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 🙂
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!
It was August when I first saw Kieran and Fisher Grant squat out the back while waiting for waves. Upon arriving in the lineup there’s that awkward moment when you decide whether to stand, paddle around or sit down. If you’ve been reading, you know I’m an advocate of sitting, assimilating into the tribe, but it’s not aways graceful to get down on your board. And sometimes there might be a set coming and you don’t want to fully commit to sitting.
In comes the squat. That perfect blend between sitting and standing, assimilating into the lineup and being ready for the set.
This is normal paddle stance, approaching the lineup.
The first movement in the squat is to move up on your board. When your squatting your nose is well underwater, tail sticking out. To move forward you’ll move your front foot first, then follow with he back foot. The picture above is front foot already up and back foot in the process. Compare photo 1 to 2 for difference in foot position.
Back foot has joined front foot forward on the board and your weight is coming forward. Your back foot should be a touch behind your front foot, but more parallel than surf stance.
The objective is to sink your board, nose first. Notice the paddle moving into a horizontal position. It will be your balance. If you have slick wax on your board, or a bad traction pad you’ll like have the board slip out backwards a few times when you’re learning this part of the technique. I prefer traction to wax in warmer water.
Nose is sinking, paddle balancing the squat.
I like this angle as it shows how to use the paddle for balance. The goal is to keep your paddle underwater. I hold the blade at a 45 degree angle so you have balance front to back and side to side.
This is the full squat. The more underwater you can be, the more balance you’ll have and less energy it will take. So play around with how far forward you like sitting. I was riding a 9.0 Hobie Longboard SUP the other day and realised I could still squat, but needed to be 3/4 of the way to the nose to do it.
Contest paddle surfers like this maneauver because it’s still technically standing. I use it constantly in our contests here in Costa Rica because our rules state you have to be standing the entire time. And riding a small board for a 20m heat and a 5 or 10m paddle out and standing the whole time is a huge energy drain.
Getting into the squat is the easy part, getting back up is a bit trickier. The move that has worked best for me (and I’d love to hear other variations if you have something that works for you) is a simultaneous push with the paddle backwards while stepping your back foot back on the board. The paddle stroke is pushing you towards your tail, getting the board up on the water. This is a reverse coming out of the hole maneauver. Read the Seated Pop-Up Breakdown to understand coming out of the hole.
The objective is to get the board back to a neutral position, with your back foot far enough back to sink the tail. Your blade will be forward and if you have your nose pointed back up you can simply pull yourself back on top of the water. I’d suggest watching the video a few times to understand this technique.
Back foot is back and the tail is now high in the water, board is near horizontal. The next step is getting the weight back on the back foot and pulling on the paddle.
Almost out of the water, nose breaching. This is the end of the pull stroke.
Fully recovered, ready to catch the next wave.
I was reviewing some of the footage from the Oi Rio Pro, link goes to the WSL heat analyzer page, and this turn from John John jumped out. You can go watch the turn by selecting the Final and the wave is his first scoring wave, yellow.
I have no evidence that John John has been paddle surfing, but here’s a few interesting notes. He rides for Hurley… So does Kai Lenny and Noa Ginella. He lives close to Noa and they’re friends. Maybe one day, Noa and John were surfing out back together and John saw Noa blast a big ol’ left. Then John asked Noa, “man, how’d you do that?” And Noa said, “it’s all about throwing that weight back. With the paddle it’s easy, but I bet you could figure it out on that board you ride.” Then they probably went back and broke down some footage of Kai, Caio, and the rest of the Bush Boys and then John John went and used that turn to win a contest. I expect John’s buying a few beers for Noa and Kai in the near future…
Sounds probable, right?
Here’s where it starts to resemble a paddle hack. Notice that his weight is shifting to his back foot and body is counter-rotating. Most surfers lead with their front shoulder and hand, but to carve harder Johns going to throw is weight into the back foot.
In paddle surfing this will naturally happen when you carve off the lip with your paddle on the toe side. The pull that you do to sink the rail pulls your from shoulder away from the direction of the turn.
Here instead of pulling with the paddle, John’s throwing his front arm up to weight the tail. Notice his head looking back, not forward down the wave.
This is the frame, right here… Now let’s look at a few paddle surfers from Huntington Beach… about as bad as waves get, but able to produce sick turns because of the paddle.
Here’s Kai Lenny. Head placement. Foot placement. Weight. Momentum.
Same turn, but in waist high surf.
Poenaiki Raioha on his way to win the event.
World Champ, Caio Vaz.
Kai Bates, rising Aussie star.
Let’s finish that John John turn…
Actually, a paddle would have helped him here 🙂 He kind of gets stuck at the lip for a second and should have tweaked the turn farther with some enhanced paddle action.
I’m not saying that John’s really been training or modelling paddle surfing. I am saying that his best turn of the final at a world tour event is a paddle surfing turn from a mechanics perspective. Tough to hate on that…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.