How To Use Your Paddle, Body Weight & Feet To Steer Your Standup Paddle Board
Just as Tahitians steer their rudderless Va’a canoes with paddles by adjusting the angle and direction of their blade, the same technique can also be effective for standup paddlers. In this article, Coach Seychelle shares pro tips on how to better paddle a SUP in a straight line by using your paddle and body weight to steer, hence increasing your overall speed.
If you can have more control of where your board is going using the techniques outlined by Seychelle, you can effectively use a smaller fin and hence, paddle at higher speeds for longer period of time.
How to Steer Using Your Paddle
Your paddle blade acts as your rudder when you are paddling. Turning the blade away from your board –– holding your paddle shaft at an angle with your bottom hand more lateral to your top hand –– will steer your board away from your paddle. This is the technique most paddlers use when trying to combat a side wind or making a wide, slow turn. Of course, this is also what happens to a lesser degree, without even realizing it, when we do not fully rotate to get a vertical shaft at the catch.
On the flip side, turning your paddle blade towards your board –– holding your paddle shaft at an angle with your top hand more lateral to your bottom hand –– will steer your board towards your paddle. This technique takes a bit more effort to achieve, but can be extremely helpful in sidewind, chop, or drafting in order to paddle on both sides more equally. This can be used in a situation like a crossbow turn, a side stroke, or very subtly to help you steer.
Think about your paddle blade entering the water a bit further away from the rail of the board and traveling back towards the board as you pull through the stroke. This will pull the boards towards your paddling side. The difficult part here is getting the top hand out over the bottom hand in order to get your blade to catch and set for an effective and powerful stroke.
How to Steer Using Your Body Weight
A second technique involves using our body weight to steer the board. If we place more weight on one side of the board than the other, our board tips to that side. When one rail of the board drives more deeply into the water, it steers the board in the opposite direction. This is called rail steering. When we place more weight on the left side and drive the left rail into the water, the board steers slightly to the right. The opposite is true that when we place more weight on the right side, the board steers to the left.
This can be an effective way to subtly steer your board, but more often than not we are doing this without realizing it. If we do not maintain equal weight distribution in our feet and rotate in order to get a vertical shaft at the catch, we end up leaning towards our paddling side with every stroke. This not only steers us away from our paddle, causing us to zig-zig, but it also creates drag as the board constantly tips from side-to-side.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice these skills every time you are paddling. Once you become proficient at steering your board using blade angle and body weight, you can use these techniques to paddle straighter in almost all conditions and steer your board without changing paddling sides.
When I’m paddling, I am constantly micro-steering with each stroke and adjusting to the wind, chop, or paddlers in front of me. The more finesse and the better your technique, the less power you need to apply to each stroke to move your board at the same speed. Once you are feeling confident, begin to apply more power and you’ll be flying in no time.
Pro Tip: When practicing or racing in a situation that requires more steering and board maneuverability, choose a smaller fin like the SONIC, which is the most responsive SUP fin to these subtle steering techniques.
Need Help Choosing the Right Fin?
Fitness & Paddle Coaching from Seychelle
As an athlete and professional paddling coach, Seychelle offers a number of training options and advice via the Paddle Monster platform. If you are interested in having your stroke analyzed, working on a training program or arranging a clinic in your area, please get in touch with her via email. A number of Black Project athletes follow training programs designed by Seychelle.