When I tell new people how to paddle, I say, “paddle more on the right side to go left and paddle more on the left side to go right.”
After paddling for a while, you start to think, "There's got to be a better, more efficient way to turn."
The answer is, “yes.” Learn how to turn faster, keep speed up for big turns, and get a little fancy.
Back paddle - Faster turn. Quick way to cut speed.
Yes, paddling backwards is one way to stop. It also turns the nose of the board to the same direction of the side you’re paddling. Take a firm grip on your paddle and paddle backwards with a strong stroke.
Sea (or C) stroke - Bigger turn. Maintains some speed.
Take your paddle in a sweeping arc motion (like a C) from the nose of the board outward. This will turn you away from the side you’re paddling. If you want to change your direction even more, twist your body towards the side you want to turn. Then start the stroke from the middle or tail end of the board, with the back of the blade facing forward. Bring the paddle towards the nose in an arc motion, and continue that arc towards the opposite side of the board. You might need to lift the paddle out of the water to cross over the nose.
J stroke - Use when space is limited or if you want to feel fancy.
Start the stroke a little further away from the board on the same side you want to turn. Bring the blade towards the board, pushing the water under the board, then send the blade of the paddle towards the tail. The motion is similar to a J or a question mark. Depending on how much water you push under the board, you can maintain the same direction you’re going, turn a little bit towards the side, or even more perpendicular to the length of the board if you make more of an S shape.
Pivot turn - Quick turn with the smallest turning radius. It’s less stable and more rad.
Normally, paddling happens in the middle of the board where the handle is. This creates a more even center of gravity. In a pivot turn, walk to the tail of the board. This brings the nose up and sinks the tail down. Paddle on the side opposite of where you want to turn.
Have fun playing around with all these options. Maybe even make a little game with your friends. Let me know which one you’re looking forward to trying the most or how the paddling went in the comments below.