LOSE the CEMENT SHOES with SOME BOARD PRANCERCISE
The 2014 race season on the east coast seems to be have a few more ocean courses than 2013, that or social media has brought more of these events to a larger audience. Whatever the case may be, I know I am excited to get out on the ocean more and test my (hopefully) improving skills in the surf.
Ever since my first ocean race, the 2012 Surf to Sound (aka the morale destroyer), I have worked hard at trying to improve my balance and keep my wits about me after falling. What I came to realize, after understanding that getting mad in the ocean is a futile exertion, was that I needed to work on my footwork. In SUP, footwork can be described as: properly distributing weight across the surface of the board in order to maintain the most efficient amount of volume above and below the waterline, depending upon conditions, in order to reach the highest speed possible. Lengthy as the summation might be, I think it is a good way to think about keeping your board moving through the water as fast as you can make it travel and using a little weight distribution to do so.
The last thing I ever want to work on during a paddle session is my footwork on the board. This practice usually means falling. Falling in is never fun, unless it is crazy hot and the sea nettles haven’t arrived. So far, falling in water in early-season 2014 is downright torture. Here it is the end of April and my spring suit is still tucked away deep in the closet and my full suit, neoprene hood, and gloves are still getting way too much use. Still having to don an armor of neoprene at the end of April just isn’t right but there are those sessions where you need to work on aspects of your paddling that will require a little discomfort. The cold water and the effort of getting back on the board can be draining. Who wants to go out in washing-machine slop and practice moving your feet up and down the board when you know you might fall in? Nobody. Nobody wants to do this but in order to improve we must. These are the sessions that will pay off in a few months.
Last year I went for an early-season upwind/downwind paddle with my good friend and Midwest Starboard rep Matt Lennert. We were doing a bit of filming so we were staying close together for most of our time on the water. I like watching paddlers paddle. I like to examine people in motion and either help them out by offering advice or making note of what they do well and putting said note down on my “to-do” list when it comes to organizing my own training sessions. The one thing I noticed about Matt that really, I mean really stood out, was the way he moved his feet up and down the board. His footwork was exceptional. His movement was quite specific yet very light. The title of the video we shot that day should have been Jack and the Beanstalk because when I tried to move up and down my board I sent that board into wild conniption fits of uncontrollable movement. When Matt moved his shifting of weight produced a deliberate reaction from the board. His board tracked well and he kept the nose at a good angle over the water to catch as much of a glide as possible from ankle high bumps. That day I learned that good footwork can improve your paddling.
I stomp up and down my board. Last year, I stomped so much on my MHL Custom that I had to install a drainage system by September…the board was only 4 months old. This year I am trying to lighten my overall load (meaning lose some serious weight) and I am trying to step softly. In 2014 I want my footwork to be smooth, balanced, and precise. I want my board to respond to my movement and react accordingly depending upon the conditions of the water. I have a long way to go but I am making it a point to work on weight distribution. Being that there are more ocean races this year, I thought I would try to come up with a way to analyze your own footwork so you can make sure you are working on it during training sessions this spring. I know I have to make the deliberate decision to try things when I am practicing going in and out of the surf because it is easy to lose focus and just try to strong-arm your way through the breakers.
Going out through the surf:
Momentum is key but sometimes that start-of-the-race adrenaline can tighten your airways forcing you to let off a bit in order to catch your breath. Without momentum to carry you through the break, you must rely on footwork to work your board through the whitewater. Taking the time to think about good technique can take your focus off the task at hand, which is getting though the breaking waves, so nailing down your footwork well in advance will make the movements feel more natural and eventually, with plenty of practice, your delicate little steps will become second nature.
Many waves can be bulled through with enough momentum and paddle strength. Others require more finesse. Waves higher than your knees may require you to pump through. Here a lot of people say push through but I like to use the term pump through. Anyone who has worked a skateboard around transition will know what I mean by pumping. I find that this technique applies to stand up paddling as well. When approaching whitewater, what works for me, is getting to the surf stance, bending my knees to lower my center of gravity, transferring my weight to my back leg to lift the nose of the board just over top of the whitewater, then as soon as the whitewater brushes against the bottom of the board I transfer my weight back to my front foot and pump the board through the whitewash. I like to use the word “pump” also because when going out through the surf I don’t want to push the board out in front of me. I want to maintain a good position with my weight overtop of the board. A lot of times when I try and push through a wave the front of the board goes out from under my feet too far and I fall.
This morning when I found myself trying to pump the board through the surf it worked well, when it worked (which was not as often as I liked). This is not easy to do but when done right you will know the feeling. When you transfer your weight around, while standing on your race board, by pumping you will feel like you are more in control of your board. You are moving your board forward and backward but not letting the board slip out from underneath you. Pumping a board is a controlled movement that will help you navigate through the surf. Your paddle is there to help keep you moving forward and can be a good outrigger to help stabilize you, but don’t rely on the paddle blade as an outrigger. Just pray the blade helps keep you upright when the time comes.
