SUPer Skills

Monday, May 30, 12022 HE

I watched Paddle Like a Pro with Danny Ching on YouTube again. I’ve watched snippets of it before, but this time it captivated me, and I watched both parts in their entirety (Part 1 and Part 2). The best part about the video is how Danny approaches everything as a cost/benefit trade-off. What do you gain from this technology or technique, but at the same time, what do you lose? Everything is a balance.

So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you’ll move mountains.

Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

The section in Part 2 on buoy turns struck me this time. Perhaps because I recently got a new SUP resulting in a required refinement of my pivot turn technique piqued my interest. My shift down the performance/learning curve had me eager to learn again. I realized that I’ve only been doing what Ching calls a “backside turn“. He presents the technique for a cross bow and front side turn as variations of buoy turns. Now I am reinvestigating these skills, and in the humbling process, I have reflected on what skills have helped facilitate this process.

My conclusion is a few things facilitate SUP skill development. First and foremost, you need repetition or practice. That’s right, “we talking about practice” as Allen Iverson famously repeated in his tirade. Practice is the repetition of an action with the goal of improvement. And despite Iverson’s denunciation of its significance in favour of “the game”, it is important. At the most basic level, practice can simply be more time out on the water. Easier to do in warmer climates. If you are like me in the Pacific Northwest and don’t have the luxury of perpetually warm water, investing in a wetsuit or drysuit can extend your training season. Though it is possible to practice via other mediums, such as ergs, dryland training, or visualization, I am a firm believer in the mantra that nothing beats the real thing (like a 1970s Coca-cola ad). It is not just pure volume, as has been popularised in the mantra of the 10,000-hour rule made more mainstream by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers. Rather an accumulation of so-called deliberate practice can be more efficient. David Epstein challenged Gladwell’s popularisation of the 10,000-hour rule in Sports Gene. Later the two had several friendly debates on the topic (here is one exchange). My conclusion is that outside of extremes of function/performance, where genetics is a crucial prerequisite, practice is necessary for skill development and more or less efficient depending on the nature of that practice.

One resource I found for efficient SUP-specific practice was the SUPBoarder Challenges. Essentially, the challenges are a three-part series with different challenges to test and progress your SUP skills.

By moving to the centre of your board in a surf stance, you functionally increase the roll motion of the board as you no longer can easily control the roll by shifting your centre of mass from foot to foot (i.e., left to right). Instead, you are now more dependent on an ankle or hip strategy to control the roll. Furthermore, being in a surf stance position allows the other board motions to be more readily accessed. Walking forward or backward can alter the pitch of the board by lowering or raising the nose or tail. Raising or lowering the nose or tail of the board allows for more yaw motion. Lifting one end of the board out of the water reduces the wetted surface area and lowers the drag.

Learning how to cross-step on your board is a fundamental skill that will serve you well if you can master it early on. Here are some helpful tips to get started.

• Stand over the middle of the board: It is much easier to balance the roll of the board if you align your centre of mass in the midline of the board. Imagine a line on your board from tail to nose going through the carrying handle that you will walk along.
• Start small: You can always start with a shuffle step if the cross-step seems too challenging to start. 
• Use your paddle: Keep your paddle in the water while you step. This gives you an extra contact/balance point when you are stepping.
• Flatwater is your friend: Set yourself up for success and start in easy conditions.
• Motion is lotion: Try stepping while moving rather than stationary. Having a bit of glide for your board will give you more stability.
• Stay low: By bending your knees and lowering your centre of mass, you will have better balance.
• Eyes on the Prize: Try to keep your head level and eyes on the horizon. Resist the urge to look down at your feet or board. Having your vision on the horizon will make balancing easier.
• Do a dry Run: Practice the footwork on dryland on a stable surface first so that it comes more naturally to you on the water.

The second SUPBoarder challenge was paddling with one foot. This challenge builds on the first challenge of cross-stepping. Rather than only briefly being on one foot for a split second, you commit to one foot for as long as possible. Building up your confidence by unweighting one foot to walk on your board first is an excellent progression to committing to paddling on a single leg. Be prepared to get wet with this one.

