Friday, March 23, 2012

SUP Paddle Technique Part 5 - Recovery, Paddle Length & Grip

It's been a while since I posted SUP technique post #4 and it's time to wrap up the paddle technique series with a few more posts, so here we go:

SUP Paddle Technique Part #5 - Recovery, paddle length & grip distance

The recovery gives you a chance to relax the muscles for a moment and its important not to underestimate the importance of a quick, efficient and relaxed recovery. 

Once again, there are many different ways of recovering the paddle and there is no wrong or right way, so experiment and find out what works best for you, I will try to break it down into easy to understand steps that you can follow and practice.

First off, here is a 10 minute video that goes over the points discussed in this post:

Another look at paddle length
We went over paddle length in technique post #1- Choosing the right paddle and I want to mention it again because it plays a role in recovery. At our shop, we recommend a paddle length where you can just clear the top of the paddle with the palm of your hand. This length seems to work well for touring/ distance/ race paddling regardless of how the blade is shaped.

For surfing, you can shorten the paddle by a few inches. Some like to go a little longer for distance paddling which works to a certain point, depending on the board you are using. A longer paddle allows a longer reach forward and once the blade is fully planted it can be pushed deeper if the top hand feels too high, so a longer paddle has advantages in the reach, catch and power phases. So why not make the paddle even longer? I have tried going longer and found that the biggest disadvantage of a paddle that is too long is that it is difficult to quickly pull it out of the water by your feet for an efficient recovery. The other disadvantage is leverage, your bottom hand is further away from the blade on a longer paddle, we will discuss that later. The thickness of your board, or how high you stand above water level is important as well. The Starboard ACE raceboards, for example, have deep footwells where the paddler stands pretty much at water level, while an some other thick downwind boards, the feet are several inches above water level. Try doing this test with your paddle: If you have a thicker board, stand on a phonebook or something to elevate you to the about the same level you are off the water surface when standing on your board. If you are standing at close to water level on your board, stand barefoot on the ground. With the paddle next to your toes, pull it straight up like you are pulling it out of the water. If you have to stretch uncomfortably to do this your paddle may be too long for an efficient recovery. If your paddle is too long, you have to drop the top hand further down and/or stoke past your feet to get a clean release.

Feathering the blade, recovery path

As shown in the video, the two extremes of pulling out the blade at the end of the stroke are dropping the top hand to the side which lifts the paddle out to the side and automatically feathers the blade.  The other extreme is pulling the blade straight up, moving it forward in a straight line and plunging it straight down into the water.  To feather the blade when moving it straight forward, the top wrist has to be twisted. The straight line is a shorter path than the big circle when dropping the top hand and making a big circle.  Most efficient paddlers use more of the straight forward recovery with just a slight dropping of the top hand, resulting in an oval shaped recovery path.

For an easy to understand and follow description of the recovery motion, check out Dave Kalama's blog, you can read it here:

Grip height

The position of the lower hand on the paddle is important to performance.  When coaching, I often find myself telling people to try to grip the paddle lower for better leverage.   The lower hand is the fulcrum point of the paddle and the shorter the distance from the blade to the lower hand is, the easier it is to apply power to the blade (up to a certain degree).  Much like a bigger blade can be compared to a higher gear and a smaller blade to a lower gear on a car or bicycle, a longer paddle is a higher gear while a shorter paddle is a lower gear.  Gripping the paddle lower with both the top hand and the lower hand results in a lower gear that works well for acceleration or paddling into the wind.  Marking the paddle is helpful to monitor your lower hand placement.  Make sure the grip height is consistent on both sides as well.  

Connor Baxter and Kai Lenny with lowered grip,  photo: John Goodman

Links to the paddle technique series posts:
Paddle Technique Part 0: Introduction to SUP
Paddle Technique Part 1: Choosing the Right Paddle
Paddle Technique Part 2: The Three Ingredients of a Powerful Stroke
Paddle Technique Part 3: Stacking the Shoulders

Paddle Technique Part 4: Reach and Catch
Paddle Technique Part 5: Recovery, Paddle Length and Grip
Paddle Technique Part 6: Turning the Board
Paddle Technique Part 7: Catching Waves

Aloha, Robert Stehlik


  1. Robert

    Yet another good post. Really good points on grip height and paddle length. My paddles for my ACEs are a fist width shorter than my palm at full stretch. Going down to this length has reduced the pressure on the shoulder of the top hand and increased the cadence. But I still struggle to get a low enough grip hieght

    Cheers Dave

  2. Thanks Dave, good feedback.
    I have been using an ACE board as well and found that with the low cut out deck and standing at water level, my regular race paddle was too long to get a clean release and I had to go several inches shorter. Aloha, Rob

  3. Really This is very nice and informative blog post people must be visit your blog.

  4. Hi there! I am really interested in one thing, of course if I'm not asking too much could you be so kind and please share with us where you grew up?

  5. Sure, it's no secret, here is a short bio from my public linked in profile:

    Born in San Francisco, CA
    Raised in Berlin, Germany
    Graduated from John F. Kennedy School in Berlin
    visited Maui to windsurf in 1988 and stayed
    graduated from Maui Community College in 1991, moved to Honolulu
    Graduated with BA, International Business, UH College of Business, Manoa 1993
    Started Blue Planet Surf Gear as a college project in 1993
    Still running business today along with other ventures.


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