SUP Insights: Dave Chun & Aha!

coursestartPrepping for the Naish Gorge Paddle Challenge a few weeks ago the goal was to increase my speed over a 5 mile distance. Little did I realize how insane the upwind legs of the Sunday course race would be – 4 gnarly laps!  The training I did was adequate – but the level of fatigue I had over the next week pretty much let me know that I pushed my limits endurance-wise.  Even with the great advice shared by Candice Appleby before the race, I knew I wasn’t getting every ounce of speed or power from the efforts of my paddle strokes.

It wasn’t until I got back home and went out for a training session that the most valuable insight of my weekend at the Naish Gorge Paddle Challenge really hit home.  I had been hanging out with a group of people all chatting in the KIALOA Paddles tent before the awards on Saturday.  A few strong looking paddlers from Vancouver were asking Dave Chun about which paddle to add to their KIALOA quiver,  As it usually does with Dave Chun, conversations about paddles tend to morph into conversations about design and technique.  He’s so passionate and knowledgeable about every aspect of his life’s work he simply can’t help it.  dave-design

The guys were skilled at both outrigger paddling and standup. So in the explanation, Dave was comparing and contrasting body position, stroke and technique. Always eager to learn more I listened like a fly on the wall.  It seemed that recently I’d honed my reach and blade entry into the water, but there was always room to refine things even more. All the phases of the stroke have to work together smoothly for the stroke to be efficient and without good reach and catch, the stroke won’t be effective.

Dave was explaining aspects of the “catch.” The “catch” is the point where the blade is fully buried and locked onto the water. It is natural  that the stroke begin as you begin to put the paddle into the water. You will naturally begin to pull on the paddle and begin to apply pressure to the water with the blade, even before the blade is fully buried. SO, it is important to “bury the blade” relatively quickly. The paddle should not “float” down to the water. Reach and drive the paddle into the water and make the catch  as far in front of you as possible. Since ALL of the stroke is in front, and never behind your body, the more in front of you that the paddle gets fully buried and makes the “catch” the longer stroke you will have!

While I don’t always execute the reach and set-up, followed by a great catch, I had heard this before.  What I never “heard” before was a key bit of information.  Dave explained that a mistake that’s sometimes made is to begin pulling the paddle back or attempting to begin to drive the board forward before the catch has been completed. It’s a brief second of time, but important to fully execute the catch before moving through the paddle stroke. The focus should be on entering the water smoothly and quickly with the paddle edge slicing into the water cleanly, creating minimal turbulence. Once the blade is fully submerged and “planted” it’s time to apply the power. If you start pulling too soon, the blade tends to cavitate (air bubbles form along edges of blade) and will slip through the water instead of holding.

Planting the paddle: That was something I never thought about – and probably rarely did. So eager to turn over another stroke, I did a reach-catch-pull without getting that minute time period of allowing the blade to “plant.”

catchPaddling in wind, paddling currents upstream and down all make it difficult to really determine the impact on speed or efficiency that a single change might deliver.  Yesterday as I did my 60 minute training session I picked a section of the river that would be somewhat consistent over the hour. Wearing a heart rate monitor I did 1-mile loops up and down stream. The miles flew by, maybe because so much concentration was going into refining that catch and “plant.” In any event some things were both cool and surprising.

My average time per mile was about 25 seconds faster. My heart rate per minute was 5-8 beats per minute slower. That led to a perceived exertion that was less – while going faster. My limitation when racing is usually central (my heart rate rockets off the chart) before my muscles beg for relief.  This was fun!  Our sport can keep us refining skills and learning constantly – and that’s just one more thing to get us back on the water working hard again and again and again.

SUP Mentor: Candice Appleby

One year ago I had never set foot, or paddle, in the mighty Columbia River.  I planned to be a spectator at the Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge. At the last minute, some confidence-building from Brit Oliphant and a 20-second chance conversation with Candice Appleby gave me the boost needed to “GO!” when the horn blew to start the downwind race in 2012. This year I had a bucket list goal: participate in both the downwinder and the course race no matter what the conditions.

alThe wind blew enough for the downwinder to make it fun and then it cranked up a few notches and nearly blew us off our boards on the 4 upwind legs of the course race.  At the end of the weekend you’d think that the coolest stoke would have been from competing in the events. That wasn’t so. As in most great parts of life, the real stoke comes from the people and connections.  Al Paterson who wrapped engaging stories and accurate commentating around every minute of the event was one such person.  Seeing the smiles on the face of Steve Gates as he supported, inspired and just plain had fun watching his amazing team of JET athletes on the water was another treasure.

