This week was focused on understanding bottom turns. I was frustrated with the new Rawson (7.9×26) on the bottom of the wave.
Some notes on the board – At 7.9 it’s a bit bigger than what I’ve been riding. It has an extreme tail rocker with fins a bit farther forward than my other boards. The board trims forward of center, so doesn’t carry speed off the tail.
All that said, I know it surfs amazing because I have a ton of Mo footage riding it better than anyone rides any board. So the problem is with the rider at this point.
I got frustrated on Tuesday, and decided to figure it out. This is my normal process for learning/refining a skill.
Go to the source. In this case Mo. I broke down Mo videos for an hour or so. I found the Cali video most helpful (below). After watching a few times I started to realize how much rail he’s putting in the water. Also, back foot, which on a thruster is normally right on top of the back inside rail fin, seems to be a touch farther forward. It made sense to me, with a looser tail, you’d need more rail, but I didn’t realize how much Mo is burying the rail until now. His bottom turn looks a lot like that of Julian Wilson, very compact and low.
Go drill. I rode the Rawson for the next 2 sessions and still couldn’t get it. I had some great moments, off the lip game is strong with the tail rocker and quad, but bottom game was still lacking.
Try other equipment. At this point I rode 3 different boards for the next 3 sessions. The small 7.7×24 Hobie, the L41 6.10×26 and the bigger Hobie at 7.6×26.5. Bottom turns felt better and focusing on the bottom turn with the three different boards really allowed me to dial in the feel and foot placement. But, I still didn’t have the a-ha moment.
Back to the video… This time I took the last few days of me surfing and broke it down with the below video. That’s when I saw it. Directly preceding Mo’s bottom turn he’ll do a stroke into the flats. I always thought it was stylish, but never gave it much thought outside of speed. But, it has massive implications for the bottom turn.
Boards turn on rail better when the wave face has the greatest opposed angle. So, bottom turns are easier in the flats and cutbacks are easier when the wave is bending at you. Have you ever tried to lay down a huge carve on a wave bending away? It’s almost impossible. So, that extra stroke isn’t as much about speed as it is about clearing distance into the flats which allows more rail penetration and a tighter bottom turn. Which, if your riding a loose quad, is needed to maintain speed to the lip.
The video above on instagram is after 2 days of practicing the paddle into the flats. Bottom turns are grabbing and redirecting like I’ve never felt before.
My wife thinks I have way too many surfboards. I refuse to count them with the rational thought if you don’t know how many you have you never have to answer the question. And the funny part is, that right now as I write this, I’ve ordered 2 new boards from Pat Rawson, one standup and one shortboard, and there’s another retro fish I keep thinking about.
On the surface it seems ridiculous. Even I think it’s ridiculous when I sit back and look at it.
But, what folks don’t understand is that I’m not buying surfboards. Well, physically I am, but mentally, no.
I’ve been sitting on writing the full review of the Popdart from L-41 for a bit now. I didn’t want to write it until I felt that I understood the board, and have always felt that the board had so much more potential than I was getting out of it. It did, and after the breakthroughs I have had on the L-41 and in my paddle surfing in the last week, I’m stoked to give you my thoughts.
To understand the process, we’ve got to jump back a few months. When I bought the board I was envisioning a shortboard feel. Thinking about the 2017 contest season, focused on “performance.” My hope with the short size, it’s a 6.10 x 26.5, and the stepped rails, was that I’d be able to drive it hard through turns, and fit in smaller spaces. And while using the framework of surfing like I would on my small Hobie or the 7.4 Starboard Pro, the L-41 was faster, but lacked the drive to draw the tight lines that either of the other boards could draw. I got out of the water frustrated on a few occasions, and then put the board away.
That was late November and the next few weeks I was running retreats and coaching, which means I’m not focused on personal surfing. The sessions I did have on all boards felt flat, and I knew that my surfing was stagnant. Stuck in old lines and mental frameworks. This is about the time that Fisher Grant, who was here for 3 weeks in December (and coming back on Thursday for a few weeks of helping with the retreats) said I should hop on single fins for a bit. I bought Donna, the 6.9 Takayama, and for the next 22 days, only surfed that board. For the first few sessions I was stuck in the framework of shortboard surfing. It didn’t work.
Extrapolating on that point, my paddle surfing model has always been shortboard surfing. I come from a shortboard background and I’ve modeled the best in our sport, but their styles are largely shortboard inspired. (Not Colin, Kalama, Fisher and a few others).
When I dive into a new skill, my approach is to start with consumption. I’ll watch every relevant video, try to talk to anyone who is farther ahead on the learning curve and use that knowledge to prioritize my focus. In this case, on the single fin, with the goal of learning to draw more true lines, I went back a few decades. Gerry Lopez, Buttons, even old longboard videos. Modern inspirations were Colin McPhillips, Fisher Grant, Alex Knost and Devon Howard.
