Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Therapists master this new sport, which helps with balance, strength and flexibility

The popularity of the moderm sport of Stand Up Paddle boarding (SUP) has its origin in the Hawaiian Islands. In the early 1960s, the Beach Boys of Waikiki would stand on their long boards, and paddle out with outrigger paddles to take pictures of the tourists learning to surf. This is where the term "Beach Boy Surfing", another name for Stand Up Paddle Surfing, originates.

The sport benefits its participants with an overall body workout especially associated with strong dynamic stabilization skills. SUP is gaining popularity at warm coastal climates at the recreational, cross-training and competitive levels.

The rise in popularity of SUP is due to the fact that, unlike surfing, paddleboarding is very easy to learn. Within one hour you can become very comfortable in the water and on your board. It does not discriminate from the young, the ever-growing baby boomer population and the active elderly population. In the competitive world, there are at least 30 racing events for amateurs and pros scheduled in the East Coast alone! The higher the participation, the higher possibilities of injuries sustained especially overuse syndromes of the shoulders and elbows.

Therapists' Perspective

Almost 40 physical therapists and occupational therapists participated in the "Stand Up Paddle Boarding 101+" seminar  in St. Petersburg, Fla. sponsored by Therapeutic Interventions of West Florida (TIWFL) and Primetime Medical.  The class was divided into two parts: Geraldine Nuevo, PT (a competitive stand up paddle boarder and member of TEAM USA Dragon Boat racing team) was the instructor for the land-based portion which included the breakdown of the sport's biomechanics, creating an effective training program for increased output in SUP, a discussion of common injuries their prevention and utilization of SUP as a tool in the rehabilitation of patients with orthopedic, neurological, respiratory and other conditions. Nuevo stated that one of the most common injuries is shoulder impingement due the repetitive nature of the sport and the intensity of the stress placed on the shoulder throughout its range of motion. 

She went over the basics of mounting/dismounting the board, safety precautions and the "proper way to fall" in case one loses his balance. "Fall in the water and not on your board." Proper measurement of the paddle and demonstrations of exercise routines for increasing lower body, upper body and trunk strength using body weight for resistance, hand weights, Swiss ball and a balance board were performed by the participants.  She also described the difference in mechanics of the other paddling sports such as dragon boat racing, outrigger paddling and rowing.

The second part of the class was held in the water where the participants had hands-on experience on the board and instruction - proper mounting, transition from kneeling to standing, breakdown of a stroke and turning - by a world class professional paddle boarder, Chase Kosterlitz.  Kosterlitz competes throughout the world in Stand Up Paddleboard endurance events.   He states that one should not pull the blade through the water during paddling. Instead, plant the blade in the water and bring the body to the stationary blade. "Imagine a cross-country skier planting their poles and bringing themselves forward to the poles. The poles do not drag through the snow but remain firmly in place. This visualization will help you when implementing proper technique."

SUP Vocabulary

Kosterlitz describes the stroke of paddle boarding in his website, as follows:

Reach - The distance you are reaching forward to put your blade in the water. Reach as far as possible each time you stroke. Sometimes reach is over-stressed. You need to reach only as far as you feel comfortable. If you are off balance you will be counter-productive in your stroke.

Catch - The part of the stroke when the blade enters the water.  Make sure your have reached as far as you are comfortable. Allow the blade to completely enter the water before you begin your power phase. The catch should be as clean as possible with no splashing.

Power Phase - This is where you are applying the power to your stroke. Use your entire body for this part of the stroke. Remember our arms are much weaker than the rest of our body. Use the rotation of your torso, hips and shoulders to drive your paddle. Do not pull too far back as this will decelerate the board. I like to think about my arms like 'jelly' to get them to relax during this phase. This helps me to concentrate on engaging my bigger muscle groups for my power output. Lightly grip your paddle without using your thumb to work on not using your arms during slow technique practice.

Release - After the power phase you will be releasing the paddle from the water. Similar to our catch, we want as little splashing as possible. Feathering the blade is helpful in creating a smooth release and setting yourself up for the catch. You can achieve feathering by dropping your top shoulder, by 'breaking' your wrist inward, or a combination of both.

Recovery - Relax your entire body during the recovery phase. This will help create a rhythm and allow your body to reach as far forward as you are comfortable to set up the next stroke. Use the recovery phase to concentrate on your breathing and technique. Do not think that this phase is not as important as the others because you are not exerting yourself. The 'rhythm' of your stroke can be dialed in during this phase thus affecting your entire technique.

When practicing your stand up paddle technique you are not working to make performance gains. This means do not paddle like you are trying to race. Slow down. You should be paddling at no higher than 60% effort in the very beginning and then slowly increasing intensity as you progress. Technique work is designed to build a foundation for stand up paddle efficiency. We want to put in the least amount of effort for the most amount of reward. The more efficient our paddle stroke is, the faster and longer we can paddle with less fatigue," says Kosterlitz.

The reviews given by the participants at the St. Peteresburg event were extremely positive and one said that it was good to actually experience the movements required by stand up paddle boarding - "a very good stabilization activity and core workout".  They also stated that they can use the principles of SUP even when on land on their patients who require dynamic balance training.


Karen Gonzalez works at Therapeutic Interventions of West Florida.


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You're welcome Karen!

Brian Ferrie,  ADVANCE for PTOctober 08, 2014

Thanks for publishing this article!

Karen GonzalezOctober 07, 2014


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