Steve Gates is the heart and inspiration behind this amazing team of young water athletes

Steve Gates is the heart and inspiration behind this amazing team of young water athletes

On Friday afternoon, Ed and I were sitting by the water watching some of the elite athletes out practicing. Among them was Candice Appleby. You can call what she was doing “Practice” but there is no doubt that she was simply having a blast. She was negotiating tail turns and maneuvers again and again, all with a big grin and “wooops” when she’d splash in the river – back up for more.

funFun as it was it had to be exhausting, but you’d never know. From there Candice headed to a photo shoot with a few other of the elites and the next thing I saw, she was dashing around on the lawn playing tag with a few giggling kids. Throughout the weekend, parents would stop with their young paddlers to get a bit of advice or have a chat with Candice. No matter how close it was to a starting horn or how many others were around, Candice always seemed to have the time to connect, to talk, to hand off one of her hats and to make someone’s day!

She’s got time for the young – and the old. Both days I was the oldest female athlete on the courses – any win was a function of the minimal number of participants over age 50 (or 60!) This year I was fine doing the downwinder with Ed.  In fact, couldn’t wait to jump into that one. The course race with the wind blowing stink X 3 was another thing.  Standing on the beach before the event Candice came by to see how I was doing.  A few pointers on staying aerodynamic upwind and a quick demo of how to execute the short choppy strokes that could power me upwind changed the butterflies into readiness.

The race that started before the OPEN Women was the grom race. One youngster who seemed to be about 10 was not crying, but close to it. Her mom was doing her best to share confidence. Candice strolled over and checked out the situation. A few minutes, a few smiles later with new determination that little girl leaped to her feet at the start horn and paddled her way into windy chaos, never looking back!

Sprained ankle taped and ready to GO

Sprained ankle taped and ready to GO

The OPEN race began, and we all set off. It was grueling to reach that first upwind mark. Candice had told me to gather my balance and mindset after turning that mark for the downwind leg. Good to remember. I had some water, eased my breathing steady and got some glides going. I am not even going to talk about the chaos and challenge that turning the downwind mark to begin the uphill battle back upwind was. Suffice it to say I was exhausted by the time I made my way toward the turning buoy on the beach after lap number one. 2010-03-13 02.23.04

But from there, things got better. The wonderful JET girls in their bright orange shirts were fun to paddle around. Hearing them cheer and tease each other, give space at the buoys and generally compete with heart fueled the next few laps.  As I approached that challenging downwind turning mark for the last time I noticed Candice was in the water warming up doing repeats up and down wind by the shore.  Somehow she noticed me coming and gave a cheer that added energy to that last turn.  Heading toward the beach and the end she got a pretty big smile from me as I set up my position and strokes for the most power in that last segment. 2010-03-13 02.31.07

I don’t know how she balances it all. The world of an elite standup paddler is full of endless training, endless travel, and the need to be both leader and ambassador for our fledgling sport.  These elite women certainly don’t do all they do for the money, that’s another issue entirely.  For the many SUP athletes who benefit from athletes like Candice and their inspiration, we have the task of taking that example and making it our own. No matter what our experience or records of wins/losses, we all have something we can share.  Thanks for the example and for the inspiration, Candice Appleby.

Reach Old Lady – Reach

I am working to prepare myself for the challenges of doing both days of the Naish Gorge Paddle Challenge and then a month later the course OPEN race at battle of the Paddle. I am glad there’s a “sweet old lady” class for us 60+ year old chicks,  And also thrilled that there are enough of us to make a fine class – how cool!odell-me-kerui

IMGP0110The preparation and training has been so much fun. I have the joy of living along the Deschutes River. I can do up/down stream training runs right in the middle of Bend Oregon. I can drive a bit out of town and do 4-5 miles upstream and 4-5 miles back downstream to my car. The span can include the upstream ripples of Dillon Falls all the way to the forceful end of Benham Falls. The scenery is beyond beautiful.

My heart rate monitor keeps me in my selected training zone when I get distracted and sprint too often and for too long. Building a nice cardio base is pretty darn important when you are ready to be a full – fledged Medicare card carrying member (insert LOL here so as not to freak out).

I have been practicing on being efficient. Getting the most power and momentum per effort-unit is imperative. I have watched this video and have read this training tip by dave Kalama so many times – it’s been terrific. Thanks, Dave!

When I complete these events with a smile, I will thank you even more.