My goal is to add a new framework through which to see waves.
I’m not a martial artist, but there are so many similarities that martial arts provides a good analogy. If you had trained in Muay Thai for decades, you’d interpret a fight in a Muay Thai framework. If you decided to learn boxing, at the beginning you’d see boxing through Muay Thai, relating techniques and principles. Then at some point you’d see boxing from a boxing framework. The beauty happens when you transition back to Muay Thai and can analyze it with the boxing framework. Now you have a new framework in which to interpret your true passion.
I want to learn the single fin framework and bring it back to paddle surfing. And for 22 days I went about as deep as it’s possible in that short window. I averaged about 5 hours in the water per day and studied video another 2-4. I’m at my happiest in the middle of a binge learning session, and it was a great few weeks. (It’s not over, but has to taper a bit as we’re running retreats and I’m coaching for the next few weeks.)
And this all comes back to the Popdart as the board provides an amazing platform for the lines I’ve been trying to learn on the single fin.
So, my review on the Popdart is that it’s an incredible surfboard. I’ve already written about how solid the build is, top level, but I’ve waited to talk about the ride. Once you learn the board, and stop imposing the shortboard framework, it’s one of the best paddle boards I’ve ridden. The glide and carry in flat sections is unmatched. The board smooths out choppy paddle surfing.
Over the last year I’ve had the opportunity to surf with the very best paddle surfers on the planet. They have been my models for paddle surfing and I’ve spent countless hours deconstructing techniques and maneuvers to up my game and to share that knowledge with you.
I have focused on internalizing stability on small paddle boards, techniques for tip of the spear maneuvers and the evolution and direction of boards and paddles. And in those areas I feel that I’ve done a solid job in both understanding and explaining the fundamentals that create solid paddle enhanced surfing.
I’m now able to paddle a 65L board at 83kg and if you compare pictures of my best turns to the best in the world they are within the ballpark.
But, while focused on the technical minutia of paddle surfing, I’ve missed the forest for the trees. Spending the last few months with Colin McPhillips and Fisher Grant has exposed core faults in my surfing.
If you’ve come down to Costa Rica to train with me you know that one of our first discussions is about starting where you need to start, not where you want to start. No sense learning big frontside hacks if your feet aren’t in the right spot to do them. And while it can be painful to go so far back in the learning curve, it allows you to build on a solid foundation.
I’m going to take a bit of my own advice and rework the style and decision framework of my surfing. I’m not sure it’s possible with 20 years of non-perfect habits, but it’ll be a fun process to try. And it will allow me to see surfing through a new frame and add new mental representations to the art. I was explaining the process to my wife a few nights ago (not sure she really cares :), but I stated like playing rock guitar your whole life and then deciding to learn classical guitar. It’s same instrument, but a completely different approach.
And hopefully, at the end of this 3 to 6 month process, I’ll be able to bring back to paddle surfing a different understanding of wave riding.
I recruited Fisher to be my coach and advisor we’ve constructed a plan of attack. He’s uniquely positioned for this role as 2x US Longboard Champ, US SUP Champ and a top tier shortboarder. He’s in a subset of very few folks who and grab any board and surf it at a pro level. He also happens to be as opinionated as Colin McPhillips when it comes to quality surfing. They are both constantly saying that certain folks who are seen as top-level by the masses aren’t really that good. They both have a different, deeper eye for quality surfing.
Part one of the process is riding a 6.9 Takayama Howard Special single fin in all conditions. From this point forward the board will be referred to as Donna. Yes, I’m still paddle surfing too, but my training is on the single fin.
Here are some notes from the journey, 10 days in…
When shortboarding or paddle surfing you’re able to generate speed much easier than on a single fin. Aggressive, ugly pumping on a shortboard, and aggressive, even uglier paddling on a standup will carry you though flat sections with speed and allow you to work outside of the wave’s power. Donna isn’t having any of that. Stay in the pocket or it gets awkward pretty quick.
Bottom turning is a forgotten art. And it’s insanely fun. I thought I was doing an ok job of getting out in front of the wave and setting up decent bottom turns, but it turns out I wasn’t anywhere close to what’s possible. I’ve watched Colin seemingly wait minutes cruising into the flats before getting the board on rail, but haven’t ever felt it. Thought I was doing it, but wasn’t. Forcing Donna back into the pocket and feeling all that carry out to the flats is amazing. Gives a completely different perspective of the wave. Also amazing how far you can push the turn in flat water.
Less is more. Speed on Donna is about positioning and then patience. Pick your line and then trust it. I’m carry long sections by high lining with almost zero adjustment. It’s a different feeling for me.
