So you’ve purchased your first SUP board and learned the basics in paddling forwards using the FORWARD STROKE. But what about SUP STEERING STROKES which you need to consider?

The essence of remaining interested in any sport or recreation is the learning of new skills and techniques; this keeps the mind interested and ‘engaged’ in the activity – rather than ‘disengaged’. New paddle skills, not only give you much needed added control, but added fun and pleasure in the learning of these new strokes.

Your Paddle as Rudder
Think of your paddle as a rudder with a non-fixed fulcrum point. Usually, a rudder is firmly secured behind the occupant of a sailboat or kayak for example with a tiller arm. The stand up paddle boarder must use the blade to control the flow of water over the blade to redirect the flow of water over its surface in such a way to create force in an opposite direction, pulling the board over towards the blade. This we call PADDLE STEERING.

Paddle Steering
Paddle steering can be either STATIC or DYNAMIC.

A static steering stroke involves the stand up paddler planting the blade in the water and bracing the paddle, without actively pulling it inwards, achieved by twisting the blade face and redirecting the flow of water so as to pull the board over towards it. A static steering stroke only works when there is a flow of water over the blade face – either the water is moving (river) or the board is moving or a combination of both.

A dynamic steering stroke involves the paddler taking an active paddling stroke, which includes and element of sweeping or drawing inward of the blade to bring about a change of board direction of travel. A dynamic steering stroke works when the SUP is moving or stationary, therefore a flow of water is not necessary.

One Stroke at a Time
When learning new steering strokes, keep it simple and learn one new stroke at a time.

Learn A Passive Steering Stroke First
A passive steering stroke, where you use the paddle to brace and redirect the water flow over the blade to pull the board over toward the stationary paddle, is the easiest to begin with.

One of the benefits of such a stroke is that you do not need to move your feet, but will need to lower your centre of gravity by bending your knees in anticipation of the resultant force against the blade face.

  • The KAHI (‘Kahi’ Hawaiian – To Cut) is a passive stroke you can execute as the SUP is moving.
  • Reach out on the side you’re paddling
    Brace yourself for the sideways pull of the blade by bending the knees
    Turn the blade face so that it enters the water ‘side-edge’ first so it can slice through water
    Enter the blade forwards of the body line
    Apply a steady pull inwards with the lower arm so as to ‘hold’ (brace) the blade in place
    The aim is to pull the board over towards the blade
    As the board moves over towards the blade, remove and take a regular stroke

This passive stroke is the most valuable steering stroke you can learn.
As you take a forward stroke the board wants to move away from the paddling side.
Using this Kahi, you can continually pull the board back on course.
Practice by paddling only on one side, continually pulling the board back on line.

Sweeping the Kahi Forwards to take a Forward Stroke
(Turning a passive Kahi into a dynamic sweeping stroke)

If you want to take it to another level, rather than removing the paddle, attempt to sweep the paddle forward keeping the blade face open, cutting it forward through the water gradually sweeping the blade face inwards towards the SUP board gradually closing the blade face setting you up to take a regular forward stroke – this too will contribute to pulling the board over towards the paddle.

If you enjoyed this article check out these similar technique write ups from Steve West –

Stand Up Paddling Boarding balance issues (and how to fix them).

Blade Area Matters