When you’re cruising across the water, you’ll need to make a few turns. How you turn will depend on your skill level, type of board, and environment. From learning how to turn to recover from a fall, our handy guide will explain everything you need to improve your stand-up paddleboard technique.

How to build muscles for stand up paddle boarding

Like any sports activity, building core muscle strength will improve your overall performance. Even on wet or cold days, when you might not be going out in the water, you can practice at home.

Exercises like the front plank, single-arm pulls, warrior 3, and squats can keep you strong, healthy, and ready for sunny days. You can even use some of these exercises to warm up before heading out onto the water or while on your board for an extra balance challenge.

Top tip: Check out our ‘Getting Back to Stand-Up Paddle Boarding After Winter’ article for more detailed exercise instructions.

Improving your stand up paddle board technique

Even the most intermediate stand-up paddleboarders still need to progress their paddling techniques. Once you feel confident in the water, it’s important to analyse your movements to identify any ways you might improve for a more efficient stroke.

How to move on a stand up paddle board

  • When your paddle enters the water, lean forward and pivot your hips with your shoulder in front of your paddling arm. At this point, the top of the paddle should be vertical in the water.
  • While doing this, consider whether your position is correct and if you have enough extension.
  • You will now be able to pull the paddle back (like a lever) so that it moves in front of your face. The paddle should be at its maximum depth in the water when it gets to the middle of your board. Perfecting your positioning increases the efficiency of your strokes and helps propel you through the water.

Top tip: Make sure that your paddle cuts gently into the water. You want to try to avoid any splashing.

How to turn

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The classic turn (for beginners)

Most beginners, on inflatable stand-up paddle boards, will use the classic turn to navigate the waters. The classic turn is one of the easiest ways to turn as you simply have to put your paddle on the opposite side of the board. For instance, if you want to turn right, you paddle on the left and vice versa.

  • Before you make the turn, make sure you have both feet in the middle of your board. You’ll want one foot to be slightly in front of the other as this will help to keep the board stable as you turn.
  • Put the paddle onto the opposite side from the direction you want to turn and begin paddling using the same stand-up paddleboard paddle technique you use when moving in a straight line.
  • Keep paddling on this side till your board has completed the turn
  • Once your board has changed direction, begin paddling on the other side and alternate strokes to move forwards

Top tip: Making short and semi-circular strokes towards the back of your board will help you to turn faster. Give yourself plenty of space as the turning circle is relatively large. Stand-up paddle boarders on long touring boards should not use this stand-up paddleboard stroke technique as it’ll take too long to rotate. Back paddling will work much better.

The back paddle (for intermediate paddlers)

Once you’ve mastered the classic turn, you can progress your stand-up paddleboard techniques by learning to back paddle. The back paddle is more efficient and allows you to turn quicker. We also recommend that stand-up paddleboarders on long touring boards use this technique, over the classic turn, as it’s better suited for their board.

  • Start by paddling on the same side as you want to turn.-
  • Rather than paddling forwards pull your paddle backwards (i.e. start at your feet and push your paddle towards the front of your board).
  • Once your board has turned 90 degrees, start paddling on the other side of your board using a sideways stroke (hands kept in the same position as back paddling, but on the same side of your board as you’re turning). This will allow you to exit the turn with some speed.

Top tips:

  • Approach this turn with some speed for best results
  • Recommended for long touring boards and intermediate stand-up paddle boarders

The pivot turn (for the advanced among you)

More advanced stand-up paddleboarders may want to use the pivot turn to show off their stand-up paddleboard racing techniques. A pivot turn allows you to make quick and efficient turns -- particularly useful for navigating around obstacles on a stand-up paddle racing course.

  • Pick a spot where you want to turn and fix your eyes onto this stop
  • As you approach, stop paddling to allow your board to glide in
  • Adapt a surfboard stance with your dominant foot in front. To move into this position quickly, place your back foot over the fin and then rotate your front foot so that it’s side on (like in warrior two).
  • Start paddling on the opposite side that you want to turn (as with the classic turn paddling technique) and step hard onto your back foot so that the front of your board rises from the water.
  • Continue to paddle with short, quick strokes
  • The board should move around quickly with each stroke moving the nose around
  • To exit the turn, move your feet back into the standard position and begin paddling on alternate sides

Top tip: Pivot turns are very unstable, so you need to focus on your balance. With a pivot turn, you need to get the front of your board as high out of the water as possible. To achieve this, place your weight as far back as possible. Your back foot is the weight, while your front foot is only for balance. Make sure to put your weight on your back foot before turning.

Getting posture and balance right

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On an SUP board, your posture is everything. Having a good stance prevents injury and allows you to make more efficient strokes. You should try to avoid bending your back and instead keep it straight when moving or bending at the hips. One way to achieve a good posture is by looking straight ahead at eye-level rather than at your feet!

It’s easy to stay balanced on calm waters, but can you handle choppy or rough waters? Intermediate and advanced paddle boarders have the skills to stay balanced no matter what the weather throws at them.

You can practice your balance skills by taking your board out in windy weather or riding across boat wakes. To stay aboard, you’ll need to shift your weight from side to side so that your board doesn’t top over -- a workout you’ll really feel in your legs. Make sure to flex your knees a little more and spread your foot to stay balanced.

Top tip: Placing more of your weight towards the back of your board, so that the front partially lifts out of the water, will make it a bit easier to stay in control when riding in rough weather.

How to get back on the board if you fall off

It’s a whole lot easier getting back on a board if you aren't having to chase after it, so while it might easier said then done, make efforts to grab onto your board, once you know you’re going over.

However, if you feel feel like the board is falling back onto you, it’s probably wise to let go and do what you can to make note of where your SUP has gone. Although staying control is easier if you are in ownership of a board leash, this also has it’s own issues. It can cause the SUP to reverse and crash into you as you fall, potentially causing you some pain.

  • If you are leashless and do fall away from the SUP, start by swimming close to your board. Once you’re close by, position yourself the opposite side to your dominate hand (right handed, go to the left and vice versa).
  • Make sure to tread water to ensure your weight remains correctly placed once in position, grab the carry handle with the less dominant hand. Then lean across with your dominant hand and firmly hold the rails.
  • Lift your legs up so that floating just above the surface, and start kicking the water. As you are kicking, bring your stomach onto the centre of the board. Make sure it is the centre, as if you end up on the backend of the board, you’ll likely slip off and into the water.
  • Stay gripping the carry handle and the rail, and pull the rest of your body lengthways into the board. Remain lying flat and hold on until the water calms down.
  • When the water feels steady, move into a sitting position, and place your legs either side of the board. Then at your own pace, place the paddle across the board, bring your weight onto your hand, and place your feet on the SUP, keeping your feet flat for balanced. Sometimes using your paddle as support can help.

Top tip: Sometimes you will get a sense that you’re about to come off your board. If feel like you’re falling away from the SUP, don’t try throw yourself back towards it in an effort to hold on, as you can run the risk of injuring yourself. Only attempt to hold on if you know you can do it safely.

Instead, try to jump away from the board and try your body so you hit the water flat and not sideways, as it will help avoid injury from potential sharp hazards in shallow water, and avoid getting picked up in under currents in deeper water. Also, try to point your toes, as it will break your fall.

What equipment you need for stand up paddling?

If you don’t already own stand-up paddleboard equipment, now is the time to invest. Improper equipment often leads to a bad experience and makes it hard to progress. You’ll need a paddle, board, buoyancy, and paddle. Retailers and water sports shops, like Decathlon, can make sure you get equipment that’s suited to your skill level and body.