Turning your SUP will be no problem once you master a couple simple techniques, the sweeping turn and back paddle. They have the benefit of being easy and natural ways to turn your paddle board. With just these two techniques you’ll be able to head out on the water and turn effectively. In fact, they’re a solid foundation you can build on. As they become more familiar to you, you’ll be able to add more advanced turning techniques to your repertoire so you can maneuver like a pro.

There are lots of cases when you’ll need to be able to turn your SUP effectively from getting to your destination and avoiding obstacles along the way, to making quick turns in the surf. Practicing your turning techniques will help you improve as a stand up paddle boarder and in turn (😉) allow you to try out more advance maneuvers.

Close up on man paddling his SUP with dog onboard

Learning the fundamentals of how to turn your SUP is essential to your progression in the sport.

Turn Your SUP with the Sweeping Turn

The sweeping turn, also known as the C-stroke, is one of the more natural ways to turn your SUP. It’s a simple sidestroke method that lets you turn your board effectively. Instead of many short paddles on one side that will gradually make you turn, a sweeping turn gets it done in one big stroke.

To begin, slightly bend your knees and get into a softer stance. Next, plant the blade of your paddle in the water near the nose of your board. Then, with the paddle blade in the water make one long sweeping stroke toward the back of your board. However, instead of simply going from nose to tail make sure you sweep the paddle blade out away from the board in the shape of the letter ‘C’. Depending on how far you’re trying to turn, the weather, water conditions, and strength of your stroke you may find you need to go a little farther. If so, simply repeat the motion until you reach your desired turn.

How to Perform a Sweeping Turn

Step 1: Slightly bend your knees and position yourself to make the turn. You don’t want or need to be too far forward or back.
Step 2: Reach forward with your paddle and plant the paddle blade in the water near the nose of your SUP.
Step 3: Make a ‘C’ shaped stroke by bringing the paddle back from the nose to the tail in a sweeping motion.

SUPer uses a sweeping turn or c-stroke to maneuvers

SUPer performs a sweeping turn to bring his board up alongside some rocks.

As you practice you’ll notice differences in how effectively and efficiently you can turn using this technique. Try a few different variations so you get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. For example play with the shape of your ‘C’ – meaning try different variations of your sweep (deep curve vs. shallow curve). Also try starting your ‘C’ from different locations along the rail of your board. What do you notice when planting your blade back and away from the nose? You will find that when you don’t follow the proper technique the effectiveness of your turn is greatly reduced. Practice makes perfect, so get out there and have fun doing it! Learn what feels comfortable, natural and efficient. A few refreshing falls while practicing are a good sign that mean you’re exploring the limits of the technique and your skills.

Turn Your SUP with the Back Paddle

The back paddle is an essential technique to learn because it’s useful in many situations. Not only is it an effective way to turn it can also be used to stop. Additionally, it’s a good technique to master because it helps with adjustments when making bigger moves. For example maybe your C-stroke was too strong or too weak. With a couple back paddles you can compensate and easily make adjustments.

Man with dog paddling on SUP near rocks

SUPer with his dog navigating around a rocky coast.

Back paddling is exactly like it sounds. First, bend your knees slightly and get in a soft stance. Then, place the blade of the paddle near the rear rail of your board. Unlike the sweeping turn place your paddle on the side you want to turn. Meaning if you want to go left back paddle on the left and if you want to go right, back paddle on the right. Finally make a few short effective back strokes. As you do this you’ll start to turn.

You can adjust the speed of your turn by performing more or less strokes and/or by varying the overall strength of your back paddle strokes. The same’s true with every technique… get out there and give it a try yourself so you get a feel for it. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can grasp the ideas behind new maneuvers and grow in confidence.

How to Back Paddle

Step 1: Slightly bend your knees and position yourself to make the turn. You don’t want or need to be too far forward or back.
Step 2: Plant the blade of the paddle near the rear rail of your board.
Step 3: Now perform a couple back strokes (the strength, length and number of strokes will determine how much you turn).

Overhead image of man using a back paddle to maneuver

Use a back paddle on the side you want to turn your SUP.

Last Thoughts About How to Turn Your SUP

As you can see it’s not that complicated, but you once you’re on the water and experimenting you’ll notice that technique makes a big difference. The side stroke of a sweeping turn isn’t simply a stroke off to the side, nor is the back paddle merely as its’ name suggests. Once you get a feel for them with a bit of practice both techniques will become incredibly effective ways to turn. Remember, you’re not just steering, you’re in control. Master the sweeping turn and the back paddle and you’ll be well on your way to upping your SUP game. Let us know how it goes!

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About the Author: Matt G.

Matt Gelgota is a traveler and all around digital marketing guy. His greatest adventure to date was the Mongol Rally, a 10,000 mile unsupported on and off-road saga from Sweden to Mongolia. He has visited more than 50 countries and has been paddling a Thurso Surf Expedition since 2018. Since then he’s had a chance to paddle board in Nepal, Thailand, Japan, and the US. When he’s not on the road he divides his time between Tokyo and Atlanta, Georgia.

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