For another take on how to use a single-leg paddling drill to help with timing and committing to putting your weight and force into the paddle stroke, check out this part of Paddle Like a Pro with Danny Ching. He uses paddling on one foot to train balance and learn how to load the paddle in the water as an extra point of balance.

Here are some of my insights.

• Stand over the middle of the board: This is a no-brainer, but the closer you are to the centre line, the easier it is to balance the board.
• Angle your foot: Rather than have your foot directly parallel with the length of the board, angle it slightly away from your instep to give you some more control from left to right.
• Use your leg: Use your non-stance leg for a counterbalance. By putting your foot out over the board, you will be able to balance your centre of mass over the top of your board more easily.
• Get low: Bend your stance leg knee to lower your centre of mass and improve your balance.
• Use your paddle: Use your paddle as an extra point of stability in the water. Try using a slicing stroke during the recovery phase. Or combine a sweep and slice stroke. Keeping your paddle continuously in the water with minimal drag will provide stability without slowing you down (for more information on bracing strokes, check out this video by StandUpPaddlingTV).

The third SUPBoader challenge was how many step-back turns you can complete in 30 seconds. Again, the first two challenges progress you to this third challenge by first allowing you to walk to the tail of your board and second by helping improve your balance and comfort on the board in a less stable stance.

I find this one challenging as I get dizzy. I think that is partly due to spinning as a middle-aged mammal (pun intended, find out what a mamil is here). It also stems from where I tend to look, down at my board rather than up at the horizon. Keeping your eyes on the horizon can help to minimize dizziness.

[And here are a few more words related to mamils. This YouTube video, Cheap Bike Pro Rider Vs Super Bike Amateur Rider!, came up on my feed. It attempts to answer a question many people ask in kit-centric sports/activities. What is more important, the user or the kit? The vlog puts an amateur cyclist on a ₤15,000 (approx. $23,975) bike against a pro-cyclist on the cheapest bike they could find on Amazon (approx. ₤300 or $480) to see who’s faster. I asked a similar gear-related stand up paddleboard (SUP) question last year after having my SUP ego crushed as I round a buoy doing a step back during Coast Outdoors and Deep Cove Kayak‘s virtual Tuesday Night Race (vTNR) series. I was overtaken by a paddler on a 2021 Starboard All Star while riding my 2019 Blackfin Model XL. At the time, I was shocked and felt the rider’s skill level didn’t warrant him leaving me in his wake so easily as he didn’t even attempt to change his footwork for his turn. As I have come to appreciate, turning a performance race SUP is not as easy a feat as a recreational inflatable SUP. So, as I alluded to in my past post, it may be that he was a much more skilled and fit rider than my torn ego gave him at the time. The vlog goes right at the heart of the question, albeit for bikes, whether it is the user or the gear that makes the difference. Or, as the vlogger puts it, what’s better “fast rider shit bike versus shit rider fast bike.”]

• Get low: Bend your knees to lower your centre of mass and improve your balance.
• Use your core: I don’t like the saying, “use your core,” but, in this case, I will let it slide as it is popular enough that most people will get what it means. To pivot turn rapidly, you need to do a hard sweep stroke. To maintain your balance against the counter-resistance of the water, you need to engage the muscles of your trunk and hips to stay onboard.
• Use your hips: Turning with your hips, you can better maintain your balance as your knees and feet can control the board roll more readily.
• Roll the board: Try to roll your board to lift the lead edge out of the water. Raising the lead rail reduces your drag and prevents you from catching the edge and falling over.
• Use your paddle: Again, your paddle is your friend when it comes to balance. Use it for a recovery sweep or brace stroke as needed.

I am now revisiting these skills with my new board with a deeper appreciation. A narrower board has brought an air of humility to relearning these skills. The elusive continuous pursuit of mastery.

3 thoughts on “SUPer Skills

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