Aloha of the Paddle

Our SUP paddle – connecting us to our water, our power, our speed and the aloha of our our sport. Choose wisely and understand small tweaks in sizing and technique that make all the difference.  Part of the “aloha of the paddle” is the great community of people willing to share info and insights about all aspects that impact both performance and enjoyment!

A conversation with Randall Barna, SUP pioneer and owner of FootForm Performance Orthotics Center in Bend Oregon, always leads to great technique insights. During a recent paddle I was absently day-dreaming about my soon-to-be delivered Hulu KIALOA paddle while listening to the steady rippling of wind current under my board.  I wasn’t really thinking of my technique, just sensing the paddle position through the reach and recovery and watching out for river otters. Randall commented, “You might want to try something a little differently as you switch your paddle from side to side.”

I am always up for more power or speed, especially if it’s driven by efficiency. Randall showed me a seamless way to switch my paddle from side to side. Removing the upper hand as the lower hand remains steady on the paddle during the crossover (maybe inching it up the shaft an inch or so) allows the “new” bottom hand to grab at just the right spot allowing an immediate “reach and dig” as the new upper hand slides up to the grip. It was a simple change but really added a solid confidence to switching paddle sides.

Board speed and chop, two foot placement variables
Board speed and chop, two foot placement variables

As long as Randall was sharing insights gained by a lifetime of wind and water sports I invited him to share tips on foot placement. “The key to foot placement is adapting and adjusting to all the variables. As soon as you think you’ve nailed your stance something changes! The two main variables are board speed and chop. The two errors are tail drag and pushing the nose.

You’re too far back on the board and tail drag is a drag. It slows you down more than anything else! Too far forward and you’re pushing water instead of gliding. The key is a balance between the two.”
Variables in board speed require you to make constant, minor adjustments. Take some pictures of yourself on your board while pictures standing still. Is  the tail is out of the water? With a little speed the tail is right on the surface. That’s because under power the board starts sinking into the trough of it’s own bow wave. naishbow
Randall continued, “Progressing into higher speeds the bow wave gets bigger, the board lower, and eventually it hits “hull speed,” a point where it won’t go any faster no matter how hard you paddle.  Every board responds to this differently and is dependent on the weight of the paddler too. You just have to experiment with foot placement at hull speed, find your sweet spot, and mark your toe line on your board as an instant reference.”
Note: huge grin on Randall’s face as he shares this: “The big thrill in riding an SUP is planing! To achieve planing you have to get your bow through your bow wave, up and over it! Nobody has ever accomplished this by paddling. Longer boards are faster due to a longer interval between the bow wave and tail wave,but still no planing via paddle.  It takes a boost from an outside source like wind and waves. As soon a the boards cuts-loose onto a plane you have to adjust your foot position faster than poop-thorough-a-goose. The nose will dive, the tail was lifted by the wave, so step back. You need to constantly walk the board and paddle to keep it on a plane, and enjoy the ride.”
Champing at the bit to get on  Naish 14' Glides on Maui
Champing at the bit to get on Naish 14′ Glides on Maui

Experimenting on flat water is not easily transferred to choppy waters. The nose of the board becomes the focus.  If your nose is pushing, it will slap each chop and be very slow. Find a foot position where the nose will penetrate the chop without slapping or pushing. Side chop, and accompanying wind, can catch your nose and flip you over! Try a surfer-stance for more stability, with the wind at your back. You won’t be switching sides with side-winds anyway so this works. Another source of choppy water is when drafting another SUP. Then you’re dealing with their tail wake, your bow wake, and the chop all at once! All of this is a never ending challenge and one of the things that makes standup paddling so darn much fun!

2 thoughts on “Aloha of the Paddle”

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