G. Niblock on the L41 TipSUP Noserider. Photo: J. Chandler

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Learning to SUP - Part Three

PMS (Paddle Management Strategies) and Stuff

Practice is indeed what it's all about. And practicing is so much easier when what you are practicing is FUN!

Since I wrote Learning to SUP - Part Two I've come a long way. I've got a long way to go (with no end in sight I hope) but so far this has been a very pleasurable, satisfying and physically challenging journey. I love learning something new and exciting and SUPing is definitely that.

The paddle. What a strange appendage and unique source of locomotion. My Kialoa 80" paddle seems to suit me well. I have no perspective for comparison as it is the only paddle I've ever used or owned. It is a carbon fiber layup that is durable and flexible. It will leave scuff marks on your board and bruises on your body. The scuff marks easily rub out in no time, the bruises take a while longer. It floats quite nicely, has a bright yellow padded C4 Waterman grip which can be seen from a long ways away, has clear plastic edging on the blade and I'm learning that it is better to cast it aside than to fall on it. My paddle is much harder than my soft tissue. Further, since my 10'4" Angulo is leashed to my leg it is not difficult to chase the discarded paddle down from aboard my SUP.

The paddle. This bladed shaft is key to catching waves and placing you exactly where you want to be: from paddling out from the beach; to paddling madly out the back while avoiding avalanches of whitewater; to catching the wave. To a lesser degree, but no less important, your paddle can help you surf by making your turns and cutbacks sharper (therefore increasing your maneuverability and ability to place your board on the face and in the energy pockets of the wave), by allowing you a place to balance when off balance by leaning on it and by making your wave exit or kickouts cleaner with less bogging and loss of momentum. The paddle is also an "engine" capable of driving you through and around sections of whitewater and onto the clean face of the next section that you would not have made had you not been on a SUP correctly using your "paddle/engine".

The paddle and stuff. One of the most frustrating things for a beginner re wave catching was to be able to set myself up to be in the right place to catch the wave. Too far in and the wave breaks behind you or is too steep to drop in, and too far out disallows one from paddling into the wave energy. Learning a rapid turning or quick turn technique is essential. I started with two techniques: one is the back paddle; and the other is the forward wide arc or sweeping paddle. Some familiarity with canoe paddling helped here. Since I put a smaller center fin (5" from 9") on my tri-fin Olohe the SUP pivots well on a center axis with neither nose or tail too much in the water. Standing dead center on the board is the ideal location for the most efficient pivot using the back paddle or forward sweep technique. (No wonder some SUP detractors call us the "Janitors." But I won't be offended or disagree. After all...we are "cleaning" up.)

Back paddling is just that, one paddles from tail to nose in usually short, forceful strokes that pivots the board in a circular motion to the rear. This makes for a quick pivot but is more destabilizing (i.e. easier to lose your balance) than the front sweeping turn. The front sweeping turn is made by inserting the blade forward at the nose and making a wide arcing "sweep" with the stroke. In contrast the back paddle is not wide, i.e. away from the board, but rather close in and of shorter sweep or distance. The front sweep is less destabilizing balance-wise, but takes longer to turn the board around. Therefore, a combination of the two has been the most effective for me.

A quick turn strategy and technique that works fairly well from a fixed stance and location (standing there waiting for the next wave or set) is to take several quick back paddle digs to get the board turning, and then to follow up with more front sweeps to take advantage of the pivoting momentum, and to begin to propel the SUP forward and up to wave catching speed.

Is there anything more frustrating for a surfer than to be rushing to the perfect takeoff spot for that best set wave, all alone...the wave is YOURS! and to blow it? Welcome to my world in the beginning. Enter the "kook factor" and one has a perfect recipe for Humble Pie. I can't count the times I have rushed to make that pivot turn, lost balance and fallen head over heels into the drink to come up sputtering, spurting and spitting out a number of words that would best be not uttered in front of my mother, my church or my neighbors first grader.

Suffice it to say though that I am getting better. I have not yet even gotten remotely close to effectively using the rapid step back quick turn on this video and since my easier-to-learn quick turn is working better and better it may be warmer waters that bring the step back turn into consideration for my repertoire. Here is another good video re turning by BillP at Pono House.

PMS and Riding the Wave. Here there has been some improvement. Since I am a regular foot living in the land of right point breaks going left for me isn't necessarily a glorious sight. But in going right I have been learning to use the paddle to pivot the board and enhance the bottom turn, pivot turn, etc. by simply placing the paddle blade into the wave face without losing too much speed or balance. It really is not that difficult to do and is very effective and fun. It feels good too! Same for using the paddle to kickout. Just yesterday I felt how leaning on the paddle by placing the blade into the wave face in the right way can be very stabilizing and add to the efficiency of riding the wave while maintaining balance in a turbulent section.

Learning to use the paddle in your surfing is a bonus and will improve your SUP surfing. But it is not essential in the beginning. As I said before, learning to surf your SUP is simply learning to surf another board in your quiver, and can be done quite well without the paddle. It can however, be done better with the paddle. But here I exceed my experience level which will have to wait upon future posts when my SUPing reality has been modified (for the better I hope).


  1. That's funny about the "Humble Pie", I call it the paddle surf reality check- just when you think you're the king, you get the, rolling down the windows, stumbling backward, paddlesurf reality check- in my case, usually right in front of a really cute surfer girl. Ouch.

    BTW: It looks clear up there- did you guys get a little NE blow? The weather people were calling for a little Santa Ana Nor'Easter here but it never happened in Malibu. Phantom wind.

  2. Very clear up here due to an offshore Nevada-SF pressure gradient. Winds were N/NE early but calmed by the afternoon so not really expecting any howling offshores. Big news is that temps are 10-15 degrees above normal into early next week. Too bad the swell is forecast to decrease. Am I going to be looking at SUPing the beachbreaks?

  3. Nice article, but you'll find yourself always stepping back to turn once you master it. You just need to get loose on the board. There's a tendency to act like your feet are in concrete--we just don't want to fall--but once you get your feet moving you'll be less likely to anyway. Here's a link to a little movie I made about this:

  4. PeyoteBill
    Thanks for the comments and the cool link. Very informative!

  5. I agree about the humble pie but also agree with pono Bill.I made the mistake a lot of people make and that is to step back to far.You only need to slide one foot back about a foot at first and as you paddle around weight that back foot and drive the board as if you were surfing a turn.It will surprise you how easy it comes around.Just a little at first.

  6. Good point snappy. And I got that pretty quick after going way unstable by stepping back too far to start. I'm still not very good at it but my practice routine involves completing clockwise and counter clockwise turns while stepping a little further back after each set of rotations. It's good turning and balance practice and after three or four sets of turns, a darn good workout!

    Your insight about "surfing a turn" is also a good one. I try to lower my center of gravity in the quick turn. This is really helpful. I can only go so far with the squat though because muscle tension brings my heel up which can lead to instability.