Why I Paddle Surf 90% of the Time

Why I Paddle Surf 90% of the Time

After my last post, Dropping Volume – Better have some solid processes, we got a nasty comment on facebook about the logic of riding small paddle boards as opposed to just shortboarding.


For starters, I don’t tolerate haters here, so if you post anything negative in a mean spirited way, the comment will be deleted, and you’ll be blocked.  I can’t do anything about shitty mindsets for the greater world, but if you choose to play here, you’ve got to be cordial.

That doesn’t mean we can’t disagree, in fact I love a good argument, but not haters.  Constructive criticism is always welcome and encouraged.  I’m a work in progress, as are we all.

I do look at negativity,  especially from haters, as an excuse to reflect on what you’re doing and to make sure you’re on the right path.  Everyone has their own opinion, and in their mind, they’re correct.  I try on that hat, whatever it is, to make sure I’m not suffering from cognitive dissonance.

Through that lens I asked myself, “Why not just shortboard?”  Here’s where I landed.


  1. It’s just more fun on more days.  My surf session to fun surf session ratio is about 100% since I started paddling.  It sounds terrible, but shortboarding my ratio was probably 50%, and I left the water less happy when I arrived 25% of the time.  Surfing is all about riding waves, so if the waves aren’t on it’s difficult to feel fulfilled.
  2. The Challenge.  Riding small boards is one of the hardest things I’ve done in sport.  I enjoy the challenge.  I look forward to the challenge.  It’s fun to feel like a kook, and all you have to do to get back to that place is drop a few liters.
  3. Forced Mindfulness.  If you’re pushing your volume limits, you’re using 100% of your focus to balance.  That focus translates to being fully present in the moment.  Yes, you do get that same zen moment in shortboarding, but only when riding waves.  In paddling small boards you can extend the active meditation.
  4. The workout.  Going to the gym is a thing of the past.  Maybe I do a few sets of kettlebells each week, but I used to workout for an hour a day while shortboarding.  Now, I just paddle surf, and I stay in better shape.  It is the total body workout that swimming wishes it was.
  5. Body Type.  I’m 6.1 at 183 today.  I’m built more like a free safety than a pro surfer.  In surfing my weight has always worked against me, there is no added value in being strong.  Not true in paddle surfing.  In paddle surfing you can leverage strength through the paddle with an exponential effect.
  6. Peer group.  I like paddlers.  The commonalities we all share are solid traits.  I’ve met many of my best friends through paddling.
  7. Steep Innovation Curve.  Paddle surfing is still in its infancy.  It’s fun being a paddle surfer now, just as I assume it was amazing to be a surfer in the 60’s and 70’s.  With each new innovation you get to experience surf in a new way.  Shortboarding’s been stagnant for a long while, but paddle surfing is evolving every day.  I have no idea what shape I’ll be riding next year.  Or what kind of paddle.  Innovation and change are fun places to be.
  8. Paddle surfing is a complete sport.  Fun.  Exercise.  Challenge.  Comradery.

After looking in the hater mirror, I don’t doubt my path for a second.

What do you love about paddle surfing?

Dropping Volume – Better have some solid processes!

Dropping Volume – Better have some solid processes!

Today I’ve been jamming on an upcoming interview, Anders Ericsson, the author of my favorite book, Peak, has agreed to come on the show!  Stoked!!! but also a bit nervous.  I respect his work so much that I’m doing my homework right now to make the most out of our time.  If you have any questions that you’d like me to consider asking, please post them up in the comments below.

I do have some paddle surfing thoughts I’d like to share today, but this is more of stream of consciousness blog from what I was thinking about in the water this morning.

Since returning to Costa Rica on October 22nd I’ve been pushing it on some pretty small paddle boards.  I’ve internalized the feeling and techniques of paddling negative float boards, but I’m having a difficult time articulating the experience.  I’m looking for a good metaphor and the closest I’ve found is driving.

