Session Notes – Paddling Straight and the Board Dilemma

Quick notes from the session this morning.

The finals for the Costa Rica SUP contest series are this weekend.  It was going to be the 25th, but they moved it up.  Didn’t know until yesterday.  So while I’ve been trying all these fin configurations and staying focused on understanding balance, I really should have been focused on surfing and cardio.  I feel like I’m surfing at a decent level and I’ve been swimming every night with the groms, so I should be fine.  It’s just not how I normally approach a contest.

I’ve got a dilemma for the contest.  Not sure what board to ride.  Right now it’s super small, which would make me opt for more volume.  I’d also opt for more volume if it I think it’s going to be choppy, which it likely will.  But, I’ve only been surfing the smaller Starboard and it usually takes me a few days to get a board dialed in.  The X factor this weekend is that we have the new swell showing up sometime between Saturday morning and Sunday.  It should hit hard, and the beach holding the event is Playa Hermosa, a heavy beach break.  It would be perfect for the Starboard if the swell shows up.

This morning I decided to ride the Infinity to try and get a feel for it in case the waves are small and/or choppy.  After the conversation about fins with Tyler I decided to try a small trailer set of quads – it was terrible.  They were too small and I came in and switched them out after two waves to the GL center.  Immediately felt way better.

30 minutes into the session I was surfing good.  I feel a massive difference in speed off the bottom backside, Starboard vs. Infinity.  Frontside I transition my surfing to focus on rail turns, so the speed off the bottom isn’t needed as much, but backside rail turns aren’t as powerful and it’s better to surf top-to-bottom for points in a contest.  If I decide to surf the Infinity I’ll be opting for rights unless we get some size.

The other difference is in stability.  After a month on the 7.4 I felt like I couldn’t fall.  There’s something to be said for being fully confident in your stability and having a bit more speed to be right in the money spot when you catch a wave.  Ha… in writing this I think I’m convincing myself to surf the bigger board.  That’ll probably change before tomorr0w.

I did spend time today working on balance and paddling heel-side.  Here’s a thought.  I’m not sure the J stroke makes as much of a difference in paddling straight as keeping your rail in the water.  Toe vs. heel-side, I’m able to keep the board angled more toe-side while paddling on that side and I think the rail holds the line and helps paddling straight.  Heel-side I’m just starting to be able to paddle with the rail in the water and I notice a difference in the amount of strokes I’m able to do before switching sides because of direction.  Just jotting this down and I’ll try to prove if it’s true over the next few sessions.



Stability, Floaters and Late Drops

Stability, Floaters and Late Drops

Today’s journal will be short one.  The video call with Tyler of FCS is coming up here in an hour, so I’m preparing the discussion.  Thanks for the suggestions everyone.  There were a few common themes, so those will definitely be addressed:  Tail width’s effects on fins,  Quad vs. Thruster -when/why, What should we be riding in bigger surf, and smaller surf.

Some notes on today’s session.  My focus continued to be on stability, and the understanding of what’s really going on.  I’m reframing the lens to focus on controlled falling, not balance, and it’s allowed me to see a bit deeper.

The big find this morning was how I adjust rail weighting.  The idea of slowly falling to your paddle side means keeping slightly more weight on that rail.  I discovered that I do this by controlling weight on the outside rail by using my toes/ball of my foot.

Picture this.  Paddle is toe side.  Your foot on the toe-side rail, I’m regular foot, so my right foot, will be grounded from heel to toe on the board.  This is the anchor foot.  The outside rail foot is the adjustment foot and you’re controlling the board with that foot, using your calf and leg.  I notice this for the first time today and then watched it, paddling on both sides, for the rest of the session.

I drilled paddling heel-side.  I’m falling or missing waves while turning to the right to catch waves as they’re sucking up – digging the nose every once in a while.  Working on adjusting balance to stay farther on the heel rail, it still feels awkward,but getting it at times.  Also started working on the J stroke that Connor Baxter talks about on his podcast heel-side.  That’s been my crutch toe-side – it is great be able to paddle on one side for as long as you want.

We’ve got a long way to go on understanding stability and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.  Everything I’m writing about is just personal experience, and I’m sure there are better practices out there that I’d love to know about – so help me out!

If you’re new to the discussion here’s a few links:

Floaters and Late Drops

There are distinct disadvantages to paddle surfing.  I’m a believer that the positives outweigh the negatives in a big way, but there’s no getting around that duck-diving and tight turns in small pockets are better on shortboards.  But surfing today and watching a few friends fall on floaters in weird conditions, I’m putting floaters and late drops in the SUP column.

Let’s start with floaters.  Floaters are one of the first maneuvers you’ll learn in surfing.  They’re simple – go down the line, when the wave is about to break aim towards the lip, ride up and let the wave push you down.

