Random Session Notes

Random Session Notes

Featured photo shows one of my favorite coaching techniques, surfing behind someone, just behind the wave, allows me to see footwork, paddle technique and the line drawn much better than photos or video.  It’s a first person perspective that allows immediate feedback.  Trevor is a solid intermediate surfer who is making big changes to paddling technique, stance and positioning on the wave this week.  If you’d like to come down and train drop me a note here.

What’s up guys?  The journals are coming slow in the past month, for that I apologize.  We’ve been running hard here in Nosara, I’ve been coaching and helping folks have some massive breakthroughs in their surfing – it’s been giving me more joy than surfing, which I never expected.  We’ve had some massive swells, my kids are frothing on surfing and I guess I burned out a bit on the writing.  My goal was to write 500-1,000 words on business days, and I kept with it for over 2 months, then fizzled out.

But, just because I haven’t kept up with the writing, doesn’t mean I haven’t been focused on paddle surfing.  In fact, I credit the burst of creative focus on breaking through a personal surfing plateau I’ve been feeling for almost a year.

Paddle surfing is comprised of thousands of specific techniques and using the deliberate practice model, we break down the whole into parts and focus on the best practice and mental model for each specific skill.  The interesting part is that you don’t feel the progress on the whole – or at least I didn’t.  So while I may incrementally increase stability on smaller boards or paddle straighter, I did’t feel like I’m was getting better on the whole.

Not until this month.  During a few free-surfs with no focus other than riding waves and having fun, I started to put together techniques and drawing lines in ways I hadn’t before.  Depth of feel had grown and during turns and critical sections I was able to observe where I was missing, or why it flowed.  Difficult to put into words, but profound in experience.

A couple specific examples which deserve and will receive full journals –

During one session at a right reef break we lucked into long multiple maneuver waves with size and power.  I have been working on the frontside slingshot cutback for a while now, and really started understanding the turn a few months ago.  During this session I realized that there is a subtle difference in starting the turn leaning forward into the paddle or starting with your weight on the rear heel and rolling it forward into the start of the turn.  The former draws a tighter start to the turn, but loses steam on the bottom while the latter gives more explosion throughout the turn and conserves energy.  The principle has held true in other sessions.

After the Connor Baxter episode I committed to learning to paddle control direction while paddling.  He gives the example of the “J” stroke.  I drilled on this technique for months and now have no problem even turning against the stroke to catch waves.  I can circle in either direction while paddling toe-side.  And while I have a high degree of competency toe-side, my heel-side has remained weak.  In journaling on stability and controlling the fall I was only focused only on stability.  It has taken me a few months to learn the controlled fall on heel-side.  It’s been during this process that I’ve discovered that controlling direction while paddling is more about riding a rail which naturally occurs while controlling the fall, than about stroke.  If you are falling to your paddle side, then your paddle side rail is buried while you’re paddling.  Your board has rocker and the rocker will push back against the stroke and straighten out your paddling.  Before changing balance technique on heel-side I was at best in a neutral balanced position without a buried rail, so the stroke had a much greater effect on direction heel-side vs. toe-side where I was controlling the fall and riding the toe-side rail.

That’s what I’ve been geeking out about lately.  Candice just confirmed as the next podcast guest, so I’m stoked on that… Anything you want me to ask her?  And we’re planning a month in California during September and October, so if you’d like to surf, hit me up.

Coaching Jason Podcast

Coaching Jason Podcast

Meet Jason.  Jason is software developer and web marketer from Santa Monica.  He started kite surfing in 2007 and in 2011 found paddle surfing.  About a year ago he stumbled across paddlewoo, listening to the podcast and reading the journal he decided that for his 40th birthday he’d like to come train at Blue Zone in Costa Rica.

Jason is an intermediate paddle surfer with a high degree of comfort in the ocean.  He catches a ton of waves, gets down the line easily and is working on more advanced turns.  He’s a great representative for the passionate paddle surfer who has more love than time, but is driven to progress.

