Maliko Musings: Olukai Ho’olaule’a

When experienced standup paddlers describe the downwind run you are about to do the very next day and they say, “It’s going to be harrowing, huge swells and very little wind,” that does not build confidence!

The start of the 2013 Olukai Ho'olaule'a at Maliko Gulch

The start of the 2013 Olukai Ho’olaule’a at Maliko Gulch

Those very conditions greeted 336 SUP downwind racers at the 5th Olukai Ho’olaule’a on May 11.  Little did I know as I paddled out of the Maliko Gulch what was in store.  The tide was flowing in, the swells delivered confused chop and the wind clocked toward our faces as we paddled past the reefs and cliffs about a mile and a quarter straight out to sea and the starting line.  I believed the waves would be my nemesis, but one wave in particular delivered the defining moment of that all-round incredible event!  Here’s the story:

Like most of the participants, I spent a great deal of time paddling on my knees, really getting a challenging balance workout while going for the glides or taking some head-first dunks into the confused sea.  When I had feet under me, eyes on the horizon and my paddle technique cranking out smoothly, holy cow, the Naish 14′ Glide I was riding accelerated with glee and practically begged to connect those glides. Exhilarating stuff for sure. Light as a feather, my KIALOA Hulu paddle powered me through chop and (YAY!) let me brace, balance and avoid plenty of wipeouts.

From the very first paddle stroke, as fellow participants were lifted – then disappeared – behind the swells, my fear was that I’d not be able to negotiate the beach landing. All along the shoreline from Hookipa to Kanaha and points in between the swells met reefs and created a wall of crushing white-water challenge. About 75 minutes into the race Kanaha and the life guard stand was in view. I was paddling near Sean Sweet of Sweet Waterwear when I heard him say, “Judy, look right!”

Defining moment, uncaught wave of the day. And that was a good thing!

Defining moment, uncaught wave of the day. And that was a good thing!

I braced my paddle in the water to my right, swung my eyes over and looked straight up into a building and breaking wall of gray-green and foaming wave. There was just one reaction, and it surprised the living daylight out of me – I was like, “Yeah!” and went for it. Went for it as in, “I want to catch this thing.”  Lucky for me, very lucky, the water was deep enough that instead of crushing right onto me, it re-built as a pillowing swell and swept neatly under my Glide. Also lucky for me, I realized how much I love being in the ocean, riding waves, being part of a huge community of like-spirited paddlers and enjoying the fruits of much practice and training. It’s all a very cool journey.

It’s tough to put into words the impact an event like one’s first Maliko Gulch downwind run delivers. Instread, here’s a 4 minute video that tells the tale. Much appreciation (listed in the credits at the end) go to Naish International  (Haiku), KIALOA Paddles, GoPro, and Suzie Cooney, CPT.

SUP Training: Observations

Waking up to a big dawn, orange full moon in my face and a sudden “ouch” at the first moves of the day.  Upper back, ribs, and upper abs screamed resistance at my walk to the kitchen for morning coffee. And guess what – I am one HAPPY person.

Karen Wrenn SlideAfter getting more knee and low back fatigue during longer and stronger paddles over the years I reached out for some advice on technique. Fortunately, Karen Wrenn (super inspiring) shared some insights (you can follow her on Twitter) and with some practice I am creating a more effective technique.  I found this artistically beautiful video on the HangerFox Youtube channel that allows us to observe the technique that creates that highly effective paddle stroke that serves Karen so well.

With Vimeo, YouTube, blogs by pros and all sorts of social media links, we can “meet up” with SUP professionals we admire. SKYPE is another way we can get great training tips from our favorite pros. Suzie Cooney, CPT of SuzieTrainsMaui encourages SKYPE training and has had great success with that medium.