But as waves get bigger and you’re going faster, they become more difficult.  Speed and projection play a huge part, as you have to time the lip coming down to avoid the explosion that will knock you off and possibly ruin an ankle or knee.

The beautiful advantage we have with a paddle in our hands is that we have the ability to hurl ourselves into the flats and over the explosion.  So, even if you miss the timing, you have the power to launch to safety.  The technique is similar to the paddle stroke Mo Freitas uses to prepare for a bottom turn.  You pull with all your might towards the beach, turning in that direction at the same time.  I’ll find some video and photos to break that down in the future.

The same holds true for late drops.  The paddle allows us to create out own momentum horizontal and forward instead of gravity pulling us down.  A few years ago, when I was just getting into the sport, a friend showed me a video of Dave Kalama catching a wave that was already breaking and floatering the drop.  I thought it was an impossible maneuver.  Now I do it at times.  If you can paddle horizontal to the wave and time the lip pitching out, you just pull yourself into a floater and drop the wave.  You have the paddle to stabilize the landing and engage the bottom turn.

That’s what I love about paddle surfing – the technical subtlety that the paddle brings to the art.  Surfer’s who hate on it just don’t understand what’s going on, it’s not their fault. We’ve got to show them – Or not and continue our advantage in the water 🙂

Reframing Balance

Reframing Balance

Take your paddle and put the blade in the sand.  Just enough so it won’t slide away.  Now stand in front of your paddle and push it up so that it goes almost all the way up to vertical, but still falls back to your hand.  The closer you try to get to vertical the higher the chance that it will go over and fall to the beach.

That’s stability on a small paddle board.

It’s not balance.  It’s controlled falling.  If you’re doing it correctly, you’re always slowly falling and erring to fall on the paddle side.  The margin of error you need to maintain varies due to chop, current and wind.

You can learn new and stronger tools to grow the margin for error.  The micro-adjustment that I journaled on last week is a push back towards neutral, so is your stroke.  If you go too far over you can lower your center of gravity to a squat.  These are tools to control falling, not balance.

More volume, width and length slow fall speed and increase the margin for error.

This is a deep change in the understanding of  surfing small paddle boards and opens up new drills and practices to further that goal.

Being balanced means being vulnerable to variables.  Controlled falling equals stability.


Learn to paddle surf in paradise at Blue Zone SUP.  All levels, perfect waves!

Micro-Adjustments for Balance

Micro-Adjustments for Balance

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




The Value of Bad Conditions

The Value of Bad Conditions

Bad surf doesn’t exist– there’s just different conditions.  And today, especially for the paddle board, the conditions were less than ideal.  A short period S swell coupled with storms offshore made for choppy surf with tons of current.  Bad for expressing yourself on the waves– perfect for training.

I love challenging conditions to train as it is an honest barometer of real stability.

You get a couple of ideal days, zero wind, no current, long period ground swell, and you feel like Mo Freitas paddling around.  You start thinking you’ve got it and then start dreaming about dropping another few liters on the next board.  Maybe shaving an inch off the width.

Enter some terrible conditions and you’re feeling a more like Rick Cane (North Shore movie reference) when he first arrived in Hawaii.

I knew it was going to be tough today and that surfing, no matter what board I decided to ride, couldn’t be the focus of the session.  That would be a recipe for frustration.  So, I decided to go the other way.  Ride the small board and use the session to work on stability.  To change the frame of the session.

Today’s game:

  • Spend as little time as possible sitting or laying down.
  • Try to focus on heel side paddling, and paddling into waves heel side
  • Catch every wave that was possible to catch – possible today as there was almost no crowd
  • Draw clean lines in bad surf
  • Work at capacity

I had a blast.  And actually ended up getting a few good waves.  I find that when it’s bad it’s much harder to pick out the good ones.  So the practice of catching everything that comes to you ends up being a better strategy because you get some good ones that you’d never have picked if you were being selective.

It ended up being a beautiful morning.

Switching gears, and back to the ongoing thought of how to name maneauvers, specifically paddle variations.  It struck me, as I was thinking about the Spanish language, that for paddle variation there are 2 options.  Heel side or toe side.  You can use the paddle differently on both sides, but it’s just heel or toe.  That made me think about masculine/feminine in spanish.  In English there isn’t a distinction between the two, in spanish there’s El or La.  El gato, La tabla.

Maybe there’s a simple prefix we can use to create the distinction in paddle surfing.  Like Frontside Toe-Roundhouse.  I’m not suggesting we use the word toe, maybe Boehne can think of something cool, but the idea works.  A simple way to define maneauvers so we can begin to define our sport.