GUIDE TO STANDUP PADDLINGCanoe and Kayak May 2011 - Shelby Stanger
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It’s been said that even your Grandma can learn to SUP in calm conditions. First timers going out on flat, calm water need just a handful of skills and a half day of practice to grasp the basic foundations of the sport. We talked to expert paddler Todd Bradley, founder of C4 Waterman, and also got tips from instructors John Denney of East Coast Paddle Surfing in Jupiter, Florida, and Izzy Tihanyi of Surf Diva’s What’SUP Surf School in La Jolla, California, to find out the top skills for starters.

Board to Water

Make sure you have an instructor or shop fit you to the right board based on your height, weight and ability. Pick a spot with flat water and as little wind as possible. Carry the board cradled under your forearm, on your hip, or by the handle with the nose facing forward. “If you carry the board on your head, you can tweak your neck,” says John Denney. Hold the paddle in the opposite hand pointed horizontally towards the ground.


This sport requires tremendous balance so the first thing students need to do is find the “sweet spot” of the board where they are most balanced. “Every board is different, but it’s usually just south of the middle of the board,” says Izzy Tihanyi. If you are too far forward, you will sink the nose. Too far back, you will sink the tail. Start on your knees if you are more comfortable. When you are ready to stand, slowly get to your feet, placing your feet parallel, about shoulder width apart. Keep your knees bent, hips forward, back straight and head up looking at the horizon to engage your core muscles. “In yoga, this is called the neutral power stance,” says Todd Bradley. “The minute you get unstable, bend your knees and straighten your back.” If it gets really choppy or you become exhausted, you can always drop back to your knees to paddle back to shore or out of the chop.

Mastering the Paddle

Most paddles are made with logo facing forward so you know which way to hold it, says Todd Bradley, a world champion paddler and paddle builder himself. One hand should be on top of the T-grip and the other should hold the paddle wider than shoulder distance apart . When taking a stroke, your bottom hand should be on the same side you are paddling on.

Standup Paddling is a relatively safe sport, but falling on your paddle can be disastrous. Always fall away from your paddle and your board. If separated from your equipment, swim to your board first, then paddle prone style like you would a surfboard back to retrieve the paddle.

Walk on Water

Stand in power neutral stance, looking at the horizon and engage your core muscles. Using maximum reach, extend your arms to fully submerge the paddle into the water alongside your board. Keep your top arm relatively straight with just a slight bend at the elbow. Twist your torso forward, and use your top arm to drive the paddle back through the water to propel the board forward. Your torso should twist back to center as you do this motion. Release the paddle out of the water when your torso is back to center, right around your feet.

When you take the paddle out of the water, twist your wrist slightly to “feather” the paddle, which causes the blade to angle sideways like an airplane wing and avoid wind resistance.

Paddle for a few strokes on one side and then switch to the other to go straight. Sometimes the wind or current goes against you so you may have to paddle on one side a lot longer. Or, Bradley says, if you hold the paddle too much at an angle, it will arc through the water and you will be turn too far to the left or right. “Your stokes should be short and up front .”


Bradley says the easiest way to turn the board is to use slow, sweeping paddling motions on the opposite side you want to go. Turn left by using slow strokes on your right and do the opposite to turn right. “You can lose your balance when you turn so just remember to balance by bending at your hips and knees, like doing the hula; not at your shoulders.”

For more advanced technique, take a class or check out good video online like the ones at


By Shelby Stanger

SUPs have come a long way from the days of the oversized, heavy surfboard and chopped off canoe paddle. Now specialized into touring, river, racing, and surf, companies are even producing boards specifically designed for kids and women, as well as eco-friendly paddles.

Since SUPs can be heavy to carry for anyone, let alone kids, Tahoe SUP came out with the “Grom,” 9’6” and under 16 lbs ($850,, designed specifically with the little ones in mind. With more and more women getting into the sport, companies like Tahoe SUP and Lakeshore Paddleboard Company have also crafted lighter-weight boards, made with less volume and prettier graphics on the deck. Ladies should check out Lakeshore’s 10’6” “Betty” (, and Tahoe SUP’s 12’6” “Bliss.”