And make sure you keep the nose up. One of the most helpful tips I got from Danny Ching’s clinic at the 2013 Carolina Cup was to keep the nose of your board up when going upwind or against the swells. Not only does a buried bow restrain your forward momentum, it also adds more surface area below the water, which can be another bit of mass that a wave or a rip can shove around making the board much harder to control.
Of course there will be times when getting through the surf means paddling like a crazy man and hoping for the best. For that all I can say is good luck! We’ve all experienced a beat down or two or 75 by Mother Ocean or Mother Great Lake, but we can always improve by putting the necessary time and effort in perfecting our footwork before date of the event.
Coming back in and getting through the surf:
If you can catch bumps you will pass people. Catching bumps means not standing still on your board. In choppy conditions, the person who catches the most bumps is most likely the person who will reach the podium. Sometimes you might not have to work to catch a bump because said bump will catch you but it is much better to work into a bump, catch that glide, and be prepared to catch the next one. However, if you can line up a few swells to connect one glide to another not only will you pick up speed you will be able to catch your breath and prepare for a paddle sprint or a run up the beach.
There are glides to be had before you reach the breakers. There is plenty of information to check out on the Internet written by more knowledgeable people than me. Suzie Cooney has a lot of good information on her website. Connor Baxter touches on catching the glide, as do a few others. However, many of us do not live in Hawaii or California and I know I did not grow up surfing. Much of the information seems to be geared toward those that are already familiar with the feel of working the ocean. For my own personal benefit I am trying to break down as many aspects as possible of going with the wind and with the swells so I might work on the little things hoping to make for a brighter and better bigger picture in the long run.
For the past few years it has been a trial and error beat down for me. I try to apply the information I take in from others and my own failings to form a game plan when it comes to training for downwind runs. When the rough weather comes up that is the day to train; when it is flat calm that is a day to go hit the gym. Cousin Neil and I were just talking about the fact that it is so hard to get motivated to go out and get a beat down on the water. You have to look at it this way: how many races did you compete in last year that had just a gentle cooling breeze and perfectly flat conditions?
Going downwind or with the swells is tough. Proper foot placement is crucial. It’s an easy tell that your weight is off if you feel the back of the board swing out to one side or the other. That can be corrected if enough weight is distributed to the back of the board as quickly as possible. The trouble is, many of us don’t want to move out of the comfort zone of our two feet side by side near the middle of the board. Cement shoes when going with the wind and the swell will slow you down and probably guarantees a fall or two. Move your feet and get that weight distribution dialed in so your board keeps moving toward the finish line.
Today I went out in some knee to waist high slop and really worked on my weight distribution. I had the best ride of the day when I looked back and saw the wave coming, held off paddling so I wouldn’t be too far ahead of the wave, then as soon as the wave picked me up I went into the surf stance. I rode that wave all the way to the sand. In the surf stance I was able to shift my weight from front to back and both pump and push myself into the best position to maintain speed and the glide. My movements were much more subtle in the surf stance and therefore I didn’t jerk the board out of the most advantageous position. I was able to steer with my paddle blade and when I felt the tail start to shift, a quick adjustment put me back on the rhumb line to shore. This of course was on the last ride of the day after spending most of the morning falling into shin deep water after whitewater kicked my tail end out from under my feet.
Most of my morning session was spent with my feet together in the middle of the board. Sometimes I moved to the back of the board but I kept my feet together then too. With all my weight toward the back of the board the nose would start to move uncontrollably. I could not correct the nose issue with all my weight on the back of the board. This too resulted in failure. Not only was I working on my footwork I was working on gaining confidence in my footwork. Again, I had to make deliberate decisions to try things I wasn’t totally comfortable with. At the end of my session things finally fell into place and I had a great ride. Then I was finally able to go back home and get warm!
Footwork is so tiring. I know I get nervous in chop about moving my feet around the board and that bit of stress is very draining. Sometimes I feel much more comfortable keeping my feet firmly planted together on the board. This may be very comforting but it is not very efficient in bumpy conditions. Falling during training sessions is part of the process. It should not be frustrating getting back on the board as quickly as possible it should simply be another part of the program. You just might happen to fall in race so being able to get back up and being able to get the paddle back in the water as quickly as possible will keep the time you lose to a minimum.
Last year I had the pleasure of going for a paddle with Kai Lenny and Kody Kerbox as they prepared for one of the stops on the Stand Up World Series tour. Kody spent most of that time just walking around on his board putting his feet everywhere. He fell a lot but he seemed to be really working at learning how his Naish Javelin would respond to his weight distribution. We would all paddle and then out of the blue Kody would just start stepping around the deck of his board putting it through the paces. The pros do it and it seems to help them. Might be a good idea to add some crazy walking, or maybe a better term to steal is prancercise. Prance up and down and all around your board and see how it responds to your weight distribution. You never know, you just might find out your board is capable of sustaining you better than you ever thought before!
If you enjoy reading Basil “Chip’s” posts you can find more of them on his blog site Aneccentricstake.blogspot.com