There’s a lot of neat stuff you can do on a paddleboard that is also very useful when you find yourself in jam. Learning these skills will improve your overall paddleboarding and give you the opening to move on to more advanced paddling. One of the most fundamental paddleboard skills you can learn is the pivot turn. The pivot turn is often used by surfers to catch incoming waves and to head back out to the break at the end of their ride. Racers use pivot turns to get around buoys and markers set on the course. The pivot turn is the most efficient way to turn your paddleboard around without making a long and wide arc.
Pivot Turn Basic Principles
When doing a pivot turn, you first want to step back and sink the tail of the board into the water thereby lifting the nose out of the water. You can do this by either cross-stepping back or shuffling back. Cross-stepping is a skill in and of itself and consists of moving one foot back and then the other foot crosses behind it and then the first moves back again. The point is to get your back foot over the area where your fin is.
Shuffling is done by moving one foot back towards the tail of your paddleboard and then sliding the forward foot back. The more you get that first foot back, the less steps you’ll have to take to reach the tail. You may be falling in the water a few times before you figure out how to balance on the tail. Your stance and how you distribute your weight will help you most when trying to balance on your board with the nose out of the water.
Pivot Turn Stance
Pivot turns are best accomplished with and off-set stance, that is, with your front closer to the front rail (edge of the board) and your back closer to the back rail. Your feet will also be wider than shoulder-width apart. So now you will have both lateral and longitudinal control respectively. The wider your stance, the more leverage you will have on your paddleboard. Bend your knees so your center of gravity is lower and you can shift your weight more easily.
Paddle Placement and Sweep
Your paddle is your lifeline when doing pivot turns. Use it as a brace against the water by firmly placing the front side down and bending low on your board. Slap the blade against the surface of the water when you feel your tipping over on one side or the other, bend down and regain your stability. Your paddle will help hold you steady as long as you keep it in the water.
The second paddle skill you need to perfect for pivot turns is the sweep. The wider your sweep, the faster you will spin around on your tail. First, you want to start by placing the all the way down in the water at the middle section of your board. Get it as close to the rail as you can with the front of the blade facing the rail. Then pull back in a wide arc towards the tail (think about drawing a smile or rainbow in the water). Keep your feet well apart and offset and bend those knees down low! You will probably have to repeat this stroke several times but as you get better you’ll be able to turn a full 180 degrees in 2 strokes and eventually maybe even 1stroke! If you can get the arc to wrap around the tail of the board you will get around much more quickly.
So the essentials to a successful pivot turn are:
- Practice moving back on to the tail of your board and holding that position with the nose well out of the water. See how much of your leg you can get in the water (ex…can you get wet up to your shin, your knee?) while still holding on.
- Practice using your paddle in a subtle back and forth motion to lift you back out of the water. If you practice the parts of the stroke individually before trying to put them all together it should be less overwhelming. You can practice bracing by exaggerating weighting your rails and then using the paddle to brace you to keep you from falling in. You can also practice your sweep stroke to get that motion down efficiently, and you can practice moving to the tail of your board.
- Practice getting back to the middle of the board (starting position) using the shuffle and cross-step techniques.
- Offset your feet and keep that stance nice and wide and low when standing on your tail.
- The more you get back on your tail, the more you want to lean forward to offset your weight so you don’t fall off the back.
- Keep your paddle in the water and use it as a brace.
- Place the paddle blade all the down into the water and sweep in a wide arc from the center section of the board towards (and around, if possible) the tail.
- When the turn is complete return to the middle of the board facing forward and continue on!
When you complete your turn step forward to your normal paddling position as quickly as possibly and continue paddling. Motion and speed are your friends as they are the primary factors for stability and agility. So practice making your moves as seamless as possible. If you need more guidance and instruction don’t be afraid to visit your local paddleboard shop. They can take you out on the water and help you dial in your technique!