His goal for the trip – to progress “a few years of California surfing in a week.”  A lofty goal, but one he thinks he achieved.


Jason’s progression on the Backside Slingshot Bottom Turn in 5 days.  Notice shoulders, head, paddle, hand position, paddle position and weighting.

I’ve wanted to do a podcast with a guest for a while now, and Jason proved to be the right person.  His approach to learning and ability to articulate what he’s feeling will resonate with a lot of you reading.  I highly recommend that you listen to the whole podcast and I believe it to be the most valuable I’ve recorded for the intermediate surfer who listens for tips to improve.

There is also value for the industry guys that listen as Jason is your ideal customer.  In fact we are now in a discussion about what board is next in Jason’s race down in volume, and he’s ordering a 27 North Paddle, and getting the 20% paddlewoo discount.  You can too.

Here’s some notes about the show:

  • We discuss the book Peak, by Anders Ericsson, at great length.  I might make this mandatory reading for anyone coming down to train.  Jason read it on the trip and we spent mornings over bulletproof coffee discussing its application in paddle surfing.  Peak is about the journey to mastery though deliberate practice.  It’s why I started the progression journal – to stay focused on deliberate practice in my surfing, and it’s paying massive dividends.
  • Backside Slingshot Bottom Turn – Living in Santa Monica, Jason surfs a lot of rights.  His main goal was to improve his backside surfing.
  • Seated Pop-up – Jason credits learning the seated pop-up as a massive energy saver.  We surf a lot and you want to save your energy for surfing, not just paddling around waiting for waves, but if you’re not efficient in transition between sitting and standing you’ll miss waves and burn energy.
  • Stroke Technique and Paddle Length – Jason brought his own paddle down.  Probably a 95 sq. in. blade, and cut at 4 inches over height.  He used it once then dropped down to forehead height, 85 sq. in. blade, and never went back.  On the show he discusses the paddle, changing his stoke and the net affect on wave count and fatigue.
  • Jason tells a story about surfing in crowds and not realizing the impact he was having riding a bigger board.  He was on a voluminous 8.6 and taking off way out the back, thinking no one else could catch the waves.  Then, after dropping down to the Rawson 7.10 he had to take off inside, where the longboarders sat, and other paddle surfers were taking off farther out on waves he wanted.  He realized that until he dropped down in size he was taking waves that others could have caught and didn’t realize it.  It changed his mindset about surfing in crowds.  Here’s a piece I wrote with my strategies for surfing in lineups.

If you liked this post, you’ll love coming down to train in Costa Rica with Oscar and I.  Inquire below for fall/winter dates.

How to break down video.  Barrels and Turns

How to break down video. Barrels and Turns

I use video review heavily in the process of learning.  Without the feedback loop you don’t know if practice is moving you in the right or wrong direction.  Last week Oscar and I did a day of video and I thought it would make a good journal to post a couple waves and talk through what I’ve been working on…  how I see video.

If you haven’t done a video session before, it’s brutal for the ego.  I haven’t ever had a situation where someone saw themselves surf for the first time on video and said, “wow!  I surf way better than I thought”…  It’s common for folks to feel bummed, but that’s the first step in improving.

Without video you don’t have a basis for comparison between what something feels like and what it in fact looks like.  That’s a skill that you’ll need to train.  I’ve been using video as a training aid consistently for the last 2 years and I’m still surprised at times that the discrepancy between feel and look.  And it can go either way–   Look terrible, but feel great or feel terrible, look great.

Let’s take a look at the video here today.

A video posted by paddlewoo (@paddlewoo) on

I’m riding the 7.4 starboard with FCS Performer L as the front fins and an AM2 as the trailer using the FCS to longboard adapter (I don’t get anything here, or from any links, just posting for convenience).  It’s a blessing to be able to adapt fins, but the starboard box is deep and you lose about a cm from the fin.  My biggest complaint on the starboard right now is holding turns on the bottom, most likely due to the fin.  Sean Poynter had a bigger centre fin, but he wouldn’t leave it when I bought the board.  Tyler from FCS just sent over some fins, and I’m fired up to try them when I get back next week!

