Safe SUP: Shoulders and Paddles

I have loved and used this KIALOA Paddles for almost 6 years. Exactly right for me!

I have loved and used this KIALOA Paddles for almost 6 years. Exactly right for me!

I have been using the same (now probably vintage) KIALOA paddle for almost 6 years. It has taken me across ocean, surf, downwind, upwind, flatwater and even ice.  It’s always going to stay with me, but today I picked up my incredible, technology rich KIALOA Hulu Ultralight GL  (Read a bit of the story behind the Hulu paddle here).

All the designs on the KIALOA Hulu paddles are cool.  I selected the GL Ultralight with the traditional Gerry Lopez design.

All the designs on the KIALOA Hulu paddles are cool. I selected the GL Ultralight with the traditional Gerry Lopez design.

Anytime you get a new piece of sports equipment: ski boots, skis, a road bike, running shoes – or a paddle, the decision on size, style and fit is always tough. Add to that the age of shoulder and knee joints, back and neck muscles and suddenly the decisions is full of variables, choices and options. What’s cool is that you can connect with the pros at KIALOA via Facebook messages and questions, by going to their blog with comments and questions, or chat with any of their ‘Elele (ambassadors) when you meet them at events. I have found each to be open and eager to share tips and insights. How do you find them at events? Mostly check out the podium or the KIALOA tent.

When I was making the all-important decision about paddle length I watched a lot of videos, talked to a lot of people, and then I did the smartest thing ever.  I borrowed the KIALOA Pupu adjustable paddle for an afternoon on the river. Donning my heart rate monitor and Nike+ as my speed/GPS tool I set off with my old paddle and the Pupu on board.  I paddled for about 20 minutes with my paddle noting speed and heart rate, paddle cadence and perceived effort. I tried to focus on how my shoulders, hips, knees and back were feeling. I went upstream then downstream.

Next I repeated the exact course with the Pupu adjusted to about 1 inch longer than my paddle. I repeated with it 1/2 inch longer, then 1/2 inch shorter. Those sessions were about 10 minutes each. I finished with a 5 minute upstream and 5 minute downstream paddle with my existing paddle.  The resulting decision – I kept my paddle length for my new Hulu at exactly what my old paddle had been. The experience taught me a lot about reach, grab, paddle stroke and upper body technique.

Raising the paddle, level and above my head, with my elbows bent at 90 degrees and equally spaced, I found that my lower hand seemed  too far down toward the blade. I was most comfortable paddling with my lower hand approximately one hand span back up toward the grip.  It’s important to get this hand placement right for you.

The further up your lower hand, the longer the lever arm; distance between lower hand and the center of effort of the blade. Positioning your lower hand too far up the shaft, creates greater reliance on using leverage (pushing forwards with the top arm) as the primary means in generating force to the blade. It’s been a long time since I studied physics or levers, but that basic principle make good common sense.  Using the paddle as a long lever is a very poor use of bio mechanics – and will not make shoulders very happy.

I had a conversation with Karen Wrenn after a longer training paddle sent me home with sore knees.  In a nutshell, she advised me to find a balance in using power generated through pulling from the throat of the shaft (lower hand) and being aware of the rotation (torque) around the my spine and compression downward  through the top arm. Keeping my hips forward and rotating through my upper body (feeling next soreness in lats and upper back) was the recipe for very happy knees.

The bottom line – take your time on the water as you decide upon the right paddle for you. Whether you surf, race, cruise flat-water or meander around in lakes, investing an hour or so with an adjustable paddle can make all the difference for your long term SUP fun!

 

SUP: Da Feet

That moment after a too-steep take-off when the nose of your surfboard buries deep, that moment just before you rocket through the air tightly clutching your paddle – you know! You know that your feet were not in the ideal position to trim your board successfully – it’s obvious.

Karen Wrenn posted this very cool photo - great color and an easy way to study foot position and technique.

Karen Wrenn posted this very cool photo – great color and an easy way to study foot position and technique.

More subtle are the changes in board trim and efficiency or glide that occur with where your feet are place and the balance of weight on those two feet when going in flat-water or downwind. A good example is the way Karen Wrenn is positioned in the photo to the left. She was kind enough to explain, “If you notice how my feet are really far on the left side of the board… it’s because there was a super strong side wind coming over my left shoulder. I had to position myself on the far left of the board to keep from getting pushed by the wind to the left. With my body weight on the left side of the board it allowed me to get my left rail down and prevent getting pushed and tipped.”

Knowing the force of winds in the gnarly Columbia Gorge area where Karen spends a great deal of training time, that is good to know. As the weather warms, our local SUP community plan many jaunts to the Hood River and Portland area for down wind fun.

