the positions your body makes while padding. You’ll need to be able to have some lower and upper body separation to become more effective. The lower body is set in an athletic stance and both feet are in a centered position to allow for a consistent and comfortable forward paddle. The head is upright and looking in the direction of travel. The upper body from hips upwards goes thru a twisting motion to engage the core muscles in the stroke.

Note in the photograph the position of the feet in relation to the center of the board, the bend in the knees, the position of the head, and the upper body. The stroke is nearing it’s exit point.

Effective use of blade: The best way to think about this is to make sure that you get the most return from your efforts. Getting the full blade into the water as far forward without straining yourself before stroking will maximize your return. The blade should be exiting when it finishes pushing water back and before it starts to push water up. Most paddle designs would have this finish near your feet. Another important element of this is the grip on the paddle. It should be relaxed yet firm. The bottom hand grip should be comparable to how you would hang on from a monkey bar, while the top hand is mainly using the palm of your hand to push forwards. Having relaxed fingers will reduce fatigue and strain on your wrists and forearms.

Is the blade entirely submersed in the photograph? Look at the grip of both the top and bottom hand, are they both relaxed and firm? Where in the forward stroke is he, starting, finishing, somewhere in between?

Paddle Positioning: This concept is taking into consideration the angle of the paddle shaft and the path the blade goes thru the water. For fast and straight forward movement the paddle shaft angle should be nearing vertical, and the path the blade goes thru the water should parallel the board. For turning strokes the paddle shaft angle will move away from vertical, and the path of the blade will make an arc. Variations of this will come into use for small corrections and dealing with environmental considerations.

Note the position of the blade away from the board, and the angle of the paddle shaft. The foot positioning in the photograph is towards the tail of the board and staggered to make turning strokes more efficient.

Board Positioning: The angle and tilt of the board can be adjusted by shifting weight or the position on the board. This is important for turning maneuvers and paddling in environments that have wind, current, waves, or a combination of them. When paddling into winds, shifting weight forward can decrease the affect of the wind pushing the board off course by positioning the nose down. When the wind or swell is from behind, shifting weight back will allow the fin and tail to hold a course better. Think about shifting weight towards the direction of the force, since this will place the board in a position that will decrease the effects of the force. For quick or sharp turns shifting back on the board decreases forward speed and increases maneuverability.

In using different board positions its important to keep in mind balance and speed will be an important factor. In the photo as the tail of the board is weighted, the nose comes up. This reduces the length of the board which will increase turning ability and decrease speed.

Full use of body: The body is the most important element in getting around on a SUP. With this concept, it is looking at the other parts of your body that can be utilized outside of just arms and shoulders. Using core muscle groups and legs will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of paddling whether going forwards or turning.

Note the position of the legs and the stance being used. The head and upper body are turned into the direction the board is heading. The core muscles are helping to turn the board into the direction the body is facing. Using pressure from legs to feet to push the board will reduce the effort needed by the upper body and aid the core muscles.

Below are several strategies to help you as you practice:

  • Keep it simple by just focusing on one to two areas at a time.
  • Remember that “slow is smooth and smooth is fast,” so start off slow and increase the speed in which you practice.
  • Make sure to practice skills bilaterally (that means both sides!!!).
  • Keep it active by changing up what are you practicing routinely.

Below are some links to locate professional coaching and instruction:

ACA SUP Instructors

British Canoeing SUP Coaches

ISA SUP Coaches

I hope that you’ve found the fundamental concepts useful, and if you have any questions or suggestions send them along. Hope to see you out on the water!

Jake Taylor

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