Guy paddling on a BOTE board with his dog

How to Hold a Paddle Board Paddle

When it comes to stand up paddle boarding, one of the most overlooked—yet vitally important—skills to master is how to hold your paddle board paddle.

Sure, it might seem like one of those things you just take for granted—like holding a knife and fork. But the reality is, how you hold your SUP paddle can drastically impact and influence your paddle boarding experience.

Whether that means avoiding bad habits or optimizing for super healthy ones, this much is clear: when you learn the basics of how to hold a paddle board paddle, you’ll never be up a creek without one.

Without further ado, here’s the BOTE guide to handling a paddle board paddle like a pro.

The Anatomy of a SUP Paddle

First thing’s first: Let’s look at the paddle itself. Every SUP paddle can be divided into three sections: the blade, the shaft, and the handle. Typical blade dimensions are about 8.5 inches in width and 16-18 inches in length. Shafts can run from about 65 to 86 inches.

BOTE paddles are often adjustable 3-piece paddles. On the entry-level end of the spectrum, the 3-Piece Adjustable SUP Paddle is a super solid, no-frills option made with carbon fiber and a fiberglass shaft. And for more advanced paddlers, the Axe Chainmail Pro is a super lightweight, super sturdy work of technological art, made of our advanced Chainmail Pro material and a Convex Blade with ABS edge.

A guy paddling on a BOTE Paddle Board

How Long Should a SUP Paddle Be?

One of the most critical things to know about holding a SUP paddle comes well before even actually holding one. That’s right, how to determine the right length of your paddle is a make or break moment.

A good rule of thumb is to add about 9-10 inches to your height. So, if you’re 6 feet tall (or 72 inches), add about 9-10 inches for a paddle length of 81-82 inches.

Another trick of the trade to ensure the paddle is the right height for you is to stand next to your paddle on a flat surface with the blade even with your feet. From here, when your hand is on the handle, your elbow should be bent at about a 45-degree angle. If it’s less than that, it’s probably too short. And if your arm is completely straight, the paddle is too long.

Two ladies paddling on BOTE Paddle Boards
Overhead view of girl on a Flood Aero Inflatable Paddle Board

How to Hold a Paddle Board Paddle

Once you’ve got the length of your paddle down, it’s time to hold it. While doing so is largely pretty intuitive, there are a few helpful pointers for getting it just right.

A guy paddling on a Bug Slinger Inflatable Paddle Board down a river

Adjust Your Handle

When you go to fasten the handle, you’ll want to peer down the shaft of the paddle to make sure that the handle and blade are flush. If it’s sideways, it’s going to be super cattywampus when you paddle. So, only resecure your handle when it’s in line with the blade.
Which Way Should a SUP Paddle Face?
The correct way your paddle should face is at first maybe a little counterintuitive—though that sensation will quickly disappear after your first couple of paddle sessions. But the gist is this: you want the logos on the shaft to be facing forward. Sometimes, companies will have logos on both sides of the paddle blade, so it’s best to look for the logo on the paddle shaft itself—this will face forward.

Another thing to keep in mind is to focus on the shape of the blade itself and what makes sense for getting the most leverage on the water. Most blades have a concave surface; you’ll want the blade to “scoop” the water as you pull it backwards. With that in mind, make sure the concave portion faces you while the convex side faces forward so that you get a good “pull” through the water.

Kneel Paddling

For beginners just starting out, it’s super helpful to begin paddling on your knees rather than fully standing up. This will give you a better sense of balance and allow you to gain some confidence before rising to your feet.

As BOTE Ambassador Erin O’Malley explains, kneel paddling has its own set of paddle-holding criteria. “When you’re kneel-paddling, your hand goes right above the blade with a nice wide grip, and you’ll fully submerge the paddle into the water. When you’re paddling on the right side, your right hand will be closer to the blade, and vice versa, when you’re paddling on the left, your left hand will be closer to the bottom of the paddle.”

The Paddler's Box

The space in between a paddler’s arms is called the paddler’s box. You always want your paddler’s box open. If you ever find yourself paddling with an “x” shape for your arms, you’ll know that you’ve gotten things mixed up.

Where to hold your paddle

Once you’ve graduated to standing up, this is where holding your paddle correctly makes a world of difference. The first order of business is figuring out how far apart your hands should be. Here’s a simple trick for determining the right distance:


Step 1: Grip the paddle with one hand just below the handle.

Step 2: With your other hand, grip the paddle somewhere in the middle of the shaft.

Step 3: Now, this part is maybe a bit tough to visualize, but—hold the paddle over your head perpendicular to your standing position and parallel with either the ground or, better yet, your floating paddle board! Lower your arms until the back of your forearm is parallel with the ground (or your board).

Step 4: From here, course-correct your grips until both of your elbows make a right-angle as you’re holding the paddle above your head. THAT is the correct distance between your hands when paddling.

Step 5: To paddle, simply grab the handle with the hand that’s closest, then swivel the paddle into a vertical position, and you’re ready to go!

A girl paddling on a river on a BOTE Flood Aero Inflatable Paddle Board

How Do I Make My SUP Paddle Faster?

If you’ve got the need for speed, there are a few tips on how to hold your paddle that can drastically boost your paddling performance.

The first thing you’ll want to do is master your stroke. To do so, reach as far forward as you comfortably can, stacking your hands and shoulders so that your paddle is vertical.

“The more that we do our forward stroke with a vertical paddle, the more straight-ahead we’re going to track,” says Erin. “When your paddle is more diagonal, this will result in more of a turning-oriented paddle stroke.” 


Next, use your hips, your core, and your legs. As any bodybuilder or professional couch-mover will tell you, there’s a lot more strength in your lower body and your core than in your upper body. The same goes for stand up paddle boarding. Get your arms straight and as far forward as they can go. Then hinge at the hips, bury your paddle into the water, and pull with your entire body, including your legs. This paddle motion is effectively your “motor” when you’re paddling. When you have a low center of gravity in your paddle motion, your motor will work a lot more efficiently.

Nose to Toes

The length of your paddle stroke should extend to the very front of your paddle board, and when you pull back and draw in the water, you should release the motion once your blade reaches the center of the board where your feet are standing. A.K.A., bring that paddle from your nose to your toes. Anything beyond your toes, and you’ll just be lifting excess water and doing more work than is necessary.

Now that you’ve got a hold on how to hold a paddle board paddle, it’s time to get out there and explore. Happy paddling; we’ll see you out there!

Step 1 to paddling
Step 2 to paddling

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