In the wake of paddleboarding’s growing popularity, hundreds of paddleboard races have sprung up across the nation. There are fun runs for charity, easy two-milers, raging river challenges and heart-pounding marathons, just to name a few. Whatever your style, there’s enough diversity so that every paddler can find their niche and discover that paddleboard racing is fun, social and great for fitness.

Master the forward stroke to beat the pack

What every successful racer shares in common is a bombproof forward stroke. The very first SUP race I did, I came in second…to last. Don’t make my mistake. Practice your technique until you have well-earned callouses on your palms. Here’s a four-stage progression to mastering this fundamental go-fast stroke.

people compete in a paddleboard race
Perfecting just one fundamental stroke will help to win your first paddleboard race. | Feature photo: Michel Terrien

1 Reach

Your reach happens in three ways. First, long, lever arms will get your paddle blade farther out towards the nose of your board. As you reach, hinge at the hips to dig the paddle into the water. Keep the shaft vertical. Rotate your core and stack your shoulders to open up those last winning few inches, enabling you to reach even farther.

2 Catch

The catch happens the moment your blade enters the water. The farther out you can reach and catch the water, the further forward you can pull yourself past your competition. Plant the full length of your blade in the water before the power stage to avoid slapping and splashing the surface.

3 Power

Right after the catch, imagine pulling your body to the paddle rather than pulling the paddle towards you. Use the rotation of your core, hips and shoulders to make this movement, instead of your arms, which don’t have as much power. An effective reach and catch will put you in proper position to recruit the most power from the core. Stop your stroke at your feet.

4 Recovery

In order to kick butt, make the most of your recovery phase. As you set up for the next reach and catch, use the strength of the shaft hand to push the paddle up into the top hand, giving the top shoulder a rest.

5 ways to prepare for race day

  1. Train with a metronome app to develop your stroke rate per minute.
  2. Aim to get on the water to train four days out of seven.
  3. Once a week, train at 50 percent effort, focusing on perfecting your stroke at a slower pace.
  1. Practice your starts, including standing, sitting and from the beach.
  2. Paddle with the right blade shape and size.

Paddling Magazine Issue 65 | Fall 2021

This article originally appeared in the 2016 Paddling Buyer’s Guide and Paddling Magazine Issue 65. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.

Perfecting just one fundamental stroke will help to win your first paddleboard race. | Feature photo: Michel Terrien



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