Monday, October 21, 2013

Stand Up Paddle Technique Part 8: Buoy Turn, Pivot turn, Crossbow turn

Buoy turns

In SUP races with many turns you will find that most changes in positioning often happen in the turns, not in the straightaways, where it can take a huge amount of physical effort to pass another competitor.  Fast turns require mostly good technique, balance and skill and less physical conditioning, so practice is important.
In Hawaii, most races are straight downwind with few turns involved.  When I went to my first Battle of the Paddle, I realized how important the turns and transitions were in these races and how my skills were lacking in that department.  I started to really focus on practicing faster turns.

Fast turns require skill, strategy, the right equipment, and luck. 

Pivot Turn

Turning fast is an important skill to practice.  Training for speed in the straightaways is not enough to do well in many races, you need to practice the turns and transitions as well.  Good turning skills will also help in the surf.  Generally speaking, the more you can move your weight back on the board, the easier it will be to turn it.  The goal is to move your weight to the back of the board, with the back foot close to the fin and lifting the front of the board out or the water.  This will allow you to swing the board around quickly.  The pivot turn takes good balance and lots of practice. The goal is to smoothly walk or jump your feet back without rocking the board side to side while keeping your weight over the centerline of the board to keep it level in the water.  You use your paddle to make a sweeping steering stroke to swivel the board around the fin and then quickly move your weight back forward to your trim position to accelerate out of the turn.  Brace with your paddle and bend your knees to stay low for balance.   The pivot turn takes a lot of practice to master so if you are not comfortable with it yet, use the crossbow turn until you are.

Crossbow Turn

While the pivot turn is the fastest, it is also risky ask it puts you in a tippy positions where you can lose your balance or get knocked off.  Whatever you do, you want to avoid falling in, so depending on your equipment, conditions and skill level, it may be safer to keep your weight forward in a parallel or slightly staggered stance and complete the turn using your paddle.  The goal is to avoid paddling backwards at all costs as this will really slow down your forward momentum.  The crossbow or cross-over turn works well to initiate the turn.  The paddle is reached past the nose to the other side of the board without changing the grip position.  The blade is pulled towards the nose of the board then lifted over the nose and followed by a sweeping steering stroke.  The angle of the blade to the water is very important when turning and you want the steering action to be as close to the front of the board as possible to make it most effective.

Strategy and luck come into play when many competitors try to make a turn at the same time.  Generally speaking the inside line closest to the buoy is preferable and you should plan ahead and set up your approach to the buoy in a good position relative to your competitors if possible.  Approaching the turn is no time to be feeble, you want to assert your position and not let yourself get pushed aside.  That said, being close to the buoy also puts you at risk of getting rammed, boxed in or stuck behind another board or paddler in the water.  When a turn gets very crowded, a wider turn that avoids others can be the fastest route.  At BOP style races, waves are another factor that need to be considered.   It’s always a good idea to paddle the course as a warm up and make yourself familiar with the turns.  Make sure the rope holding the buoy can’t snag the fin, I have seen that happen a few times.

Equipment is important too, wider boards with wider tails make pivot turn easier while narrow boards with streamlined pintails may be faster in the straightaways, they make it much more difficult to balance on the tail in a pivot turn.  Likewise, big fins with wide bases and lots of rake may make the board track better in a straight line but also make the board harder to turn.  These are some compromises to consider and in a race with lots of turns you may want to sacrifice some straightaway speed and choose a more stable board with a wider tail and a smaller, easier to turn fin.

Races can have many different kinds of turns: left and right hand turns and variables such as wind, current, waves and the angle of the turn, some are 90, others 180 degrees.  It helps to be prepared and practice many variations of turns to make sure you are comfortable turning the board you will race on.  Practice makes perfect.

Here is a video from one of our weekly coaching/ time trials where we practiced buoy turns with narrated coaching tips.  This is not a demonstration of perfect buoy turns but rather a demonstration of common mistakes.

This is a good video of Straboard team rider Beau O'Brian demonstrating the kick turn:

Links to the paddle technique series posts on Zen Waterman:

Paddle Technique Part 0: Introduction to SUP
Paddle Technique Part 1: Choosing the Right Paddle
Paddle Technique Part 2: The Three Ingredients of a Powerful Stroke
Paddle Technique Part 3: Stacking the Shoulders
Paddle Technique Part 4: Reach and Catch
Paddle Technique Part 5: Recovery, Paddle Length and Grip
Paddle Technique Part 6: Turning the Board
Paddle Technique Part 7: Catching Waves

Aloha, Robert Stehlik


  1. Does anyone have any tips on paddling? I mean i get out the back OK and all, but everyone always overtakes me! do i just need to get stronger or is there simply an easier/better way of paddling?

    1. Hi Paul,
      Practice proper technique before working on strength and endurance. Improving technique will make the biggest difference when you are starting out and you won't train your muscles into bad habits that are more difficult to "unlearn" later. To get started, read and watch the videos in the technique series on this blog. Aloha.


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