When I break down video, my video, I’m super critical.  And I’m never happy with how it looks, but I will pick out some wins here to discuss.  I want to sell you on the process of incremental refinement.

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Going back to watching some of Mo Freitas’ first videos I noticed how he’d stroke into his bottom turn.  It is a fast stroke right at the transition to driving down the line to coming out for your bottom turn.  It always seemed to give him a touch more speed which aided in carry to the bottom and a harder bottom turn.  I drilled on this for a while, but never seemed to own it in my surfing.  Picking apart this video at 11 secs in I do it, almost exactly like Mo…  Even incorporating the style I discussed on a recent blog.  It’s subtle, but definite progress.

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And while I love that paddle into the bottom turn, I can’t stand the next paddle at 15 secs when the top hand comes way over my head.

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Before my first trip with Fisher and Kieran Grant last August I don’t think I’d ever done a slingshot turn.  Not frontside, not backside… pretty much never.  During that trip, The Grant Boys sold me on the benefits.  Specifically, I loved their roundhouse slingshots to foam bounce.  I’ve worked on the maneauver over the past while and am getting it.  The difficult part is getting the weighting perfect.  It varies significantly board to board- length and rocker both play a huge part.  At 32 secs into the video I knock out a smooth slingshot roundhouse to foam bounce.  I find it a lot easier to throw out the tail and use power instead of precision, but this one came together nicely.  Hopefully I’ll be able to recreate it…  I felt it at the time so know I have a nice model in my head of how it feels done properly.  This one felt good and looked good.

You can watch the video of Kieran and Fisher from August. I’ve modelled the slingshot after some turns in this video. They do it as well as anyone out there. Better to model them than me 🙂

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In paddle surfing it’s easy to default to power.  There aren’t many situations that you can’t push or pull your way through.  It’s more difficult to go the route of precision.  I experienced this during the trip with Colin and Kalama.  Rail surfing isn’t always as flashy, but it can be much more technical.  Since that trip I’ve committed to refining my rail game.

If you look at the majority of my photos, it’s go fast, set rail and pull as hard as you can…  it makes a great photo and it’s a blast.

That power turn, that pulling, allows you to cover up little misses before and during the turn.  Overturn on the bottom turn?  Pull harder on the top.  Set too much rail?  Pull harder and slide out the tail.  Pull too hard?  Lay back on the paddle until the foam pushes you back up.

In the rail game you’re not relying on the paddle in the same way.  And given the board size you need to be on point throughout.  During a rail turn on a shortboard you can use micro adjustments to control the speed of the turn.  I haven’t yet found that level of control on a standup.  Thicker, longer rails are more of a blunt force weapon, which makes everything more critical… less margin for error.

That’s a sidebar, but it will help explain why I’m stoked on the turn at 38 secs (pictured above).  Up till now on the starboard I’ve been doing only paddle heavy, tail sliding turns.  Like the first turn in the video.  Go fast, set the rail and pull…  The turn at 38 is 100% different.  One of the first I’ve done on this board and it’s a result of focusing on rail game and riding the Infinity there for those 3 weeks.  Pulling skills across from a different board.

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I’m posting this photo as a few folks have asked what I do with my paddle when I pull into barrels.  This is about as clear a photo as I’ll get so there you go…  right after a bottom turn I generally will drop the back hand off the paddle and use the back hand as speed control in the wave and also as a gauge on where the wave is.  Eyes are usually looking up at the lip where it’s peeling off.  Don’t look down or you’ll be too low in the wave and get smashed by the lip.

If you like hand stalling for tubes in warm water on short paddle boards then you’d really hate our camp in Costa Rica… Don’t come.

