When I first got my stand-up paddleboard, I could not, for the life of me, paddle in a straight line. I did some research and found some tips which I’ll share, but they didn’t work correctly. There were some excellent ideas, and I improved, but I still needed something. I finally found out what I needed for me to make my SUP go straight.
To keep a paddleboard straight from a stopped position, start paddling with small strokes on each side of the board. Then, once you have some momentum, use a modified draw stroke at 30-degree angles toward the board and back. The faster you go, the less you will need to correct your path.
When starting from a standstill, I take a stroke on the right side of my board, and my board immediately turns to the left, and momentum begins. I then have to take a stroke on the left side to correct the first stroke, and a bit of forwarding momentum is added. Each stroke I take, the less the board turns at the beginning of the stroke. I have discovered that as the board tracks faster forward, it is less likely to turn when I paddle, but there is still some turning with each stroke.
That is where I use my modified draw stroke. What I do is instead of reaching straight forward, I will reach at about a 30-degree angle. This first part of the stroke (the draw) I pull back, and toward the paddleboard. This motion pulls the nose of the board toward the right slightly so that when I finish the stroke straight back, I counter the first draw stroke and gain forward momentum with a net 0 turn. ‘The faster I get going, the less draw I have to use to maintain a straight path.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. Using the draw is undoubtedly less efficient than a classic stroke with the paddle held vertically. This is the advice I have seen and used for many years. I am not a SUP racer, so the speed is not my main objective. I do, however, want to travel in basically a straight line, and the semi-draw stroke is what I came up with.
A Few More Tips
In addition to keeping your momentum going and using the draw stroke, there are a few more tricks to keeping the board going straight.
Keep your head up. Yep. Make sure you are looking straight ahead instead of looking down. This is because when you look down, your balance shifts a little bit to your heels. When your weight shifts back, and you lose your balance, your attention becomes more focused on balance than a correct stroke. So, keep your eyes focused ahead and stay balanced.
Use a Bigger Fin. Using a larger fin will help your board track straighter. You can also multiple fins to help to keep the board from slipping sideways in the water. Check with your board’s manufacturer to see if larger replacement fins are available.
Longer boards tend to go straighter. This is not something you can change if you have already bought a board, but longer boards do tend to go straighter. Maybe you have rented boards in the past and had trouble paddling straight. Now that you are ready to buy, possibly choose a longer board than you have rented in the past.
Stack your hands to ensure a vertical paddle position. Stacking your hands means that one hand will be directly over the other. This ensures that your stroke will be straight instead of a slightly sweeping stroke, which, as you know, will turn your board. Just make sure you turn your hips and shoulders to ensure hand stacking.
Weather and current affect your direction. You can use the wind or current to help you go straight. If either is coming from the left side, it’s best to paddle on the right side. The wind will naturally force you to the right, and your stroke will counter that. If you paddle on the same side as the wind is blowing, the turning effect will be doubled.
So now you have something to work on to go straight, but how about controlled turns? Read on.
How to Turn Slowly
If you want to make a big, sweeping turn, just follow these simple steps. Start your stroke with the paddle blade in the same position as if you were going to draw it straight back along the board. However, instead of drawing the blade straight back, make a wide arc with the paddle and finish your stroke in a bit of a draw near the tail. This will make the board gently turn the opposite way that you are paddling.
How to Turn Quickly
If you want to turn in the same direction, but quicker, then you might need to use reverse. Say you want to turn left. The above stroke would work, but it would take several board lengths to make a 90-degree turn. To turn faster to the left, Place the blade of the paddle behind you on the left side and pull it straight forward. This will pull the bow of your board around to the left very quickly. One or two of these strokes should do the trick.
Where do you stand on a SUP? Generally, for flatwater paddling, you want to stand very close to the middle of the board with your feet pointing forward at shoulder-width apart.
What direction does the paddle blade go? It may seem counterintuitive, but you want the scooped or concave part of the paddle facing forward when paddling forward.