Whenever I teach someone how to stand up paddleboard, I try to help them understand that it's more than just the paddle strokes. The water is dynamic, so we must be harmonious with it in order to maintain control and balance on the board. After I start off the lesson with the basic breakdown of forward and sweep strokes and make sure they know how to move the board, I then go into my Three Challenges. Regardless of the age or experience level of my students, they always complete the challenges with immediate results and come out more comfortable and competent on the board.
This is the third and final post in my Three Challenges series where I will break down challenge number three: The Pivot Turn.
Let's go over a quick recap of the challenges so far...
Challenge Number One: 3 Stances on Both Sides.
Understand the differences and be able to execute the neutral, staggered, and surfer stance on each side.
Challenge Number Two: Nose to Tail Walks.
Be comfortable moving around on your board. Maintain excellent posture and understand the relationship between body angles and how it affects balance. Also understand where the sweet spots on your board are, like what spots are stable and unstable to stand on.
Challenge Number Three: Pivot Turn 360* on Both Sides.
The pivot turn allows you to reduce the surface area of your board on the water by lifting up the nose. This makes it much easier to turn your board. If you want to advance to a touring board or race board, then knowing how to pivot turn is crucial, but it's also a great skill to have to reduce the energy and time it takes to turn any board.
Whenever I demonstrate the pivot turn, I hear gasps and, "Wows" from my students. It's a pretty cool trick to do on a SUP. It's also a game changer because once you know how to pivot turn, then you will never want to waste so much energy on turning your board with sweep strokes ever again.
My students immediately doubt that they would be able to do it, but by working through the challenges they are building on the skills necessary to be able to do a pivot turn. If they are comfortable doing a surfer and staggered stance and are comfortable walking to the back of their board in a neutral stance, then the next step would be to go in a surfer stance on the tail. Oftentimes this only takes about 15 minutes of practice for them to get to challenge number three, and most of them get a pretty basic pivot turn down after about 30 minutes of working on the challenges.
Let's break it down.
This tutorial I found by YouTuber Sam Ross is pretty good. But it was also filmed so that it would be more interesting by showing some pretty solid pivot turns.
The reality is, when you're first learning or teaching someone how to pivot turn, your board is stopped and the break down is much slower. I would recommend starting from a simple floating board, walking to the tail of the board in whatever way is comfortable (similar to how we practiced in challenge number two), then get into a surfer stance.
Because the board is more narrow near the tail, it will also be more tippy. By staggering your surfer stance a little bit, like what we covered in challenge number one, you will be able to control the rails of the board a bit better. As you get more comfortable balancing during pivot turns, however, your stance will go from a wide staggered stance to more of a surfer stance.
Once you are on the back of the board in a surfer stance, the next step would be to do a forward sweep stroke. It is important to note that your paddle should be on your belly button side, so that you can maintain balance through using your paddle as a tripod.
When I am teaching someone a pivot turn for the first time, I am pretty strict on how they perform it so that they form good habits and practice the most practical form of pivot turns.
So I'm watching to see that their grip on the paddle doesn't change or their hands get too narrow on the paddle.
I'm watching to see that they're shifting their weight with their hips to accommodate for the nose of the board rising and falling with their movement.
I'm watching to see that they understand how to bend in the knees and use their paddle in the water to brace themselves if they feel as though they are going to fall, and also driving home the concept of proper posture I discussed in challenge number two.
And I'm also pretty picky that they are doing a forward sweep stroke rather than practicing the pivot turns with a reverse sweep stroke.
The reason why I am so picky about doing forward sweep strokes when learning the pivot turn is because the next step would be to practice doing the pivot turns while moving forward, then doing the pivot turns around buoys. Reverse sweep strokes will cause the board to turn on your toe-side, so that means that if you were trying to navigate around a buoy, then the buoy you're trying to navigate around would be in the way of the paddle. It's much easier to turn the board around objects with them to your back, so you can keep your belly button-side tripod and have room to do your strokes.
Another reason why it's better to learn with a forward sweep stroke is because they are better for maintaining forward momentum while turning. If you progressed to the next step of performing pivot turns while moving, then a reverse sweep stroke would require your board have to slow down and stop before actually turning. Reverse sweep strokes directly oppose the forward momentum you have when your paddle forward. Forward sweep strokes redirect forward momentum.
So as for the challenge, once we have established correct form, I encourage my students to try and pivot turn their board at least one full circle before switching their stance on the opposite side and doing the same. Always practice both sides.
And that's the end of my Three Challenges!
I teach these challenges to literally 150 kids ages 8-18 per week for a kids camp, and many adults on top of that. It's amazing to watch people go from having little to no paddleboarding experience, barely knowing how to paddle, to being comfortable moving around their board and navigating it more efficiently in just one hour of water time. I love these challenges because I don't even have to explain the reasoning behind them and why they work, like I did in these blog posts. I just show my students the challenges and coach them a little bit, then observe throughout the rest of the lesson or play time that they automatically understand how to move their board around better by walking around their board.
Just yesterday I took a group of kids on the water. There was one boy that was struggling with the paddle portion big time. He had never ever paddled before, so understanding the concept of paddling on one side or the other was hard for him and he didn't even dare stand up. Once we went over the challenges, he was able to work on them with confidence (because he didn't have to paddle, just work on his relationship with the board). During the challenges, he didn't feel frustrated or left out because he was in the back of the crowd and paddling slower than everyone else like he was earlier. Everyone was having fun working on the challenges and falling in the water and pushing out of their comfort zone. Then after the time for challenges was over, I saw that the same boy was a whole new paddler. He was much more comfortable on the board. He was standing, paddling, and turning well. And best of all, he was having fun! :)
It's also really cool to see some of my campers come back again and get stoked on being able to do the pivot turn, and ask me to learn more cool paddle tricks and strokes. I absolutely love it!
So as a little tidbit, when I get repeat lessons or people that are up for more of a challenge, I do have a Three Challenges, Level II. The Challenges are:
1. Jump from neutral front to back 180*, both directions. Then jump from surfer to surfer 180* both directions.
2. Nose to tail walks using a cross-step. Both sides.
3. Pivot turn on the nose of the board.
And as for Level III Challenges... that varies between each student. I usually just make it up on the spot depending on their skill level, but I usually progress to teaching draw strokes, C strokes, and buoy turns. I'm considering incorporating some SUP headstand training for my campers ;)
How do other SUP coaches out there progress their students?