How to Paddle a SUP Straight

Paddle goes in straight line

Having a hard time keeping your sup straight? Back in the day when I was new to SUP, about 2006, I devised a way to keep my board straight when paddling. I added pressure to one rail, adjusted my trim (where you stand on the board) to where the board would go straight. Then I'd hold that angle for a few miles. Luckily, I overheard Dan Gavere mention paddling straight with a vertical paddle shaft.

There's a few reasons why you're not going straight. Here's what I teach my students to help them paddle not only straight, but on one side. You can do 2 of the three tips or even just one if you have a long race or downwind board with a straight waterline.

Paddling on one side is less work, will make you go faster and have more fun...

1. Look where you're going (not down or to the side, for the most part).

2. As the image shows on the right, draw your paddle blade down a straight line from the catch to your feet. The catch is where your blade goes in. If you follow the contour of your board from the nose down, you're actually doing a sweep turn which is very common.

3. Make sure your paddle shaft is vertical through the power phase of your stroke, so from your catch to your exit at your feet. This means your upper hand is over the water. If your upper hand is over the board, the shaft/blade will be doing a C shape turning the board.

      Keep Paddle shaft vertical

For your Forward Stroke - Avoid..

- Pulling your paddle past your feet. A little bit is fine but too much, your body will rotate thus will turn your board.

- Over Grip your Paddle - This extra tension will put strain on your arm/shoulders and limit the flexibility of your arms thus will affect the efficiency and direction of your stroke.

- Paddle with your Arms Only - Make sure to have both arms mostly straight (slight bend in upper arm) thus rotating your torso for your stroke vs bending your arms to paddle. Making sure to reach from your waist (hinging) for your reach to the catch.

Try This...

Count your Strokes - Start counting your strokes on each side. You may notice that you'll get more strokes from one side than the other. For many it's their dominant side. For me, a lefty (goofy foot) I can paddle forever on my left side - but not so effective on the right side. In races when my competitor is changing sides a lot, I can pass him/her by not changing my sides. Downside of paddling on one side is possibly over using that shoulder. Keeping a loose grip (super loose) does reduce arm/shoulder strain.

Fins - Fins can make a difference of whether you're paddling straight. A small fin 3"-5" can not only affect balance but also be too small to really affect your tracking. If the above techniques don't work for you, get a bigger fin. Many race fins are 10" deep and 4-6" wide. Larry Allison's Ninja and Gladiator Fins are examples of popular fins that help paddlers not only go straighter but will make them more stable.  Most of my surf style boards have 9" fins. I use the Ninja for my race board.

Your Stance Affects Direction - Years ago, I called Prijon, the kayak manufacturer for my boat at the time. I complained that the boat must've been warped as I couldn't keep it going straight. I never heard back. Turns out, I was probably sitting slightly ajar in my cockpit. Same goes for SUPs. If you're adding more pressure to one rail than another, your board will go in the weighted direction. If the board isn't flat on the water - nose up or tail up, then this will affect your forward direction. Have someone look at your board from the side to make sure your it's flat (with u on it).

Any questions give me a holler. Join my mailing list! Contact me: / 206.465.7167 - Check out our SUP classes in Seattle - Beginning to advanced instruction including freighter and tug wave surfing, coastal surfing, rivers and racing, plus PSUPA Certification.


Thomas said…
Great post for curious beginners!
The most important thing is to use your core muscles when paddling. Using arms to paddle isn't very efficient choice and makes you tired faster. In addition, using your torso makes your abs burning perfectly, making it a great workout for your desired six-pack. :)
I want to share my disappointing experience while standing up on the board for the first time. I put too much of my body weigh on a paddle and broke it. Don't repeat my mistake and use the tripod position carefully...