Using Your Paddle

One of the special attributes of stand up is the paddle. The paddle itself , as we all know, is not unique to stand up yet, I believe that the paddle is the key to it’s functional success in the surf, and thus gifting stand up as a more efficient form of surfing. Like many other paddle sports, the paddle is the source of locomotion, but people are just starting to explore it’s other uses. At its best the paddle is the key to balance, leverage, locomotion and steering.

So if the paddle is the key to this spectacular sport, how do we maximize it’s use? While the little subtle uses are endless, I will try to impart a few tips that I’ve found helpful while doing stand up in the surf. to keep this article length manageable I’m just going to cover a single turn set: A bottom turn leading into a cutback. I believe that if you think your way through this turn set, then visualize it, and then practice it, it will lead eventually to doing all your turns with more power and control.

All photos courtesy of Darrell Wong

For the sake of this article I will assume you know how to catch a wave. Once the wave is caught, you are faced with the task of making that first bottom turn. Because the typical stand up board is much bulkier than a standard surf board, the force or leverage it will take to turn with authority are much greater. Standing in the middle of the board will not allow you to put the necessary downward force on the rail to sink it into the water enough to take advantage of the rail outline and the rocker profile. So you must move your foot further over to the rail to a point of almost hanging your toes over the side of the rail. While this will give you the needed leverage to control the rail, it also will create a situation of instability because you can no longer use the width of the board to stabilize your balance because of your proximity to the edge of the board. This is where the paddle becomes the critical counter balance to this over leveraged scenario.

Skimming the blade of the paddle across the surface as you lean into the turn offers a way to lean into the rail yet balance yourself. The paddle counters your lean and provides the stability and leverage to make sure you don’t fall face first on to the wave. I’m regular foot so I  will explain the technique I use from this perspective, for goofy just flip flop the orientation of the wave so you can adapt it to your stance. Remember that we are not talking about making a gentle turn, and that the bottom turn leads into the cutback. You want to steadily increase how hard you drive these two turns until you are tossing spray with each carve.

For your front side bottom turn on a right hand wave you will want the paddle on your right side. Even if you catch the wave while paddling on the left quickly switch the paddle to your right side, just as if you were about to take another stroke( with the blade angle reaching forward as usual). It’s important to have your upper hand on top of the handle to give you maximum control of the paddle while using it to skim across the surface–you simply can’t do these turns if you’re choked down on the paddle shaft.

As you begin your bottom turn move your back foot as close to the rail as possible without stepping off the board. Next, reach out the paddle towards the wave and skim it across the surface of the wave. Do this by dropping your top hand down towards your waist just as you would during the return portion of a normal Hawaiian stroke, but this time reach out further to the side with your lower hand, to extend the paddle face out away from you and towards the face of the wave. Use your top hand to tilt the leading edge of the paddle slightly higher than the trailing edge to ensure that the paddle does not dive down into the water and catapult you onto your face.

As you drive yourself into the turn and approach the finishing point for the bottom turn, use the paddle as an initiation point to transfer your weight from your toes back to your heels. As the board comes back underneath you follow this with a significant step across the board with your back foot from the bottom turn rail over to your cutback rail once your weight starts to be centered.

While you are transferring your weight, make a wide sweeping motion around the tail of the board with the paddle from your fore hand side to your back side and begin to use the paddle as a lever to pry with as you push down with your back foot, which is now on the inside of your cutback rail.  This prying motion allows you to accentuate the push that you can put on your back foot. The key here is to not lever so hard that you stop carving the turn and start sliding the tail. Practice will be your greatest ally here. It should feel as though you are pushing with your top hand and pulling with your bottom hand, the pushing with your back foot will supply the counter force to your pulling with the bottom hand.

Don’t treat these as two turns, think of them and practice them as one. Think of the paddle position and motion as you make the turns, because it is the paddle that enables you to press the rails hard enough, and compromise your balance by railing the board without falling in.

Use of the paddle as an aid in turning is almost a necessity in my opinion, but it is a subtle technique at times while sometimes it can be very forceful. The key is practicing and experimenting with the amount of effort to put forth on the paddle at different points throughout the turn. Good luck.