The very best surfers, paddlers and SUP watermen (and women) make it all look so easy. Do you ever wonder how they get to be so seamlessly great at what they do? Part of the answer is a mix of practice, passion and full-immersion in their element.
My niece, Michelle Alvarado of Wahoo Films, spent 3-4 hours a day during a recent summer fully immersed in cold, rushing rivers around Oregon. She was filming underwater for a film called Deep Water – more great stories on the Deschutes and Wychus Creek are available at “Ripples of Change.” One reason the stories Michelle shares and the impact of her messages are so profound is that she solidly connects with her subjects – the rivers and its fish inhabitants. Being fully immersed in the cold waters brings a unique perspective and power to Michelle’s message – much to the betterment of the rivers’ health. There’s nothing quite like the learning experience of being pushed downstream while trying to stay focused and eye to eye with an illusive steelhead.
Connecting with water can happen during a wind swell pushed to head high by a raging wind vs a powerful river current. I got slapped silly and pretty well schooled during the September 2012 Naish Gorge Paddle Challenge. After the race, I had the chance to chat with Candice Appleby and learn how much value she puts in diverse training. As a standup paddler, I had no idea how important prone paddling might be. Candice explained, “When you are lying on your board paddling through ocean, waves, wind and current you get a completely different understanding of the water than when you are standing up. Not only do you work different muscle groups by prone paddling, but you experience subtle insights that are valuable for surfing, for down-winders and for standup paddling in general.”
Maybe Candice doesn’t need to prone paddle and maybe Michelle doesn’t need to scuba dive with fish – to be excellent… but maybe that is exactly what allows the best to rise to the top of any field. Maybe the best way to become better at standup paddling is to know the water – and fully immerse in the elements that define our sport.
The boards and paddles we choose to connect us with wind, waves and water are the result of a long decision-making process. I have chosen to use a number of paddles from KIALOA Paddles over the years. We spend a lot of time training for our standup paddling experience and getting the right paddle for our best immersion in the sport is important. I recently had a chat with Dave Chun of KIALOA Paddles and we discussed the selection process for most people. Many paddlers decide to demo a paddle and after 5-15 minutes we might decide we love it. It’s wonderful.
In reality, Dave explained that it might be better if a person paddled for 45 minutes or more and then picked up a demo paddle. When the body is a bit fatigued and we are immersed in the water and weather of the day, we will get a better perspective on how the paddle actually connects with our current skills and fitness.
When asked about paddling technique, Dave Chun says, “Listen to the board, Don’t worry about what you look like. Listen to the water coming off of it. Feel what makes it go fast and smooth.” That bit of advice goes in one ear and out the other if the listener has not explored the full-immersion of what it’s like to move in water. Listen and feel – observe and immerse. That’s the method for discovering how to make your standup paddle experience the best it can be.