Progression of a Paddle Surfer
I, like many other stand-up paddle surfers, am from a surfing background. Other people new to SUP could be from an OC, kayaking, windsurfing, paddle skiing, water skiing or any other background under the sun. Each person will come into SUP with different strengths based on their previous water sports and experience.
For me, coming from short board surfing (albeit a long time ago), I have found paddling to be the most difficult to come to grips with. From my limited experience thus far, I see a distinct progression in my use of, and confidence in, the paddle.
What do I do with the Paddle?
Apart from the obvious of using the paddle to get around and get myself out to the break, I'm specifically referring to what to do with the paddle once you catch your first wave. If you are like me, my first waves were a major event with so much going on that I had not encountered before - How do I catch a wave without falling off? Why are my hands slipping up and down the shaft of the paddle? How come I always seem to need to do the dreaded switch sides with the paddle just as I get to the critical part of actually catching the wave? How do I turn this 10' 6" board (having never ridden a long board before)? What do I do with the paddle now that I am on the wave?
The paddle seemed superfluous to me and, while not used on the wave itself, was obviously required to paddle back out and to catch another wave.
Wow, the paddle helps me balance!
After getting over the initial challenges of actually catching waves and "riding" them shore wards, I start to discover that often when I decide its time to turn, the board has other ideas and I fall off while it draws a straight line towards the beach.
After putting out the paddle on the side that I am falling towards in a desperate attempt to stay upright and noticing that (a) I didn't fall in and (b) the board starts to turn a little easier, I realise that the paddle has at least one use on a wave - I can use it for balance.
Pic by Paul Fuller
While not looking too graceful, the next fifty small waves confirm to me that I can get to the point of almost falling off but maintain my "upright" stance with the aid of the paddle.
Using your paddle to turn
Now that I'm starting to feel more in control while riding a wave, I start to explore the fact that when I did initially use the paddle for balance, it also appeared as though it was a little easier to turn. So, after getting the paddle on the side of the wave face when catching the wave, I put a bit more pressure on the paddle when "balancing" and lean a bit further out - the board turns with relative ease. After doing a sluggish bottom turn (but my best one so far!), I turn off the top and pull my paddle around my body to tighten the turn.
Unbelievable! I'm stoked! Did anyone get that on camera? While the turn, in hindsight, probably wasn't the most radical top turn and the line through bottom turn and top turn might have appeared reasonably straight to someone watching from the beach, the fact is I did it and it felt great! I have an amazing rush of adrenaline (combined with a cool sense of achievement) and can't wait to get back in the line-up to catch another.
So, I have discovered a third use for my paddle - I can use my paddle to help me turn. I also discover that when I do a top turn as the wave closes out, I can use my paddle to balance on the way down with the white water.
Pic by Coreban
Your paddle becomes indispensable!
Stand up paddle boards are comparatively big, making the paddle an indispensable tool in the surf. You only need to head down to the beach and watch some of the emerging superstars of this awesome sport to fully appreciate this.
Pic by Rob Pirie, Von Piros Productions
In fact, I would urge any person new to stand up to take the time to watch someone who really knows what they are doing. This can be accomplished by trawling Seabreeze for videos/photos, looking on YouTube/Vimeo or getting down to a SUP club competition. For those that are unaware, details of SUP clubs can be found here - http:/www.seabreeze.com.au/forums/Stand-Up-Paddle/SUP-Clubs/
Better still, join the SUP club in your area and watch yourself improve as you surround yourself with people who have the same passion for SUP that you do and are willing to help with pointers and advice. The sport of SUP is at an awesome stage in its development with the early adopters still very eager to share their knowledge and help out newbie's like me.
While I am not yet at the stage of making 100% use of my paddle in my surfing, I am a lot more aware of the benefits of fully utilising it to surf more radically. I am excited by the prospect of getting to grips with my paddle.
Who knows, there may be an as yet undiscovered progression waiting for me just around the corner.
What about SUP Paddle length being shorter?
Long paddle, short paddle - getting your SUP paddle length right is important.. check out the idea of a shorter paddle for surfing...