starboard 2024 inflatable sup paddle boards

How to paddle your SUP in a straight line

Have you ever zig zagged your paddle board down the river thinking there has got to be a better way? Paddling straight involves many factors, including: board shape, water conditions, paddle length, your height, paddle blade shape, just to name a few. However, it is paddling technique that is the biggest factor. Beau Nixon from SUPboarder talks us through a few technique tips for straighter paddling.

How to paddle straight on my stand up paddle board

Paddling in a straight line not only improves your efficiency on the paddleboard, but it also helps you to gain confidence so you can better understand the conditions around you and improve your overall paddling technique. Paddling in a straight line is also referred to as tracking, so we may mention this throughout. Now there are a number of reasons why we can’t paddle straight, so let’s get into it.

The main reason we can’t paddle in a straight line is because our paddle is angled when taking our stroke. An angled paddle means that the blade is further away from the board, pushing you in the opposite direction. It’s an easy fix, all you need to do is move your top hand above the rail of the board, making your paddle shaft vertical to the water. This way your blade is closer to the board, keeping you paddling in a straight line.

Looking forward also contributes to paddling in a straight line, otherwise we lose our vision of where we are headed. There’s a saying that where you look is where you go, but that generally means that if we look down we fall down, but it does also translate and help you to paddle in a straight line if you are looking forward.

Making note of the type of stroke you are doing as well will help with tracking. The J stroke, which means you have a little kick out of the paddle at the end of the stroke, will keep your board moving forward in a straight line. This is because that little flick helps the board redirect back toward the same side you are paddling on. Moving on from the J stroke we have the C stroke, which means you extend out for the reach and catch your paddle stroke; you bring the paddle toward the board and then beside it. At the end you add in that J stroke kicking it out making the letter C.

Your weight distribution on the board should be even on both sides as well. Standing off to the side or having your weight across to one rail, will make you turn the opposite way.

Taking a look at the equipment, the fin also has a role in causing us to not paddle in a straight line. Fins help with tracking and to improve this, a bigger fin with a larger area helps to push against water making the board harder to go off track. A smaller fin would make the board easier to turn. Staying with the fin, the position it sits in the fin box also contributes to tracking. A fin further forward in the fin box means it’s closer to your feet where you are standing, and you can manoeuvre the board much easier, but a fin at the back of the box means it’s further away and acts as a tail. This will help the board move in a straighter line.

Another reason you may not be paddling straight is that the wind can affect your tracking and blow you off course. Paddling on one side or directly into headwind, will help you navigate the board, but that’s for another video coming soon.

So the next time you hit the water, remember to try some of these tips out there to help you paddle and track in a straight line.

Update: Board outline and width play a part in keeping your paddle in tight close to the board with the shaft vertical and the stroke in a straight line, rather than a big sweep. A narrow board allows paddlers to get their top hand over and the paddle vertical. Red Paddle Co has several boards in their range to account for smaller paddlers who don’t just need less volume or a shorter length, but a more narrow board as well. Fanatic also have just introduced a more narrow Ray Air Touring Premium board geared towards paddlers who like a sleek board that promotes good a stroke and therefore good tracking.

Check them out or view our touring inflatable paddle boards for more straight paddling boards!

Join over 25k+ subscribers and sign up to our newsletter to receive news and deals...

About the author: Julian Kidd
I have been an avid stand up paddle boarder since 2009. I retired from a decade of professional kiteboarding to focus on SUP. Green Water Sports grew from this love of all things SUP. As well as being a keen paddle boarder, I'm a football fan, closet petrol head, web tinkerer, husband and father.