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 found an easier method back in the day from Dan Gavere who mentioned paddling straight with a vertical paddle shaft.

Board Length Affects Paddling Straight

Longer boards such as 14′ touring and race boards like to go straighter vs a shorter board such as a 10′ board. I have two 17′ unlimited length touring boards that are difficult to turn because they go so straight!

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 to paddle straight or even just one if you have a long race or downwind board with a straight waterline.

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.

Avoid Doing These in your Forward Stroke

Pulling your paddle past your feet. A little bit is fine but too much, your body will rotate thus will turn your board. Shorter strokes are more efficient than long strokes.

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. Always keep your hands super loose!

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 in the pre-SUP days, I called Prijon, the kayak manufacturer for my boat at the time. I complained that the boat must be warped as I couldn’t keep it going straight. I never heard back.

Turns out, I was probably sitting slightly ajar in my cockpit or holding the paddle too much on one side. 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).

Pros and Cons for Paddling on One Side

Paddling on one side is less work, will make you go faster and have more fun. In races you’ll pass others when they switch sides.

But there is a long term risk of building too much muscle memory on that one side thus making it harder to paddle straight on the other side. And creating a shoulder issue such as tendinitis.  I recommend learning to paddle straight as much as possible on both sides.

Note: If you’re left handed, or right, you may find it easier to paddle straight on your dominant side

Related Links

Tips for Paddle Boarding Pain Free

Winter SUP Tips

7 Easy Ways to Get Back on a SUP


About Rob Casey – Named a pioneer in the SUP industry by Stand Up Journal, Rob is the author of “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Surf and Rivers” and “Kayaking Puget Sound and the San Juans, 60 Trips.” Rob owns SUP school Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle. He also runs several paddling races throughout the year.
Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.

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