Your paddle isn’t a rudder.
Surfing is surfing whether you’re on a shortboard, longboard or paddle board. The mechanics of surfing don’t change when you put a paddle in your hands.
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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!
We talk so much about the role of paddles in paddle surfing, but we haven’t spent much time on the paddles themselves. Today’s journal is observations on paddles from personal experience.
Blade Size –
For surfing, small is where it’s at. The needs in paddle surfing are stability and acceleration, both are aided by smaller blade size. Smaller blade size increases cadence and allows faster adjustments for balance. I’m currently using an 85.5 sq. in. blade, but would like to test smaller. Dave Kalama’s blade size for surfing is around 80 sq. in.
Going smaller reduces stress and injury potential. Larger blades mean more pull, effectively more weight. This stresses ligaments and tendons. I did massive damage to my elbows in my first year paddling a few hours a day with a bigger blade.
Bigger blades also pose a risk in surfing. At times, when you’re finishing a turn, you can get the paddle pinned against the board with the wave pushing at your back. The bigger the blade, the more force exerted on your shoulder.
Shaft Size –
The tactile feel of a smaller diameter shaft is better. If someone could figure out how to make a small shaft strong, with very little flex, it would be what I’d prefer, but in my experience, they bend and break. I have broken two Naish and 3 Kialoa paddles – all in the center of the shaft.
So, I’ve grown comfortable using a touch bigger shaft. Not big, but a bit bigger than the smallest out there.
Shaft size doesn’t affect surfing.
Over the past three years, as my surfing has evolved, I’ve come to love very stiff paddles. Stiff paddles are more responsive and sensitive. As your paddle surfing level improves, use of the paddle is more important in maneuvers, and the forces applied to the paddle are stronger.
Less flex gives a more direct connection to the wave.
Not terribly important in my experience. You get used to it, whatever it is.
Blade size and flex have a significant effect on surfing. I haven’t found that same relation between shaft size or handle.
While not intrinsic to the paddle, worth mentioning. In interviewing all the top pros I’ve found the following:
- Paddle length range for all top surfers is between mouth height to two inches overhead.
- There tends to be a inverse relationship between athlete height and paddle length, shorter athletes tend to use longer (relative) paddles and taller athletes tend to use shorter (relative) paddles. I would guess this has to do both with arm length and center of gravity.
I “raced” down to mouth level and have recently gone back to eyebrow height. I find that I have more power in paddling and reach in surfing. Any longer and I trip on the paddle and shorter ruins my stroke and leaves me wanting in turns occasionally.
After testing 6 brands of paddles I found the best paddle for me to be the Kevlar paddle from 27 North. I used their paddles before they starting sponsoring the show, and in fact, they started sponsoring because I told them how much I love their paddles. I am over a year without breaking one paddle. The Kevlar paddle comes with a lifetime guarantee. You can get a 25% discount by using promo code “Paddlewoo.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts on paddles in the comments!
In Episode 12 of the PaddleWoo podcast we have Mike McGann from 27 North Paddles. I met Mike through Fisher and Kieran Grant and had the opportunity to use the Kevlar surf paddle, one thing led to another and Mike agreed to come on the show and educate us on the process of developing and manufacturing a great surf paddle.
Of interest in the episode is Mike’s 3 tips about paddling to make you a better surfer (near the end of the episode). There are definitely some gems in this information rich hour, and I learned about blade size, dihedral, paddle constructions (including the new Inegra that I am testing now, Thanks Mike!!!)
Give it a listen. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions. This is my hobby folks, but I take is seriously 🙂 Thanks for the support… Pura Vida.
Check out 27 north at http://www.27northusa.com
This page is for all things paddle. Blade size, cut height, flex, handle…