I started the progression journal to stay focused on deliberate practice in surfing. The goal was to ensure hard work and focus on specific skills during each session. It worked at the beginning. Each morning, as I stretched watching the waves, I’d determine what my goal for the day was going to be, and how I planned to practice.
What I didn’t anticipate was that daily writing and the need for ideas would force me to examine surfing in a different way. It has forced me to become an objective observer of the art. I am attempting to gain conscious understanding into unconscious processes by noticing details and techniques that I’ve done for years but never thought about. And today, through this process, I uncovered why I have more stability paddling on my toe side.
My objectives in the water this morning were the same as yesterday given the difficult conditions for stability. I chose to ride a small board and focus on balance, specifically heel side paddling. The mental focus was on watching and feeling the rails and how I did or didn’t remain stable. The process of balancing isn’t a conscious practice – it lives deeper – and my goal this morning was to understand it to a higher level.
What I discovered is that while paddling on my more-stable toe side, I correct balance very subtly with adjustments at the beginning of the stroke return. I’d guess that in 40-60% of strokes I finish with a very slight pull forward with emphasis right or left to correct balance and buy time until I get the blade in the water again. It might just be the way in which I stop the stroke and blade angle. At a basic level, I get my nose out of the water and my board directly under my feet.
I also discovered that I do not use this technique while paddling on my heel side. In observing balance for the full session, I didn’t once notice a micro-adjustment on the heel side while paddling. In fact, if I noticed that there was a section of chop coming, I anticipated it and switched sides to prepare.
My hypothesis for why I don’t have the skill heel side would be similar to why we only write with one hand. You have a need, you practice and learn a skill to fill that need, it works, and you don’t need to go through the trouble to learn it on the other side. It’s much easier to know I have balance toe side and switch if I feel unstable than to completely relearn a skill that I’ve likely been developing for a year or two.
Note: Since the Connor Baxter podcast, I’ve doubled down on toe side paddling learning how to paddle circles both ways while keeping the paddle on the toe side.
It’s fine to default to a strong side – I probably caught a ton of extra waves by deferring to the toe side, and my goal has been paddle surfing, not paddle technique – but it isn’t always possible. I have a 50% higher likelihood of falling while paddling for a wave on my heel side. The normal pattern of a fall is as follows: everything seems lined up correctly and then, just when the wave starts to push, I dig my heel side rail.
I’m not sure if addressing micro-adjustment on heel side paddling will aide balance. Maybe it isn’t possible in a semi-surf or full surf stance. But I’m going to explore the heel side stroke at more detailed level in the next few weeks and report back.
I’m also eager to expand this observation to other areas of life to see if similar patterns emerge. I’d love to hear your ideas and observations below in the comments.
Maximize your day folks! Erik