With just a few weeks before the most challenging down wind adventure of our lives at Maliko Gulch and the Olukai Ho’olaule’a, we have been barefooting it on the sleek 14′ Naish Glide as winter hiccups into spring.  Balance as we maneuver is crucial – falling into the barely above freezing Deschutes River is not an option.

There’s the rub! Tail turn practice goes tentative – and immediately balance becomes sketchy.  It’s a great mental practice to feel the right movement to position and coordinate strong paddle strokes.

Evening light adding to our bliss!

Evening light adding to our bliss!

Our puzzle remains – what’s the best foot position for the various aspects of conditions we’ll encounter on the Maliko down wind route?  We will be sharing this post far and near, hoping for insights and input. While we will be participating in a “race,” our goal is safe completion of the journey.

Wondering how this foot position is for strong "wind in the face" situations

Wondering how this foot position is for strong “wind in the face” situations

Ed is experimenting with feet further back, noticing the impact of the tail drag vs speed and efficiency

Ed is experimenting with feet further back, noticing the impact of the tail drag vs speed and efficiency

We know we have awesome equipment with our Naish 14′ Glides underfoot, so we hope to refine our skills so that we can make the best of the famed “glides” we’ll be earning along the way.  How incredibly cool is it going to be to feel that first rush of wind after going beyond the cliff at Maliko Gulch! What a thrill it’s going to be to be surrounded by hundreds of other paddlers as the swells start rising on our quarter and from directly behind!

Butterflies – yup! We can’t wait to practice in the warm ocean – to fall as often as needed into WARM water – and to peddle forwards and back along the foot-friendly deck of the Naish Glide.  The best and right equipment for the adventure adds so much confidence and fun to the mix! Yeah, the stoke is fueled.

Please share your insights and comments on the blog or via e-mail eldersup@gmail.com – some comments we have received so far can be read at Aloha of the Paddle.

This seems to be a good foot position for flat water up wind and down - comments?

This seems to be a good foot position for flat water up wind and down – comments?

SUP Senses: Listening

Taking a spin around the perimeter of a glassy lake at sunset, traveling upstream in a class I whitewater stretch or gliding shore-ward on a gently breaking wave or sense are alive.  We experience sights, smells, the feel of water on our bare feet and the sound of water. We hear the swoosh of a glassy glide and the slap slap slap of small ripples playing off the hull.

Sometimes when I am training for a steady pace over a longer time or distance, I set the “metronome” to the sound of the slap-slap-slap of water on the board. 1-2-3 and then 1-2-3, switch sides and, 1-2-3 then 1-2-3 in a steady pace. It gets easier to maintain a pace with a steady beat going in my head.

Then comes a real eye-opener. I had a GoPro facing forward on the bow and then facing back at me during a recent glassy paddle as dusk approached last week. (video here) My 1-2-3 was way more slow in pace than I had felt while actually executing the pace.  I needed to add some intervals – and soon! With just 51 days until the first downwind event of the season I want to be totally confident and ready to go my race and my skill level- but do it well.

karmathonevent030Last Sunday I had the chance to paddle a sweet, but frosty 42 degree, 6-miler through two loops in the Deschutes River as it winds through Bend, OR.  I went with a local SUP surfer and racer, Randall Barna. Randall watched my paddle stroke and tweaked my reach and return a bit. We discussed how much Karen Wrenn’s suggestion to keep my knees and hips facing forward even as the upper torso/ribs twist. Randall had a cool way of creating the image I needed to drive forward and be more efficient with my technique.

I tend to fall backward when tossed off balance, so Randall explained the reasons to stay fully balanced on all 4 corners of both feet. Rather than driving the board hard and down – then forward, the better image is “create a buoyant feel as you press the board forward with the sense of floating it lightly but firmly.” Thinking about these tweaks allowed miles to float by easily.

I still need to build a better fitness base for the upcoming paddle season. According to Suzie Cooney, CPT (of Suzie Trains Maui, a Naish team rider), “Music added to your own SUP training session can make a huge difference in you enjoying your training session and can actually help you increase your mileage and decrease your time. Get to know your heart and lung capacity and stress yourself accordingly. Make sure you are in good physical health and have proper clearance from your physician.” Great advice.  I read her excellent article on training with a balanced tempo playlist, donned my heart rate monitor and had some great paddles so far this week. You can do the same. Take the few short minutes needed to explore Suzie’s online training article – then go enjoy standup paddling with all your senses!