Some of you may be wondering if the journal is going to turn away from paddle surfing… don’t worry, it isn’t. It will include what I’m learning on the style and the decision framework. And, we’ll be bringing some new video features here soon. Fisher has come on board to do some video editing and we’ve got a massive archive that he is currently sifting through to bring out lessons and insights that we’ll share in the near future.
I’m also sitting on 5 recorded podcasts that I haven’t had the time to produce yet. Next up will be a month recap with Fisher Grant and an interview with Tristan Boxford, CEO of the Waterman League and the World Tour, which is on for 2017!
The other three episodes are for the new Progression Project Podcast, focused more on deep understanding, passion and learning. So far Garret Dutton (AKA G Love), Anders Ericsson (Author of Peak), and Aaron Peirsol (3x Olympic Gold medal swimmer) have recorded. That show will debut in a few weeks! Stoked!!!
Thanks for hanging in there with me and stay tuned for an awesome run of awesome… awesome!!! E
I coined the term paddle enhanced surfing two years ago when I was trying to define proper paddle surfing. The term, paddle enhanced surfing, puts the emphasis on surfing – where it should be. And while I’ve deeply bought into this idea for years, it hasn’t been until the last few months that I’ve internalized the differences in paddle surfing and paddle enhance surfing.
How can you tell the difference?
Do your surfing mechanics work without a paddle? If not, it’s paddle enhanced surfing.
To test this, either paddle in to a wave prone without a paddle or after catching a wave with your paddle throw it out the back . If you are paddle enhanced surfing, your surfing mechanics will still work.
But,if you’re paddle enhanced surfing and your mechanics will be wrong, and you’ll flounder and feel lost.
Let’s break down a frontside bottom turn through this frame. It is very common, as I wrote about in the Your Paddle is Not a Rudder post, for intermediate paddle surfers, normally without a surfing background, to use their paddle like you would in a canoe to change direction.
In fact most of the clients I’ve worked with in the last few weeks have had the same habit of dragging their paddle on the inside, toe side, while dropping into a wave frontside and using the paddle to force bad technique to do a frontside bottom turn. Generally, foot position is too far forward, 80% of weight it on the back foot to keep the nose out, and the paddle is dragging well behind the feet which pulls weight farther back, sinks the tail, burns speed and forces the bad bottom turn. Using this bottom turn you’re not weighted correctly to transition to any maneuver, so the next turn is doomed to fail.
Surfing without a paddle will immediately expose the improper technique for this bottom turn. You lean back but there’s no brace for the turn, the board will turn but skate out from under your feet.
Next surf session why not throw away the paddle for a few waves and see what holes you have in your game? I’ve been doing this a few times a week recently and can say I’ve seen big improvements in my rail surfing and bottom turning. When you can surf without the paddle it gives you the freedom to pick the spots to use it to a higher effect.
Coaching and Retreats
If you’re interested in coming down to work with me, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Private coaching and retreats are full until the Foundation Training retreat Feb 25-Mar4. We haven’t announced March/April dates yet (I am waiting on dates for an upcoming project, should have those soon). Before we publically announce new dates we’ll email folks who have expressed interest. So, if you’re interested, shoot us an email with when you’re looking to come train and you’ll be the first to know.
Thanks for all the support! We’ll have some exciting announcements coming soon! Erik
When I work with intermediate paddle surfers the majority of time is spent on correcting improper form in turns. There’s a reason for this. It is easier to teach/learn turns by using the paddle as a brake/rudder. The mental representation is easy to understand, think turning a canoe. It pulls weight back and to the inside rail, which initiates direction change. But, just like in the canoe, it slows you down.
Proper surfing’s goal is conservation of speed.
Wind works on water to create energy in wave form. Surfing is about maximizing and redirecting that energy. Better surfers go faster, make more sections, utilize more of the wave face. The type of turn used is dictated by the section and potential energy of the position.
Bottom turns and roundhouse cutbacks are rail turns, initiated at or just in front of the front fin – more fin and rail in the water means less slip, which equates to more speed.
Snaps and tail slides are done high on the wave in steep sections – areas of high potential energy. You can burn your speed if you’re at the lip of the wave, as the potential energy will allow you to accelerate out of turns.
Watch the video below of Kai Bates through the lens of conservation of speed. Watch where he places each maneuver, how he uses the paddle, rails and where his feet are for different types of turns. This is a strong mental representation frame to help in decision making in wave riding. Anders Ericsson, author of Peak, was on the podcast yesterday (should be out in about 2 weeks) and we spend a good deal of time on types of mental representations. Changing the way you think about and approach skill acquisition will significantly ramp up your learning curve… And I think you’ll enjoy training at a much deeper level!