The act of driving is universal and we can all understand it.  It’s similar whether your driving a golf cart, mini van, motorcycle, or bus.  And that’s like paddling.  You understand standup paddling at a basic level if you’ve paddled any board –  an inflatable, a fishing board, a downwinder, a race board or a surf board.

Let’s equate paddling a 130% V/W ratio surf board to driving a reasonably priced sedan (Top Gear shout out).  Most of us could take a reasonably priced sedan out to a track and do a decent job of getting it around the track.  Just like most paddlers can paddle a good sized paddle surf board around in good conditions.

Paddling 110% would equate to driving a 911 Porsche.  Equal V/W similar to an Formula One.  And going down to 90% probably like driving a MotoGP.

Space and time shrink and thinking becomes reaction.

Just for fun, watch the above video and think about the work that went into the processes and building the mental representations to be able to drive at that level. 

On a 130% board there’s enough time to think through a situation, and events happen at a pace you can comprehend.  Paddling a board at 90% is unconscious reaction.  If you haven’t developed the processes to handle the situation, you’re not going to have time to think and then act.  Things fall apart before you realize what’s happened.

If you’ve developed the toolkit of processes to paddle smaller boards, you can progress down in volume, but if your toolkit isn’t complete, lower volume boards will expose those holes.

That’s a bit abstract, so let’s go through a concrete example.  Sitting to Standing transition.  On a 130% board you have some time to flounder from sitting to standing, place your feet, get the right grip on your paddle, and move forward.  Maybe you even start on your knees, get situated, then pop up with some speed.  Maybe the whole process takes you 4 seconds.

From my best guess, I have about 1.5 seconds on the new Hobie to go from seated to standing with the first stroke in progress.  That’s if I do everything right.  If I don’t anticipate a small chop, or get weight too far forward, it can be over well before that time.  Everything happens faster.  By the time I’ve started the pop up my tail is already sinking.  Keeping weight on the back foot allows the nose to say up, so you can pull yourself out of the water with a stroke, but weighting the tail also allows the board to sink faster.  If you don’t have the blade in the water before the nose is under water the chance of getting up drastically decreases.  Luckily I have a process for popping up.  Back foot under butt, paddle in right hand, held at grip, both hands on deck, front foot though arms to stringer, pop up in surf stance while reaching with the paddle for the first stroke.  The process works and I don’t have to think about it.

Going back to the driving metaphor, on the track, in a reasonably priced sedan, you’d have extra seconds to anticipate turns, find your lines, and a much larger margin for error in braking and accelerating.  That same track and those same turns look much different at three times the speed.  You don’t have time to react.  Processes take over or everything goes to hell.

It’s also interesting to think about the similarities between maneuverability in the smallest boards and top tier race cars/motorcycles.  While they are more difficult to handle they offer so much more in performance.  Lines you can draw at 90% allow access to places on a wave that 130% won’t ever.

The challenge of paddling small boards hooked me from the beginning.  I assume it’s the same for martial artists, or driver’s refining their art.  The beauty is in the details.

Tennis and a great coaching moment

Tennis and a great coaching moment

We’re doing an experimental home schooling year.  The goal is to allow our children to follow their passions in a focused, deliberate manner and use that passion to build tangential skills.  They are still in a normal school curriculum, but homeschooling allows us to tackle the requirements in about half the time.  My daughter, Kemper, has decided that this year her first focus/passion is going to be tennis.

Today she asked if I’d take her to the courts so she could work on stoke technique.  I thought we’d be hitting balls, but when we got there, she grabbed the ball cart and told me I’d be standing a few feet in front of her and dropping balls for her to hit.  Her tennis coach, Gabby, was there and she came over and coached me on how to correctly set up the shot, and then watched Kemper’s stoke.

It’s a perfect deliberate practice loop.  A controlled environment, immediate feedback on how the shot turns out, and outside feedback from a coach.  Kemper hit a couple hundred shots.