It Takes a Village

kneeAs March delivers more daylight and some warmer weather, we’re back on the water more often these days. Having survived this much of ski season with knees in pretty good shape, it was a surprise when I managed to make them sore when paddling. As a precaution, since a few meniscus surgeries indicate I have very little cushion and some arthritis in the old knees, I had some injectable medication called hyaluronan delivered. It is a once a week procedure over 3 weeks (ouch!)

Using some GoPro footage (which should be done again from the back-of-the-paddler view) I was able to share my technique with some experts kind enough to provide suggestions.  I tired out the very good advice from Karen Wrenn, Naish team rider,  over the weekend.  With knee braces on, a more narrow stance and full attention on keeping my torso rotation a bit higher toward the upper ribs I had a great time!  The entire process of awareness and concentration almost made me miss the awesome sun on water and mild breezes, but not quite.

Keeping my knees tracking more forward really seemed to make a difference in my ability to “drive power through the board” for consistent acceleration. Karen mentioned that I might expect more after exercise soreness in the upper ribs area when i was getting the rotation closer to what might be ideal. I can vouch for that – in a good way.

bridget

Bridget Fitzpatrick Evans joyfully shares yoga with us bright and early in the morning.

Even greater reinforcement of how a body could be gently nudged toward a new (and hopefully, better) technique came with my 6 am yoga class at Groove Yoga Bend this morning. We were going through our moving-breathing-meditation led by Bridget Evans and we were deep into Warrior Two when I noticed a light “coaching” toward moving hips to the side as arms pointed forward and back. With another barely noticeable touch, Bridget coaxed my thigh to bend just a bit more toward parallel with the ground – and “LIGHT BULB!”

It might have been 1/16th of an inch more of a torso rotation, but I caught a twinge of that upper rib exertion from the paddling and my hips moved a bit more – and there was the reminder. If patience and awareness team up, even a tough old body can learn to move in new (and more effective) ways.  A little shaky and really sweaty insight.

Later as we moved into single pigeon, I babied my left knee and did a variation on my back. My cooler and healthier right knee found its way into the pose a bit easier.  Breathing in and then breathing out and deepening the pose I was feeling really good about how it was all settling in. Maybe Bridget noticed some tense areas that were holding me back – who knows. Whatever, she appeared at just the right time and managed to relax some large back muscles, some teeny neck muscles and gently coax a bit more deepening of the stretch.  Wow! it was such an easy transition, and reinforced hope.

Consistent practice and listening to one’s own body – partnered with professional advice – can make training an adventure and a journey.  I guess the take away is paying attention – what do you think?  We welcome your comments, e-mail and insights.

SUP MUSE: Karen Wrenn

There are many meaning of “muse” – both as a noun and as a verb. One meaning I like is describing a muse as an inspiration, a catalyst for change. We can have many muses on our journey in life, in sport and adventure. Karen Wrenn inspires many  – an active “verb” of a person. She’s also a true catalyst for change. Do you want to be better at something and reach new goals? I know I do, and I know that I can do it better when a muse helps along the way. Karen, Naish team rider, seems to always be on the move sharing her spirit and aloha for standup paddling.

KIALOA captured the determination and drive that Karen Wrenn harnesses during winter training

KIALOA captured the determination and drive that Karen Wrenn harnesses during winter training

Ask a busy person! I did, and Karen generously shared some time and insights. First, some background: Few are more busy than Karen – wife, mother, friend, athlete, teacher and SUP superwoman. We all know that honing our skills and keeping whatever our personal “athletic edge” might be is a full-time effort. In the cold and wet Pacific Northwest, staying trained and motivated takes a bit more psyching up. The recent photo used in a cool ad for KIALOA paddles captures that “brace yourself for a cold an challenging training run” moment perfectly.

I have been less determined to brave the wet and cold through January and February – then March arrived with a few days that shouted “SPRING” with abundant sun and little wind. No question! It was time to head to the Deschutes River and take a few loops. No one else was out that day. It was a visual and sensory wonderland to be gliding up-current and getting cobwebs out of arms, trunk and legs. Luckily, I had my GoPro with the board suction mount. It stayed on solidly and could be shifted from front view to back view easily.

The next day was full of OUCH! I watched the video of my paddle (see above) noticing a strange inward rotation of my knees and a waggle of the hips that seemed out of place. I had just gone through my first of three series of knee injections (yup, the old meniscus has apparently vanished). The last thing I want to do is annoy my knee further. So I sent off the video to Karen for some insights. We had connected at the Naish Gorge Paddle Challenge last year when she encouraged me as I tried the fast and sleek Naish Glide for the first time.

