I love coaching. I've been a coach since I was 15 years old, and have since studied pedagogy within movement science, kinesiology, leadership courses, and exercise science courses that have added to my teaching repertoire. It's always fun to help people grow in a sport and develop a passion for being outside and being active. I have been an instructor at Rocky Mountain Paddleboard for two years now, and it's probably one of the best jobs I've had. With this job, I teach kid's camps as well as private lessons for people that want to get into SUP racing or whitewater.
I've developed a curriculum for myself that I use to progress my students. Whether my students are 8 years old or 50 years old, I use my "Three Challenges" on day one and I see immediate results. By the end of my two-hour lessons, a lot of my students can execute a pivot turn and the athletic ones can perform a buoy turn, which are some of the more "flashy" moves you can do on a paddleboard. Here's how I do it:
Obviously I go over the basic paddle strokes on dry land so that my students have an idea of how to maneuver the board around. Let's skip that part. If you really are interested in learning those, take a lesson from me in real life ;).
Fast forward to the point in the lesson where we are on the water. We have established that we do not hold our paddle backwards, despite how counter-intuitive it may seem, how to paddle relatively straight, as well as maneuver around obstacles.
Now we are at the point where we need to fix the fact that you probably look like an awkward baby giraffe that was born a couple minutes ago and fears that the water is lava.
This is where the Three Challenges come into play.
Let's start by establishing some reference points. Imagine that your board is divided into thirds, length-wise (hot-dog style). We will refer to the left third of the board as the left rail, the center third of the board as the stringer, and the right side of the board as the right rail. In order to be the most stable on your paddleboard, you need to think of it like skiing or snowboarding. If you "catch an edge", or in other words, the water submerses one of the rails of your board, then your board will tip and you will most likely fall in the water. So our goal is to control the rails of the board to prevent this from happening.
Another reference point that you will need to understand is that the longer the paddleboard, the more surface area it has on the water, which requires a little bit more energy to turn or maneuver the board. So shorter boards are therefore easier to turn, and longer boards are harder to turn but are easier to paddle in a straight line.
So by understanding these two points, we must assume that in order for us to maximize our potential on a paddleboard, we must be comfortable moving around the paddleboard to manipulate how it is interacting with the water. We will never be able to be a solid paddleboarder if we keep our feet glued in one spot on the board the whole time.
The three challenges get progressively more difficult and build on each other. When you work on them you should start with challenge number one and don't move on to the next until you feel that you have it down.
Three Stances on Each Side
In the sport of SUP, you could utilize one of three stances depending on the water conditions.
The first stance is the neutral stance. This is when we are standing square, facing forward (toward the nose of the board), feet hip-width apart, both toes pointed forward. The neutral stance is great for flat water. You can generate a lot of power from this position because it is more balanced as far as recruiting muscles from both sides of the body while paddling. However, if the environmental conditions were as such that your board would be often speeding up and slowing down, then it is more likely that you would fall forward or backward because you are lacking support from the anterior or posterior sides of your body.
This is where the second stance comes into play.
The staggered stance. I use the staggered stance while I am paddleboarding in rivers because I want to be able to support myself from falling in the water when I'm dropping down chutes or punching holes. I would also use the staggered stance while I am paddling in choppy flat water or oceans, I would just adjust how wide my stance would be based on how wide of a base of support I would need for the conditions.
The staggered stance looks like a neutral stance in the sense that my feet are located on the left and right rails (think of those outer third sections of the board) so that I can control the rails of the board to keep from catching an edge. However, in a staggered stance I have one foot back at a 45 degree angle and the other foot forward. I can then use my paddle as my third point of contact to form a solid tripod.
You must be comfortable doing the staggered stance on both sides of the body because you should generally paddle on the side of the board that your hips are opening up to so that the tripod idea actually works.
The third stance is the surfer stance. Obviously you would use this stance for surfing, but also for more advanced paddle techniques, such as a pivot turn or cross-step. In the surfer stance, your feet should be on the center third of the board (the stringer section), and toes pointed towards the rail, hips open completely to the side. In this stance, you would have control of the rails by putting weight on your toes or your heels. Get comfortable doing this stance on both sides.
You will know that you are ready to move on to the next challenge when you are completely comfortable performing all three stances on both sides. Some people find it easier to step into the stances, but I prefer to hop into them so that I don't have to deal with the board rocking from side to side as I shift weight on the outer rails.
Make sure you are working on these challenges from the absolute center (the widest part) of your paddleboard. This is the most stable part of your board and is where a lot of your paddle strokes should be based from because of the way the fin and nose are designed to perform.