Robby Naish (happy birthday this week) and Kai Lenny in Alaska

Robby Naish (happy birthday this week) and Kai Lenny in Alaska

Recently I watched a short video of Kai Lenny and Robby Naish paddling around icebergs and basically “chilling” in Alaska. It’s good to study their stance, paddle placement, reach, posture and recovery during racing sequences as well as more recreational paddling.  Sometimes it’s tough to assimilate exactly what is making their performance so efficient and powerful.

dave-safebackThis very short video by Dave Kalama posted on the Distressed Mullet YouTube channel gives direct and easy to implement advice on how to protect your lower back. Hinging rather than bending is a habit that is not too difficult to hone – give the video a few, or maybe a couple of views then try the movement on your next paddle.

Dave Kalama provides a more advice in his blog article I found to be easy to put into practice. “Don’t rush.”

He explains that even if your technique is effective, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are utilizing it properly. If you rush through all the phases of your stroke and don’t take the time to execute each phase correctly, then you are not using your level of technique in an efficient way.

For me, one of the pieces I took away was to take the time to really drive the paddle down into the water. Create a complete stretch of your reach. According to Dave, ” it only costs you a little patience and time to completely extend your arm forward. Also, rushing through the recovery phase will break the flow of a smooth rhythm, which is where real efficiency resides. If you rush into getting your hips all the way back under you to the neutral position, then you miss out on all the potential momentum you can generate through the hips. dave-technique

During yesterday’s training that resulted in muscle fatigue and “good workout” soreness, it might have been that fully extended reach, getting my hips back to neutral and rotating the upper body appropriately that made all the difference.  There’s nothing like practice, exploration and observation to add even more fun to this sport we love so much!

We’d love to hear from you – what blogs, videos or images have been useful as you improve your technique?

 

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!

 

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!

Sports Imaging: Stehlik Glides

About 18 months ago we visited Oahu and were fortunate to discover Blue Planet, an SUP center just a few miles from Waikiki. Blue Planet is owned by Robert Stehlik, a talented paddler consistently sharing his time and expertise to all levels – from rank beginner to the downwind experts. We had a great time at one of the many free clinics he offers and loved trying out race boards for the first time in 2011.

 

 

Robert Stehlik of Blue Planet has a wealth of open ocean crossings as the foundation for teaching others.

Robert Stehlik of Blue Planet has a wealth of open ocean crossings as the foundation for teaching others.

Robert Stehlik combined his talent with a GoPro video and decided to  paddle the Hawaii Kai downwind run on Oahu while narrating it. With a summer full of all sorts of downwind runs (with the Wickiup in Central Oregon coming up soon) we decided to take some time to really study Robert’s videos.  It is really insightful to hear the coaching tips and tricks as he is actually doing them.

Wide open downwind spaces - heading toward Waikiki

Wide open downwind spaces – heading toward Waikiki

While the tips on paddle cadence were definitely valuable, the tips on reading waves and increasing the opportunities to ride glides both left and right really hit home.

I absolutely agree with Robert when he says, “Downwind runs are exciting and fun.   In the surf, you are often waiting for a set or your turn to catch the next wave.  On a downwinder, there are no crowds, you have long windswells that stretch across the whole ocean to play with, you are always on the move, going from one glide to the next, surfing the bumps.

Plan ahead, know the waters, route and weather before heading out on a downwinder.

Plan ahead, know the waters, route and weather before heading out on a downwinder.

There is no doubt that doing any length downwinder requires preparation, planning, a partner and the appropriate safety gear.  The pre-downwinder prep including balance training, awareness and a depth of open water experience can make all the difference in the experience.
Robert advises, “It can also be dangerous to head out into the open ocean unprepared, so make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.
I enjoy sharing what I have learned and have been offering coaching to paddlers that want to experience the joy of downwind paddling.   For more information on SUP lessons and coaching offered by Blue Planet, please visit the website for more information.