SUP races are popping up in just about every major water city in the country from Dana Point, California all the way to New York. Manufacturers like Starboard ( and Surftech ( are refining their “stock” 12’6” race models, like the “Mitcho” and “Free Race,” respectively.


The latest in SUP design trends seem to be in developing touring boards, designed for overnight expeditions. “Touring is taking off. Not only do touring boards allow you to fish off your board and carry gear for weeks to survive on, but you can flash brand new routes in waterways that have never been explored,” says Lakeshore Paddleboard President Mike Tessier.

For the recreational flatwater paddler, check out Lakeshore’s fiberglass/epoxy “Wet Woody” ($1,275.00, 12’4” x 32″ x 4.5,” It has all the vertical characteristics of a 12’4” raceboard, but with more width in mind for stability, and a displacement hull that helps track the board straight for long distance treks. With six leash plugs (four in front and two in back), and a built-in bungee system, there’s endless potential for holding gear for an overnight adventure.


Those who are rougher with their equipment or plan to paddle for the long haul should check out Imagine Surfboards’ 11’6” plastic “Speeder” ($660 or $820 with the rudder, Designed for distance paddling and fitness, founder Corran Addison said this board is Imagine’s fastest sub-race class design yet. The optional foot rudder makes the board track even through rough side winds, and for those headed out on an overnight adventure, there’s a built-in hatch that keeps items dry. Best of all, Addison says the 100 percent plastic design (40% to 50% of which is recycled plastic) makes this board literally indestructible. It opens the door for rocky river trips and ensures a resale value that should last a lifetime.

Besides touring and expedition boards, companies are honing their inflatable designs as well. C4 Waterman’s all-new CMac 10’6″ XXL iSUP ( is extra wide at 35-inches yet incredibly stable. “It’s doubles as the perfect river board,” says co-founder Todd Bradley, “especially for those like Charlie Mac who needs extra balance while trying to drop a Class IV rapid.”

You can also check out the Surftech’s 10’6″ iSup inflatable with travel backpack and two-way air pump or the new 11’ PVC-coated drop-stitch inflatable NRS SUP ( that comes with its own K-Pump. For those who like sitting as much as standing, though, check out Advanced Element’s “Hula” 11’ ( that has 7 d-rings for gear, and an optional kayak seat attachment.


While inflatable SUPs make plane travel possible, most paddles can’t fit into overhead compartments. C4 Waterman’s answer is a brand new portable paddle that breaks down into three pieces and fits into a 34-inch travel case. Made from carbon fiber or fiberglass ($285), they also have an eco-friendly brand-new bamboo veneer model ($325, Sawyer and Quickblade also have bamboo paddles. C4 Waterman Co-founder Todd Bradley calls the material “nature’s own carbon fiber,” – light weight and aesthetically eye catching for the environmentally sound paddler.


It doesn’t take long on a standup board to realize the benefit of having your shoulders free. Manufacturers are responding in novels way to solve hydration with products like CamelBak’s Flash Flow 50 oz. belt pack ($TKTK, and Dakine’s TKTK (

Don’t forget about life jackets. Really. PFDs are now a necessity under new USCG regulations that officially classify standup paddleboards outside the surf zone as “vessels.” This means all stand up paddlers are legally required to wear or carry a PFD in most waterways. MTIs new “Fluid Belt Pack” ($99.99, comes with a bladder, CO2 cartridge and backup inflatable tube that instantly inflates into a Type II lifejacket when needed. The Quiksilver Waterman Collection also just came out with a USCG approved waistband PFD ($110. The nylon ripstop pouch has a CO2 inflatable that’s activated with a pull cord. It also features zippered pocket for extra storage (or in case you need to throw in a few bucks to paddle to the dockside beach café), and an attached emergency whistle.

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