You may want to have your own technique guide do what Karen suggested, film from behind for a better view of body mechanics. The second suggestion was to adjust my stance from time to time. Karen explains, ” One thing I do all the time when something is bothering me is to play around with my stance. I think with a bit of a narrower stance you might not be able to lean the knee in so much Or, possibly a slightly staggered stance might help to. If you haven’t already… play around with that. Try a narrow, try a wider than usual and a slightly staggered stance and see what happens.”

Karen’s next suggestion reinforced my commitment to the twists and stretches of yoga, “Try to also focus on the torso rotation being a little higher making it happen through the rib cage instead of  by your hips. When I am paddling really hard and efficiently I feel sore through my the sides of my ribcage. If the rotation is happening a little higher you might find that your hips stay a little more fixed and that would cause less inward knee movement. It would give you the torso rotation and take it out of so much arms.”

There is no doubt that I will take these few suggestions to the river and to my indoor TRX training. Motivated even more – it’s only 56 days until Ed and I head to Maui, get our Naish 14′ Glides and prep for the Olukai Ho’olaule’a Maliko Run. Yipppeee! And thanks so much for your suggestions, Karen!

Winter SUP Training

January warm in my Sweet Waterwear paddling top and compression pants

January warm in my Sweet Waterwear paddling top and compression pants

Just took a virtual tour drooling over the Naish line of Glide raceboards (have you ever seen that GX? Yeah!)and Mana line of SUP surfboards.  It seems like forever until we head to Maui for some surf and downwind fun at the Olukai Ho’olaulea.  In reality, it’s just about 100 days.  With so much snow and ice on our local paddling locations, we are waiting until late May to get our Naish boards. Meanwhile we prep and dream. I did have the pleasure of going a few miles in the Deschutes River on a recent 50 degree afternoon. It was the first time I’d paddled since our fun in Maui in early December. Other locals, like Randall Barna paddle regularly – every freezing month of the year. naish randall winter

I was paddling on my Amundson 11’3″ all round fun board.  Everyone knows that I have had endless hours of flatwater and surf fun with that board.  Heading up river on a calm day I was surprised to notice – my Amundson just didn’t have that “glide!” In Maui we had been blessed with a few glassy days with small surf so the actual glide of the Naish 14′ Glide was obvious. A set of 6-8 strokes on one side generated some serious acceleration with minimal effort.  It reminded me of some technique suggestions from KIALOA paddles’ Dave Chun.

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.” I was doping that observation during my January paddle and realized how much the design of a board impacts the glide, the sound and the result of a series of paddle strokes.  Even though I love the sound of the chop-chop-chop as the bow skims across the ripples in river current and breeze bumps, having aboard that slices right through all that with more of a “swish” is simply faster! So glad we’ve got a 14′ Naish Glide reserved for the Ho’olaule’a.

We don't have the beach (and I certainly don't have the body) but we can train and prep with guidance from Suzie Cooney, CPT

We don’t have the beach (and I certainly don’t have the body) but we can train and prep with guidance from Suzie Cooney, CPT

While a great board is key to having a great experience during SUP events, the bottom line is getting ourselves ready to be strong, safe and prepared for the physical and mental challenges. To that end we have been poring over Suzie Cooney’s SuzieTrainsMaui website for ideas and training tips. Luckily she has SKYPE sessions available for some true custom training opportunity. I know we will be filming some sessions with the GoPro to get solid feedback that we need.

Since Karen Wrenn experiences much similar winter weather we looked for some training tips that power her fitness and competitive success.  This is from Karen’s blog with a link to Stand Up Paddle Annapolis’ blog

“I do a lot of cross training in the gym in the Winter. Circuit training is great because you can get your heart rate going, build muscle and muscle endurance. I will first do something that elevates my heart rate followed by a couple exercises that include strength and balance. For example, I might do 20 double jumps (or you could do 100-150 single jumps) with a jump rope and then move right into 20 kettle ball swings (from a squat position swinging the kettle ball to shoulder height coming to a standing position) and repeat. Then I would move into a plank position with elbows on a ball and roll the ball forward and back for 20 reps. I would do this circuit 3 times and then move on to another circuit.

Another idea of a circuit is to do 15 split jumps on each leg (http://www.livestrong.com/video/5310-split-jumps/) and then 20 tri-cep dips then 20 reverse crunches (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVVlXA0dqGg) and repeat this circuit another two times.

