Underestimating The Race to the Bottom

Erik Antonson
Erik Antonson
November 10, 2016

I’ve been an advocate of the race to the bottom since we coined the term on one of the first paddlewoo podcasts.  If you’re new, the race to the bottom is the idea that performance comes from low volume paddle boards and to optimize growth it’s better to invest in paddling technique, to drop liters, than to practice surfing on larger boards.  Obviously, you’re going to surf, but focusing on paddling small boards and pushing limits will result in performance gains in surfing.

Ok.  This is an idea that I’ve completely internalized and practiced.  But until the last two weeks I didn’t understand the importance of low volume, narrow boards in top-end performance.

Let me back up.  I’ve been “stuck” riding boards in the 82-86L range for the last 18 months.  Widths have been 25.5 -27. For that time my weight was right at 80kg.  During this time my focus has been on creating/finding and deconstructing best practices for paddling, transitions, stability and maneuvers.  And through this process I’m a much more technically sound paddle surfer, and a much better coach, but I haven’t felt my paddle surfing has really progressed.

Until now.  When Colin and I designed my last Hobie, I wanted to change the way we distributed the volume based on a hypothesis.  That hypothesis is that center volume won’t change stability (negatively) as much as will performance (positively).

I decided to go longer, 7.7, and narrower, down to 24.  And, more importantly, to pack the volume in the center of the board.  So, my last Hobie was 3.75 thick, the new one is 4.3 but the rails are a good bit thinner.  The deck is domed.  Volume came in at 83L.  I’m currently weighing in at 85kg.

Performance gains have been incredible.  The plateau I’ve felt for the last 18 months has been blown away by the maneuverability of the new dimensions.  Turns that I could possibly, sluggishly muster though on the old hobe, just 3L bigger, but 2.5 wider, are now slicing and dialed.

Stablity is more challenging, but not as much as you’d think.  I’ll be writing on it soon, but there are advantages to being underwater.

I’ve ridden it a few times sans paddle to learn the rails, still able to do cutbacks and top turns.  Then, bouncing back to the paddle it truly feels like paddle enhanced surfing.  I can feel the turns that I’ve modeled from Mo, Caio and Gio over the past two years.  The limiting factor to a lot of their surfing is board size.


What I didn’t realize is that the performance curve isn’t linear.  The biggest inflection point is the last 5 liters and getting below 25inches wide.  It makes the paddle optional.  You can use it to add to rail game, or top turns, but don’t need it in pumping and trimming down the line.  Watch Mo videos.  He’s shortboarding until a turn, then a massive paddle addition to the turn, and shortboards out of the turn.  That isn’t possible just a board just a few liters bigger or wider.

It’s going to be an amazing season exploring new lines on a paddling possible surf board.

The race is worth it, and more important to performance even I understood.


Our next retreat is December 10-17th with Fisher and Kieran Grant from the Progression Project Film.  Contact us to reserve your spot.

Progression Journal


  • surfafrica

    Looks like I have a quite a few steps ahead! I’d love to see some drone footage of you (or one of the Grants in December) paddling these nanoSUPs out in the lineup. I’d be curious to see how/when you use the various stances and watch you catch some waves from a drone perspective.

    • Erik -- PaddleWoo

      Great suggestion. I’ll try to set that up.

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