 

The Power of the Feather: HULU

Hulu means feather in Hawaiian. We sometimes leap to compare a feather with “light as a feather,” but that would ignore other powerful components of a feather. Birds’ feathers are designed to be light but very strong, tough and flexible. Feathers are some of the lightest but strongest materials in nature. When Dave Chun of KIALOA Paddles named the newest in the KIALOA line of paddles the Hulu, the name was an immediate fit.

Before going into detail  about the Hulu line, I’d like to share some bits from a recent conversation I had with Dave in his Bend, Oregon office.  An avid student of nature, water, paddling, observation and the “wisdom of crowds,” Dave provided some fascinating background around his journey toward understanding what creates great paddle design.

While outrigger canoe paddling is the sport of choice for Dave, he has spent a substantial amount of time underwater. It’s not uncommon to spot Dave neck deep in water at a crucial buoy in a race where he’s grabbing some cool action shots. But it’s not such common knowledge that Dave spent many years deep in the ocean spear fishing and designing spears.

It was in that environment that a super-creative, full-of-ideas guy like Dave began to recognize the value of slowing down and being calm. Instead of going fast and chasing a fish, Dave realized that hovering low and quiet by the smaller tropical fish would eventually draw in the larger game fish.  The same would happen when a myriad of ideas tumbled in his head – simply slowing down and being quiet would allow the best ideas to flow into consciousness. 

Experiences in spear fishing allowed Dave to become quite competent at designing spearguns. Years of experience in the world of outrigger paddling also allowed Dave to learn from the bottom, putting real experience to use in developing unique and highly effective paddles. There was no “school of paddle design” or books to read at the time, so Dave’s path to refining his skills to the digital and highly refined level they are now did not include engineering or degrees.

Dave’s formal training was in social work. At first glance there would seem to be little connection between excellent skill for social work and transfer to paddle design. Here is where the “wisdom of crowds” comes into play.   As a social worker, Dave was keen to really listen to what his clients were saying. He encouraged story-telling and let people weave the tales they wanted to share. In almost every case, somewhere deep in a story a nugget of important information would be shared – and Dave honed his listening skills over time.

Instead of doing formal “market study” and test groups, Dave refines designs by getting KIALOA paddles in the hands of diverse types of paddlers. After trying the paddles people tell the story of their experience, sharing things they felt, saw, thought about, wanted, liked or disliked. The “wisdom of crowds,” from the top paddlers, racers, surfers and pros to the everyday paddler all contribute to a distinct line of versatile KIALOA paddles.

The majority of the testing for the Hulu happened in the Pacific Northwest so KIALOA could keep the paddle project on the down low. Karen Wrenn and Cyril Burguiere in Portland, and Beau Whitehead in Bellingham all had prototypes of the Hulu out for a spin. Chuck Patterson was used later in the project as a strength tester – who better?

Chuck with an earlier KIALOA paddle – looking strong as usual.

According to Dave, “Much of the testing was focused on the strength to weight ratio. We wanted the paddle as light as possible, but we did not want to build a ‘disposable’ race item. Our goal is to keep our product out of the landfills. Since we work with plastics, a long service life for our products is necessary. I feel a super light paddle which is disposable is irresponsible.”

Dave explained further, “The Hulu features a brand new shaft, called CST. It currently is available in 2 versions. Light and Ultra Light. The shafts are built with pre-impregnated carbon fiber and are oval in cross section. The system we used to build the shaft is proprietary to KIALOA. The Hulus are our lightest SUP paddles. Some of our racers converted 100% of the time to the Hulu. Others use it as part of a quiver. But most have adopted it as their default paddle. The Hulu is designed to be a race paddle specific to the unique structural demands of racing.“

Personally, I am so eager to get my Hulu paddle that I can barely wait until the January 1 launch date.  I am an “everyday” paddler, far from being either elite or top ranking in any venue.  The need to have the best tool for the job (go straight and go fast) that racers want is not less important for us “everyman” paddlers. The Hulu is just right for me (and you, and your best friend, and Chuck and Gerry and Cyril and on and on).