Slingshot Cutback and Surfing Paddle Stroke Notes

Slingshot Cutback and Surfing Paddle Stroke Notes

Buenas días folks! Here’s some notes on this morning’s session.

1. I drilled on paddle technique while surfing. If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, you can read it here.  The idea being that a lot of style in paddle surfing comes from technique of stroking while driving down the line and that good surfers have inactive, low front arms.  We reference Mo Freitas and you can check out videos of him and John John.  Goal 1 today was to consciously notice my stoke while surfing, goal 2 was to keep the front arm low.  I tried a few different variations of paddling, at the beginning focusing on the front arm and all seemed awkward.  I then decided to consciously focus on rear arm and to get the rear arm high in the return.  This worked, and took care of the front arm.  I’ll need to break it down on video to see where I’m at, but the feeling is much more in line with what I believe to be the best practice.  So, if you’re going to drill on this technique, focus on your rear arm, making a punching motion, like a low right hook.  The rest should take care of itself.

2.  Slingshot frontside cutback.  Tony, asked for this in the comments of yesterday’s journal, and it’s something I’m currently trying to improve. For my first 2 years paddle surfing I didn’t believe in paddle transitions.  To be more specific, I didn’t understand the value of your paddle being on your heel side rail.  Both frontside and backside I kept the paddle toeside, and this worked with my surfing.  Coming from a short boarding background I understood how to get the rail in the water and my default was more power by way of pull to bring the board around.  Set the rail, set the blade, push with your rear leg and pull with everything you’ve got on the paddle.  I still believe this is the best turn in paddle surfing, but I did have my mind blown watching the crew on the Progression Project.  Notably, Giorgio and Kieran were tight pocket wraparounds using the slightshot technique and in sections where the normal turn wouldn’t work.

Here’s a video of Fisher and Kieran Grant that showcases a variety of the slingshot turns.

PaddleWoo Presents: The Grant Boys and Steven McLean from PaddleWoo on Vimeo.

The slingshot turn is best used in fatter, bowly sections where there isn’t enough energy or wall to the wave to throw a big hack.  When you do throw the big hack the spray is generated by converting you momentum into direction change and unless the wave is going to give you more energy in the form of a steep recovery, you run the risk of losing the wave or at best an ugly paddle to get more speed.  The slingshot turn draws out your arc and maintains speed.  It’s easy to rebound off the foam.

To start the turn you need to paddle transition to your heel side rail before you bottom turn.  This will draw out your bottom turn, as you won’t have the extra leverage of leaning on your paddle, but most sections you’ll want to do the turn won’t require a huge bottom turn.  The ideal section to look for is a pretty fat shoulder without a lot of run in the wave.  You want time to turn, rebound and get back on the face.  As you finish your bottom turn, find the section where you want to engage your slingshot cutback and the first step is engaging your rail.  Rail engagement is where I’ve been playing these past few weeks.  I’ve realized it’s a bit counter intuitive.  With the toeside paddle hack the objective is to bury as much rail as possible and pull as hard as you can.  Even if you dig the rail, you’ve got a paddle and can pull it out.  With the slingshot, heel variation the anchored paddle will pull your rail into the water.  So going in rail heavy will turn into digging your rail and a slow fall to your butt.  Better to be tail heavy going in and then lean into the rail as needed to avoid slip.

So after you’ve found your spot and set your rail, your paddle should be simultaneously engaging at the center point in your turn.  This turn is easier for beginners to learn as it forces good technique.  Planting the paddle will open the front shoulder which should naturally lead the turn.  Rail engaged, paddle planted.  Now just hang on.  I’m currently having fun with really throwing all my weight on the paddle 2/3 through the turn and letting the tail slide around  and riding out fakey for a second.  You can also just hold the rail and hit the foam.

I’ve posted before about the Slingshot turn here and if you want to see a step-by-step of the variation used in a backside bottom turn read this.

Play with it.  Enjoy!  Erik