Paddle boarding is a sport which can be enjoyed by all, and with SUP activities ranging from yoga to touring to racing, there’s something for everyone.
When you first get on to a paddle board, your main concern is staying on. This alone takes practice and patience, and once you’ve mastered the art of staying on your board and balancing, you then need to learn the art of steering in a straight line. This makes your journey a lot easier and if you’re racing you’ll need to master the art of going straight before you compete. You’ll also find that travelling in a straight line takes less effort so you can go further and get more out of your paddling.
There are some simple checks you can do which may help you work out how to paddle a sup straight.
Before you start
- Get the right size board. If you are using a board which is too large or too small then this could affect your steering, it’s really important you get a board that’s the right size for you. Some boards are also harder to steer straight because of their design, so always make sure you have the right board for the activity you are doing. Surf SUPs, for example, aren’t designed for touring.
- Check your stance. If you are not standing correctly, this will mean the SUP isn’t lying flat in the water and this will alter your course. You should be positioned in the middle of the board, with your feet shoulder distance apart. If you are too far over one side or your feet are too close together, you will be putting the wrong pressure on your SUP and this will affect your balance, and also your steering.
- Use the right size paddle. Your paddle is very important to how you steer, so make sure you have the right one for the job and that it is the right height for you. Paddles come with two grips, so if you struggle with one, you may feel more comfortable with the other. Different activities require a different length of paddle so check you are using the right one. Some paddles are height adjustable, and this type will make it easy to make sure you have the right height every time.
It’s also worth remembering that if you try to do too much too quickly on a paddle board, you may find you have more problems. The best way to practice steering is on a quiet piece of water as this won’t alter your course too much and you will be able to see if you aren’t moving in a straight line.
A lot of paddle boarders don’t realise that they are actually moving their board in an ‘S’ shape, so while you are practicing, take note of how your board is moving.
Weather and tides will also affect your steering, so try to avoid these until you are fully in control of your board.
How to paddle a SUP straight
Once you have made sure that you have the right equipment, it’s time to start practicing. It may take you a while to get used to the things you need to do, but persevere and you’ll soon have control over your paddle board. Even experienced paddle boarders can let their concentration wander, so don’t worry if you suddenly find yourself moving in the wrong direction.
If you find yourself veering off course or running in to other paddlers, you may find you’re not paddling straight, so try these tips.
Check your balance
If you are standing in the right position, your balance will help you maneuver the SUP in a straight line. If you are not in the right position then your weight will not be evenly distributed. You may be pressing down more on one side of the board than the other, and this will throw the SUP off course. If you have the right balance, your SUP will stay flat, and this also helps you to glide cleanly through the water.
Keep your paddle flat
It’s very easy to put your paddle in to the water at an angle, and if you don’t notice what you’re doing, this could easily become second nature. You angle the paddle to turn, so you need to do the opposite if you want to go straight. If you feel yourself veer of course, check the angle of your paddle as it can be easy to relax your grip when you’re relaxing on the water.
When you take your first trip, you’ll be concentrating so hard on staying on the board, paddling and steering that you probably won’t notice where you’re going. There’s so much to remember you’ll be looking at the board, your feet, the paddle, and this is when you tend to veer off course.
Looking down will mean your posture on the board alters, and this will prevent the board from moving properly. It also means you have no view of the horizon, so it is very easy to go off course without even realising.
If you look ahead, ideally at a fixed point, you’re more likely to be standing in the right position, and you can tell whether or not your SUP is travelling in a straight line. Steering towards a particular view point will automatically give you something to aim at and a direction to go in.
Use the right stroke
While all those thing will help, the way to learn how to paddle a sup straight is to concentrate on the paddle strokes. Get these right, and you’ll have no problems.
The first stage is to make sure your hands are in the right position on the paddle. If your hands are too close or too far apart, you won’t be putting the right pressure on the paddle. To get the right position, hold your paddle above your head. Put one hand on the grip and the other on the handle. Place the 2nd hand so that your hands are a shoulders width apart. Keeping your hands in place, put the paddle in the water.
Keep your hands in this position and use your shoulders and torso to move the paddle. For every stroke, turn the shoulders with the paddle and you will find it much easier to steer the SUP. If you just pull the paddle with your lower hand, it will require a lot more effort, and it won’t help you move in a straight line. You’ll tire a lot easier and won’t get the most from your SUP.
If you keep your shoulders in line with the paddle and your hands, you will produce a much cleaner stroke. This is called stacking the shoulders. It may take some time to get used to this technique, but once you do you can put more power in to your strokes, and this will move the SUP faster.
Dos and don’ts with your paddle
- One important thing to remember, particularly when you start paddle boarding, is to use your paddle the right way round. This may seem obvious but when you’re concentrating on so many things, it can be an easy thing to miss.
- Make sure, too, that you put all of the fin in the water, not just the tip.
- Keep your stroke clean and smooth and don’t pull or jerk the paddle or you won’t get very far. If you find yourself scooping water when you stroke, it’s time to change what you’re doing.
One common mistake is to keep the paddle as close to the rails as you can. This won’t help you move straight as on most SUPs these are curved or arced. If you follow the rails, you’ll soon veer off course.
The best thing to do to move straight is to hold the paddle a little away from the board, but close enough so you can keep it vertical in the water. If you’re leaning over, then the paddle is too far out. Your feet should be positioned on the widest part of the SUP, so your paddle will come close to them as you stroke. When your paddle is level with your feet, pull it smoothly out of the water or you will lose momentum and it could alter your direction.
While you get used to paddling straight, you will find you have to switch sides to keep yourself on course. With more experience, you will be able to paddle your SUP straight by using just one side.
When you can steer your paddle board straight, you can start to experiment more with your SUP. Wind and water conditions will always have an impact on how your SUP moves, but if you keep to the right technique you should find you keep control of your board in all conditions.
The right technique will also find you putting more power in to your strokes so you will be able to travel further and move faster, and this will give you a much better overall paddle boarding experience.
If you’re in need of some general SUP tips, check out our 5 essential tips.