Basically, come up with some circuits of three exercises. Have the first exercise of the series be something that will elevate your heart rate ( jump rope, running stairs, sprints on a rowing machine) add a strength exercise (kettle bells, push ups, tricep dips, pull ups, etc…) then add in a core exercise ( reverse crunch, plank, medicine ball sit up and throws). After you finish one circuit of three then move on to another.

I run a lot during the Winter. Running is a great way to keep up your cardio endurance and a great thing to do if you only have 45 minutes to spare. If you are not a runner… biking and swimming are great options too.”

From Naish Stand Up Paddle's Facebook page

From Naish Stand Up Paddle’s Facebook page

Excuses for not getting ready? NONE! Have fun, just be sure to be safe and paddle with a buddy when the water and weather is cold.

Radiating Insights and SUP Aloha

I live in Oregon and have had the good fortune to meet Karen Wrenn a few times. From those experiences I recognized that on top of being an incredible athlete and a stellar Mom, she is extraordinarily giving when it comes to what she’s learned through SUP. So I follow her blog, and follow her posts on Facebook.  You may want to as well.

Karen Wrenn introducing her group to proper paddle technique. Photo by Ed Shasek

Just last week at the Naish Gorge Paddle Challenge we arrived on Friday just in time to attend the Positively Kai Grom Clinic.  There, nearly engulfed by several dozen eager pre-teens was smiling, calm Karen.  Kids at that age can behave like a herd of cats, but they remained focused and attentive throughout the land training. Parents hovering around the edges seemed particularly pleased when Karen made sure the kids got their PDFs or borrowed one for water time. One worried mom pulled Karen to the side, hands holding tight on your young son’s shoulders. After a few moments’ conversation, with a smile, the mom handed off the boy who no longer seemed so hesitant. Confidence at each step of the way seemed to be the theme.

With the clinic on Friday, a course race on Saturday and a blustery down wind run on Sunday every on of the top athletes had plenty on their plates. Just the same, Karen took some time to answer my questions about what would be my very first experience on the Columbia River. I haven’t determined what race board to buy just yet and have only about 4 lake races using a 12’6″ Hobie or Amundson. Steve Gates had already hooked me on the benefits of using a race board like the Naish Glides he carries at Big Winds.  As a Naish team rider, Karen showed me why she chose the Glide as well.

I had never been in the Columbia River, not had I ever paddled any board larger than 12 feet long. I asked Karen, “Would it be crazy for me to use my 11’3″ Amundson surfboard in the conditions we’ll have in Sunday? Will I be like dead last, or crazy slow?” The winds were expected to be 30-40 mph and i was freaking out more than a little.

That was the beginning of a valuable conversation. I learned where to go on the river and what to do should a barge come along. (A HUGE double barge did send me almost to the Washington side of the river)  She explained the sort of swells I might encounter and how to surf them to connect the most glides. Best of all, her easy assessment of my ability to not only do the race but also enjoy it gave me one more level of confidence.  Cool too, was being able to watch Karen’s technique in the course race, rounding marks, planting her paddle for the “catch” and using her legs and core. And did her Glide ever “gliiiiiiiide!”

Karen Wrenn rounds the bay buoy in the Naish Gorge Paddle Challenge course race. Photo by Ed Shasek

I guess it all added up. Holy cow! I am solidly addicted to the sort of conditions we had on the Gorge Paddle Challenge downwinder. Totally jazzed I can’t wait to get back there to do it again – Summer 2013.

It hadn’t been too long ago that the ultimate SUP race, the Molokai 2 Oahu race took place. I have been a swimming, sailing, surfing, ocean person since birth and crossing big ocean expanses (with safety and support) has been a dream. (I wrote about that dream in an earlier blog)  Could I ever train enough in this seventh decade of life to manage that? Deliriously I thought – maybe?

With further insight I realize that the novice attempting that crossing – in or out of that event- would be somewhat disrespectful to the power of that channel and the esteem of the challenge. Karen wrote a powerful blog about Molokai 2 Oahu not too long ago. The article wove the challenge with the tradition. It underscored the dedication and training commitment the athletes who successfully cross the channel have invested.

I know that the Molokai 2 Oahu will always be what it has been to me – a dream. But it is also a window to what the top athletes in SUP can do. In my own way, at my own level I can be my best by keeping personal abilities in perspective. Training as much as I can as wisely as I can toward the events that make sense for me might be more fulfilling than chasing a dream.

Karen Wrenn with her signature smile racing to the finish.

Thanks to the athletes like Karen, Candice Appleby, Brit Oliphant and Suzie Cooney we can all aspire to our best. Follow their blogs, see what they dedicate to the sport through Facebook and YouTube video. Be the best YOU can be and celebrate the journey. Smile!