One of the novice’s biggest conundrums while learning to standup paddle is how to keep the board going in a straight line. The need to switch paddling sides after only a few strokes can be maddening — but it doesn’t have to be that way.

While that switch is the nature of paddling with one blade, it can be delayed with proper technique. Here are a few useful techniques to keep your board tracking straight and keep your stoke high.

Keep your paddle vertical / Angle your shaft

On flatwater with no wind a perfect stroke begins with the paddle right next to the board and runs parallel with the rail, ending next to the board at the feet — think about having your paddle as straight up and down as possible. In this case the blade should be perpendicular to the board—no angle—and if done correctly it can keep you paddling on one side for much longer.

Keeping your paddle straight up and down during your stroke will help you stay straight. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

But more often than not there's some wind or current that pushes you in a given direction, so you need to adjust the angle of the blade a bit. Whatever direction you want the board to go, paddle on the opposite side while dropping your paddle to a 45-degree angle over the board (this angle can be adjusted by feel as you continue). This is called a sweep stroke. The sweep can be a huge help with tracking and coping with side wind.

Use different strokes

Using the draw stroke—pulling the blade toward you at the start of your stroke—can also prevent switching sides too often. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

More often than not paddling comes with wind. Any degree of breeze can affect your course and force you to paddle tirelessly on one side or worse, kneeling. One way to counter this is to start or end your stroke further from the rail, pulling the board toward the blade (draw stroke) or pushing it away (pry stroke). For example, if there's wind coming from your right side and your paddling on the right side of your board, you might start your stroke a foot off the rail and pull the paddle to your board, then pulling the blade down the board as normal to end the stroke next to your feet. Pair that with an angled blade and it’ll make a huge difference to keep the board going straight.

Take longer strokes

Using the proper reach like Kai Lenny here will add power and distance to your stroke. Photo: Aaron Black-Schmidt

Depending on your strength level, you may only be able to get between five-to-10 strokes per side before it makes sense to switch, even with the above techniques. To make the most out of them, do your best to take long sweeping strokes by hinging at the waist and reaching your paddle as far as possible toward the nose before it catches. Draw it back and end your stroke at your feet (going further has diminishing return) and repeat. Lengthening the reach of each stroke as much as you can will make frequently switching sides less noticeable and supply more power between transfers. 

Don’t Get Frustrated

The stroke is one of the most interesting and dynamic parts of standup paddling. Life-long paddlers will tell you that their work on their strokes is never done — there is always something new to learn. So just consider this a starting point. You will get better.

Take these tips onto the water every time you paddle and you’re sure to notice the difference!

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