 Dave and his good friend, Gerry Lopez, work in close proximity. (Be sure to check out the video link) It’s natural for them to check in with each other on a pretty much daily basis. As the Hulu evolved, Gerry’s ideas connected with Dave’s and the paddle became a collaboration of input.  The light sharp edges providing a clean entry and a stiffness ideal for maximum energy transfer made for the pure purpose of the paddle as a race paddle.

As we were talking, Dave reached over to a line of paddles leaning against the wall and pulled out one of the most stunning paddles I’d seen (this from someone hooked on the Hinano and Plumeria designs of the Pipes and Methane).

Dave held out the Hulu Ultralight GL model, GL for Gerry Lopez, for me to see. WOW! Gerry’s name is signed in his trademark script below the logo we all recognize. In bold black and gold colors, the paddle is a work of art. Dave has taken years of ideas and concepts that buzz around in his creative mind, he tempered the ideas with “wisdom” from crowds and from his good friend, Gerry. Hands on digital refinement and observing from experience, life and other pursuits collectively aligned to  result in the Hulu. Focus on using the newest in high grade carbon fibers with a high modulus of elasticity connected to a willingness to try, fail and re-design has brought Dave to the point where he is confident to launch the Hulu. For one, I am jazzed.

Connect with KIALOA or a dealer in your area.  Your Hulu is ready.

RPE, SUP and Neutral

My best paddle last week came about 10 days into my training with the TRX RIP and TRX Suspension trainers.  As I dropped my board into the brisk Deschutes River I was thinking about fall colors and maybe the last barefoot paddle of the season. There was not a cloud in the sky although we were predicted to get a few inches of snow by late evening. I felt great! 

In order to monitor a bit about my training paddles I use Nike+ on my iPhone to get feedback on minutes per mile. I wear a Polar heart rate monitor because sometimes I tend to go too hard for too long and start to erase the fun factor. I always bring along the GoPro HERO with at least two mounts. The suction mount on the board works well in the river, and the head mount captures awesome views. On this particular day I was simply out for color and the brilliant day. Training wasn’t on my mind.

Imagine my surprise when I heard the robo-voice from the Nike+ app say, ” One mile. Average pace 18 minutes per mile.” Okay,” I thought to myself, “When the breeze is in my face and I am going up current in this section of the river I average 21 minutes a mile.” Weird, I wasn’t trying so hard, my rate of perceived exertion (RPE) was medium, maybe a 6 out of 10.  Heart rate was in a manageable range. What was making a difference?

I believe I was cranking out the miles in a quick but seemingly easy manner because of two things.

First of all, I did feel powerful. My feet seemed to be gaining power from my legs with each paddle – and the only thing I was doing differently was maintaining a neutral spine. Core engaged and tail tucked. A neutral spine is a prerequisite to doing the TRX system. Perhaps 10 days of practice at that had provided me with a better “engine.” I have had a habit of bending at the waist, particularly when skiing. Muscle and body memory around creating that more upright, neutral spine might be a valuable transfer to more than just my SUP technique. Good news since ski season is just around the corner.

Technique makes all the difference. I get a great deal of insight by reading Dave Kalama’s blog. He recently wrote, “Paddling most of the time needs to be a very flowing and rhythmic action, not a tense muscle flexed series of positions, but rather a constant continually moving movie. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place to exert yourself, but if your base stroke comes from a place of rhythm and flow, when you exert yourself you will be much more effective and efficient. The best fix for it is to greatly reduce your power level and learn how to use your technique as your driving force, not your power output. Decrease your power to the level that you don’t feel like you’re doing any work at all, and just concentrate on technique. You’ll be surprised at how fast you go.”

I have no doubt that my neutral spine and effective technique made all the difference on speed.  How satisfying to have things come together – awareness of technique, reach, proper hand and arm placement as well as on-land training.  What’s been your best “surprise” when it’s come to RPE and SUP?