I hope you’ve been having a lovely summer so far learning to SUP! You now know the parts of your board and how to take a stroke, but do you know how to do a SUP turn? In this third instalment of our Paddleboard Lesson for Beginners, we’ll be looking at changing the direction of your board using two simple SUP turns. After all, we eventually do need to turn around and return to our starting point. 

There are many ways to turn a board, some more complex than others. When learning how to stand up paddleboard, it’s best to start with simple, basic SUP turns that’ll get the job done. Once you’ve mastered these, you can move onto more advanced turns like the crossbow and the pivot turn. But we need to learn to walk before we can run. 

How to Paddleboard Lesson Series – List of Posts

Woman carrying a Thurso Surf SUP board at the Scarborough Bluffs

Grab your board, paddle, and leash! I’m doing my SUP turns on the Waterwalker 126

The Two Basic SUP Turns

The two SUP turns I will be teaching you are the reverse sweep and the front sweep. Although these turns look quite similar, they have their specific uses and benefits. The reverse sweep will give you a nice, tight turn while slowing down momentum. The forward sweep is a wider SUP turn, great for a small change in direction while still moving you forward. Are you ready to learn them? Let’s begin! 

Before we start, I’d like to make a note about hand placement. When doing any SUP turn, your hand position on the paddle does not change and stays the same as with your stroke. Students sometimes get confused when learning new turns and will move their hands or turn the paddle around. Luckily this is one thing you don’t have to think about! Keep your hands where they are and keep your paddle blade angled forward. 

SUP Turn 1: Reverse Sweep

As mentioned above, the reverse sweep is the tighter of the two SUP turns. It’s great if you need to stop and make a ninety degree change in direction. It is called the reverse sweep because we start the turn at the tail (or back) of the board. 

There are three simple steps to the reverse sweep:

  1. Enter the blade at the tail
  2. Sweep the paddle in a wide arc 
  3. Finish with the blade at the nose

Enter the Blade at the Tail

To start your turn, you’ll want to enter the blade of your paddle around the tail of your board. Bend those knees to get some extra stability and twist your body to look behind you. Reach back with your paddle and slice the blade in the water near the tail.

Woman doing a SUP turn on her Thurso Surf Waterwalker

Starting at the tail for the reverse sweep

Sweep Paddle in an Arc

Once your blade is in the water, sweep the paddle from the tail to nose in a wide arc. Unlike your paddle stroke, you’ll want your paddle to be horizontal. Think of it like drawing a rainbow or the letter “C “with your paddle. Don’t rush it. Take your time to draw out the shape. 

Woman doing a SUP turn on her Thurso Surf Waterwalker

Drawing an arc with my paddle from back to front

Finish with Blade at the Nose

When your blade reaches the nose of your board, your turn is complete. You can either straighten up and continue paddling forward, or do another turn to get your board in the direction you’d like. 

Which Side Do I Turn On?

With the reverse sweep, it’s easy to remember; if you want to turn right, perform the turn on your right side, and vice versa.

Woman doing a SUP turn on her Thurso Surf Waterwalker

Finishing the reverse sweep at the nose. Look how much I’ve turned my board!

SUP Turn 2: Forward Sweep

Just like the reverse sweep, there are three simple steps to the forward sweep. Basically, you are doing the same steps in the reverse order. Have I confused you yet? I promise that it’s easier than it sounds! Here are the steps:

  1. Enter the blade at the nose
  2. Sweep the paddle in a wide arc 
  3. Finish with the blade at the tail

Enter the Blade at the Nose

To start this SUP turn, you’ll want to the blade to enter the water around the nose of your board. Like before, you can bend your knees to get low for added stability. Hold your paddle in more of a horizontal position and slice your blade in the water near the front of your board like you are cutting a cake. 

Woman doing a SUP turn on her Thurso Surf Waterwalker

With the forward sweep, you’ll want to begin at the nose

Sweep the Paddle in a Wide Arc

Once your blade is in the water, sweep the paddle from the nose to the tail in an arc. Again, we are looking for a wide arc, just like a rainbow or “C” shape. You’ll have to twist your torso to get the blade all the way to the tail. 

Woman doing a SUP turn on her Thurso Surf Waterwalker

Notice how I’ve started to turn my upper body and look back

Finish with the Blade at the Tail

Once you reach the tail of your board with your blade, your turn is done. Notice that with this turn, you haven’t turned as much as you did with the reverse swee, but you still have some forward momentum. It’s great for making a simple change in direction. You can do a few more forward sweeps if you need to adjust your direction a bit more. 

Which Side Do I Turn On?

When using the forward sweep, perform the turn on the opposite side you want to go in. For instance, if you’d like to turn your board to the right, you’ll need to do the turn on the left side of your board. 

Woman doing a SUP turn on her Thurso Surf Waterwalker

Finishing off the forward sweep at the back of the board

Practise Those SUP Turns on Land

The nice part about these SUP turns is that you can practice the motion on land. Grab your paddle and envision that you are standing on your board. Go through the steps of both the reverse and forward sweep a few times on both sides. You may want to look at your paddle the first few times you do this drill, but try to eventually get comfortable with doing the turn while looking up. You should always be looking at your surroundings and aware of what’s around you. 

Now that you know how to do a couple of basic SUP turns, you’ll be more confident when out on an excursion. Being able to control the direction of your board is so important for your safety and those around you. It also helps when trying to position yourself for the perfect photo op! Keep practising your turns on flat, calm days and you’ll be ready to navigate trickier, choppier conditions.

Next up in our how to SUP series … how to get on your paddleboard! 

Bonus Practice

Do you love doing SUP turns? I do! If you want to challenge yourself and improve your technique, see how many turns it takes you to do a 360. Four? Three? Two?! How low can you go? Try this with both the reverse and forward sweep, and let us know in the comments. Another fun drill is to challenge yourself to turn around an object in the water, like a buoy or your paddle buddy.

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About the Author: Jordan-na

Jordan-na Belle-Isle is a Toronto-based SUP instructor, lake surfer, and writer. Born in Montreal, she has been sporty her whole life and discovered stand-up paddleboarding in 2013. Since then, she has been active in the SUP scene, paddling and surfing the Great Lakes year-round. Jordan-na is a patient and encouraging instructor. She obtained her first SUP instructor certification in 2017 and has been teaching ever since. She has worked with Surf the Greats and Toronto Island SUP, running everything from group classes, to one-on-one training, to winter SUP safety clinics, to team-building events for clients and partners such as Google, Brown Girl Outdoor World, L’Oreal, Swim Drink Fish, and Ryerson University. She currently holds an Advanced SUP Instructor certification with Paddle Canada and is Bronze Cross certified with the Ontario Lifesaving Society. A recognizable face in the Great Lakes SUP and surf scene, her image has been used in a national campaign for Tourism Canada and she has been interviewed by several media outlets such as SUP Connect, Breakfast Television, Daily Hive News, and the Toronto Star. She was also the subject of a short documentary film titled ‘In Winter.’ A skilled writer with a masters degree from the University of Toronto, her work has appeared in Explore Magazine and she is a regular contributor to the Thurso Surf blog and Surf the Greats Journal. She is a co-organizer for Lake Surfistas, a grassroots group that connects, empowers, and educates women who surf and SUP the Great Lakes year-round.

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