How to Paddle Straight on a SUP


Learning how to paddle board is easier than learning how to surf. In fact, many people can easily pick it up with just a lesson or two. However, even if you feel like you’ve got the hang of boarding, there are some techniques that can be tricky to learn, such as how to go straight on a paddle board or make a sharp turn. But with a little practice and know-how, you can learn how to track perfectly straight and head exactly where you want to go.

How to go straight on a paddle board can take a little practice. Stacking your hands can help, since it will make you push the water correctly, preventing the board from going off course. Adjusting the way you paddle and using shorter strokes instead of longer ones can also help. These techniques can help you steer your board in the right direction, and can also be used if you begin zig-zagging in the water or your board starts to veer off course.

What Works

Many seasoned paddle boarders will argue that one technique is better than another when it comes to tracking straight or correcting a board that’s started veering off path. However, there are only a few tried and true techniques that a beginner should try. Each technique can make it much easier to track straight, even in choppy water conditions.

Learning how to paddle faster on your SUP is much easier than learning how to track straight. Learning how to go straight is a technique that can be difficult, depending on your board, your skill level, wind conditions, and even fin placement. However, if you find your board zig-zagging constantly, there are some things you can try to fix the issue.

However, there are many factors involved that can affect how straight your board tracks, and it can take some practice using the proper techniques to obtain the perfect stroke, one that allows the board to go perfectly straight, with minimal effort. Mastering C strokes and bow draw strokes can help you correct the path of your board, should you notice that it’s starting to zig-zag or veer off to the side. If you’re new to boarding, don’t expect to get the hang of these paddling techniques over night. However, with a little practice, you can easily correct your board’s path and direct your board exactly where you want it to go.

Hand Placement

hand placement

In order to go your board to go straight, you’ll need to ensure that you’re pushing the water correctly. The water should be pushed directly behind the board, in a straight line. Most newbies make the mistake of pushing the water diagonally, instead of straight. You can easily tell when a person is making this type of steering mistake by noticing the angle of the paddle’s shaft. When a person paddles and they’re in the power phase of the stroke, the shaft should be vertical.

To avoid this mistake, you can stack your top hand over your bottom, to push the water straight back behind you. By stacking your handles, the paddle will be completely vertical, automatically. To guide your SUP backward, you can use the rail loosely.

Adjust Your Stroke

Steering a board is sort of similar to steering a bike. When you’re on a bike, you’re required to steer the front wheel, which causes the rear wheel to follow automatically. On your board, you’ll focus on directing the nose of the board, causing the tail to follow.

If you’re having a tricky time getting your board to go straight, you need to pay close attention to the length of your stroke. If you’re making longer strokes that cover the entire board from its nose to its tail, then this could be causing the board to veer off course from the minute the paddle heads past your feet to the board’s tail.

If you want to quickly turn your board, try making paddle strokes close to the fin. However, if you want the board to track straight, then your strokes must begin from the top of the nose, stopping at your feet.

If you’re using short strokes at the front of the SUP, this means that the board’s nose will not have time to drift off course since you’ll be directing the board with your strokes, constantly. Paddling this way is also much better for your shoulders, minimizing your chance of injury.

Line of Sight

A boarder’s line of sight can indicate where they’re going. Usually, if you’re looking in the direction of where you want to go, you’re more likely to steer your board in this direction since you’ll be aligning your weight placement, body positioning, and torque. A board will often go in the direction the rider is looking in. Pick a landmark and lock your sights on it. If you do, you’ll find yourself automatically positioning your body correctly, causing your board to head to the intended target.

​C Strokes

If you’ve tried the techniques I’ve covered here and your board is still failing to track true, then try focusing on C-strokes. This type of stroke can be a total gamechanger, however, you’ll need a foundational understanding of how this technique works before you can execute it safely. You can use this type of stroke as a way to correct your trajectory.

The cross forward stroke also referred to as the C stroke involves reaching across the board and keeping the paddle in a vertical position as you use a forward stroke on the opposite side of the board. If you’re not using enough power, this stroke can feel somewhat awkward. However, once you get the hang of it, you can easily keep your paddle rhythm on point and keep the board tracking straight.

This stroke can also be used as a great way to warm up the muscles in your shoulders, which will also allow you to put more power behind this movement.

As the paddle’s blade meets your foot, you’ll want to turn the wrist, rotating the blade, placing it parallel to the board.

Bow Draw

man rowing

The bow draw is another effective technique you can use to keep your board going straight. With this move, you won’t need to switch sides when you paddle. You’ll use the closed face nose draw, which is a stroke that should begin toward the nose of the board. The closed face bow draw should be used with a standard forward stroke to prevent the board’s tendency to turn away from a forward stroke. At the start of a stroke, you’ll rotate the blade, pulling it toward the board. When you do this, the board’s nose will turn. When you combine this move with a basic forward stroke, you’ll carry your momentum, allowing you to move to the inside of the turn, depending on the side that you’re paddling on.

You can practice this technique by paddling your board in a wide circle, only using strokes on the side of a turn. While you’re doing this, the blade should be kept flat. If you’ve done it correctly, then you’ll be able to continue to go in circles as you maintain forward momentum.

If you’re able to keep the blade’s leading edge close to the board during the draw portion of the stroke, this will allow you to carry your momentum. Once you open up the blade and pull forward, you’re hitting the brakes.

What to do If You’re Still Heading Off Course

The shape and length of your board can also interfere with your board’s tracking ability. Longer boards, such as a good inflatable paddle board like the Atoll Inflatable Stand up Paddle Board,  usually track straighter than shorter boards.

If you have a board with a rocker then it will have less surface area on the water, compared to a model with a displaced hull.

Wind can also have an impact on how a board tracks.

Weight displacement can also affect how well a board tracks. If the model you own has a hole on one side, then you may not be able to balance properly because the board can become waterlogged in that section, preventing it from ever tracking true.

Take a look at the board’s fin set up, its placement, shape, and length. Longer fins can help a board to track straight. The placement of the fin can also hinder or help with tracking.

Final Thoughts

Tracking straight can be difficult for beginners, but with plenty of practice and by following the techniques I’ve covered here, over time, you should be able to automatically correct your board, should it begin to zig-zag. Using some basic techniques, such as C strokes, bow draws, and shorter strokes while using proper weight distribution, and keeping your target in sight, can make learning how to go straight on a paddle board a cinch.