In watching Kemper’s backhand, I was surprised at the grip she was using.  I asked Gabby, her coach, and she explained it’s the best practice for numerous reasons.  I didn’t believe it,  the hands were rolled back on the handle and were separated by about an inch.  When I swing a backhand they’re basically overlapping.  I played baseball and use the same grip.

I wanted to understand  the logic behind that grip and Gabby handed me a racket and asked me to hit a few backhands my way.  The same drill Kemper was doing, ball, drop, hit.

I hit in two of five balls with three sailing high.  She had me change the grip.  The next four  backhands were the best I’ve ever hit in my life.

It was one small change, it was immediate.

I was on the other side of my favorite moment in coaching.

It was so simple and beautiful, I thought I should deconstruct the moment.

  1. Gabby is one of the best tennis players in Costa Rica.  She’s put in the time to have a deep understanding of the game.
  2. She’s studied best practices.  And her level allows her to differentiate between good and better.
  3. Instead of engaging in a discussion about the grip, she just handed me the racket.  Those few hits changed my mental model of a backhand.  The most powerful models are ones that we’ve experienced.  We first model others, but once we’ve accomplished the action, we can replace the outside model with personal experience.  A much deeper model.

Tomorrow I’m going to start jamming on deconstructing paddle surfing.  Specifically I’m deep in the understanding of stability in negative float boards.  I’m learning it’s all in the transitions…  stay tuned.



Underestimating The Race to the Bottom

Underestimating The Race to the Bottom

I’ve been an advocate of the race to the bottom since we coined the term on one of the first paddlewoo podcasts.  If you’re new, the race to the bottom is the idea that performance comes from low volume paddle boards and to optimize growth it’s better to invest in paddling technique, to drop liters, than to practice surfing on larger boards.  Obviously, you’re going to surf, but focusing on paddling small boards and pushing limits will result in performance gains in surfing.

Ok.  This is an idea that I’ve completely internalized and practiced.  But until the last two weeks I didn’t understand the importance of low volume, narrow boards in top-end performance.

Let me back up.  I’ve been “stuck” riding boards in the 82-86L range for the last 18 months.  Widths have been 25.5 -27. For that time my weight was right at 80kg.  During this time my focus has been on creating/finding and deconstructing best practices for paddling, transitions, stability and maneuvers.  And through this process I’m a much more technically sound paddle surfer, and a much better coach, but I haven’t felt my paddle surfing has really progressed.

Until now.  When Colin and I designed my last Hobie, I wanted to change the way we distributed the volume based on a hypothesis.  That hypothesis is that center volume won’t change stability (negatively) as much as will performance (positively).

I decided to go longer, 7.7, and narrower, down to 24.  And, more importantly, to pack the volume in the center of the board.  So, my last Hobie was 3.75 thick, the new one is 4.3 but the rails are a good bit thinner.  The deck is domed.  Volume came in at 83L.  I’m currently weighing in at 85kg.

Performance gains have been incredible.  The plateau I’ve felt for the last 18 months has been blown away by the maneuverability of the new dimensions.  Turns that I could possibly, sluggishly muster though on the old hobe, just 3L bigger, but 2.5 wider, are now slicing and dialed.

Stablity is more challenging, but not as much as you’d think.  I’ll be writing on it soon, but there are advantages to being underwater.

I’ve ridden it a few times sans paddle to learn the rails, still able to do cutbacks and top turns.  Then, bouncing back to the paddle it truly feels like paddle enhanced surfing.  I can feel the turns that I’ve modeled from Mo, Caio and Gio over the past two years.  The limiting factor to a lot of their surfing is board size.


What I didn’t realize is that the performance curve isn’t linear.  The biggest inflection point is the last 5 liters and getting below 25inches wide.  It makes the paddle optional.  You can use it to add to rail game, or top turns, but don’t need it in pumping and trimming down the line.  Watch Mo videos.  He’s shortboarding until a turn, then a massive paddle addition to the turn, and shortboards out of the turn.  That isn’t possible just a board just a few liters bigger or wider.

