A lot of people, when they start out paddleboarding, don’t even realize that they are paddling in big curvy “S” shaped lines. I’m still guilty of this from time to time after years of paddleboarding. It’s not something you normally notice until your way off course. If you’re paddling in a group you may suddenly find yourself either far away from the others, or you’re constantly running into the other paddlers. Moreover, paddling in a crooked line means that you are paddling a lot farther to get from point A to B (the shortest distance between two points is a straight line) and therefore, unnecessarily using up extra energy. In addition, crooked paddling is just one more bad habit that reinforces improper stroke technique, which will adversely affect your performance and paddling experience.
The easiest way to think about paddling in a straight line is to do the opposite of what you would do when turning your paddleboard. When turning, you put your paddle in the water on an angle and then sweep back or forward making an arc. The farther out from your board you go, the easier your board will turn for you. When you are not turning, you should NOT be putting your blade in the water on an angle as you will immediately start to turn, whether you notice it right away or not. If you want to paddleboard straight your paddle needs to be vertical, straight up and down.
The next time you go out try doing this:
Stacking: Stacking means making sure your top hand (the one holding the handle) is directly above your lower hand. Paddling with stacked hands means you will have to reach farther across the board with your top hand. To do this it is necessary to stack your shoulders also that they are in line with the paddle and your hands. Stacking your shoulders will also relieve undue stress on the joints. It may feel awkward at first but you will get used to it and it will feel much more natural with a little practice.
The right way
Straight Forward Stroke: Many people make the mistake of paddling to the contour of the rails on their paddleboard. The sides of a paddleboard are arced and if you paddle along the rail your stroke will arced and you veer off course. To correct this, place your blade in the water a little to the side of the rail while making sure your paddle is still vertical. As you pull the blade back in a straight line it should come closer to the rail where your feet are. Take the paddle out of the water once it gets to your feet.
Keep Your Paddleboard Flat: Keeping your paddleboard flat means trying not to weight either side too much. Your board will travel faster when it is flat and the extra speed will give you more glide and make it easier to keep a straight line. Remember to make sure your feet our positioned to either side of the carry handle in the dead middle of the board. We don’t want to be weighting the tail or the nose.
There are other, more advanced paddle strokes designed to keep you moving in a straight line but those are for another post. There is also the possibility of paddleboarding in high winds, which will affect your how you paddle. But practice these three tips next time you go out and your paddling skills will improve a lot. You will still need to change sides and correct for veering off but it will be a lot less than you’re used to. Good luck!