It’s going to be an amazing season exploring new lines on a paddling possible surf board.

The race is worth it, and more important to performance even I understood.


Our next retreat is December 10-17th with Fisher and Kieran Grant from the Progression Project Film.  Contact us to reserve your spot.

Choosing the right mental models

Choosing the right mental models

Make sure that you’re basing your training on the correct mental models.  If you’re riding a big fat fish you won’t be able to successfully model Mo on his normal board.  Mo doesn’t surf the fish the same way he surfs his shortsups.   Modeling Keahi’s video from Indo won’t correlate to surfing a 2ft. beach break.  The featured photo in this post isn’t a good model if you’re surfing a 8 x 32 board.

Requirements for a good model in paddle surfing:

  • Board needs to be similar in size and shape
  • Waves needs to be similar size and form
  • Surfer should have a similar style to your surfing.
Embracing Change and Age – Robert Sapolsky keynote as it pertains to paddle surfing

Embracing Change and Age – Robert Sapolsky keynote as it pertains to paddle surfing

It rained yesterday afternoon, so instead of surfing I decided to hop on the spin bike and expand the mind.  In my queue was this keynote from Richard Sapolsky, a Professor of Human Biology at Stanford.  A friend and mentor, Dave, sent me the link after a lunch we had a few weeks back.  Dave started his career in academics, became a high school principal, pivoted to start a software tutoring company in Silicon Valley, sold it, moved to Costa Rica and now builds hand planes for body surfing.

He’s a man in constant evolution, which is why we get on so good.

At that lunch we were discussing how, as we get older, he’s in his 50’s and I’m 37, our peer groups are less likely to try new things.

As paddle surfers this is a constant theme regarding the growth and acceptance.  And the ideas from Sapolsky are 100% relevant.

I recommend you listen to the talk and I’d love to hear your thoughts below.  Here are a few of mine…

(paraphrased from the talk) If you don’t have a tongue piercing by the age of 23 there is a 95% chance you won’t get one.  If you don’t like a certain genre of music by 37 there’s a 95% chance you never will.  And if you don’t fancy sushi by 45ish there is a 95% chance you won’t.

So, as we age, our likelihood of embracing new things drastically declines.  Sapolsky attributes this behavior to our desire for repetition and comfort as we age and begin to comprehend the uncertainty of life.

The younger someone is exposed to paddle surfing the greater the percent chance they will embrace it.  (that’s got me thinking about doing a “kids who can surf come free to our retreat with a paying parent promotion” to expose young surfers to the sport… thoughts?)

In our middle years, say 30-50, to a surfer, paddle surfing represents change.  It is a different way to surf, to be seen in the lineup and to be defined by his or her peers.  Paddle surfing is not a part of the surfing tribe.

Sapolsky makes it clear that we are less likely to change as we get older, so why do older surfers convert?  Their perception of paddle surfing changes.  When faced with injury, low wave counts, and possibly giving up surfing, choosing to paddle surf means continuing to be a surfer, not having to give up the routine – paddle surfing offers more routine and comfort than the alternative.

So young folks are open minded and just need to be exposed to the sport.  And older folks will find their way at some point when paddle surfing represents surfing. What about those the middle?

We need to kill the divide.

Targeting those folks in the middle is all about changing the perception of the sport.  Which was the goal for the Progression Project film.  We need to reframe paddle surfing as part of surfing. Like it is for Mo, Caio, Kai, Zane, Gio, Keahi and Colin, Kalama and Dave Boehne.

Right now, to a surfer, paddle surfing is a different sport and a different tribe, and the perceived change is too large for most surfers to give it a fair shot.

Another line of thought  – Would be interesting to think about this in context of the strange bond of most paddle surfers.  Those of us who switched from surfing or tried something new at ages when most folks don’t.  To go along with other personality traits of paddle surfers.  We’re probably a group that bounces and explores new things, and not as anchored as the majority.  Does that relate to you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts below!  E