Boss man Joey T waxes lyrical on how minimal flat water SUP training can help promote instant paddle surfing success.
For those of you who don’t know me I was a multi-discipline performance athlete in my youth, I continue to coach badminton to a high standard and I’ve been teaching people how to paddle surf for over 6yrs. Unsurprisingly I have a keen eye for biomechanics, training muscle memory and like to simplify the learning process wherever possible.
When I first learned to paddle surf BSUPA and ASI weren’t in existence so I effectively taught myself by copying the guys in the videos from Hawaii. The sport has certainly moved on from then in terms of recognised technique, equipment and what’s actually possible!
When Boardskillz first kicked off we solely taught at the coast which depending on the conditions on any given day made learning to paddle surf either really easy or difficult to hard. Onshore wind and/or waves of any consequence can make balancing, even on a really wide board, very tricky. Subsequently we started looking at flat water options as they were much less weather dependent, hopefully leading to more success in beginners with the knock on effect of people getting into the sport rather than just doing it once, being left frustrated.
Over the last couple of seasons we’ve started developing a fast track programme to get people paddle surfing in three lessons or less with the first 1-2 lessons taking place on the river and the subsequent lesson(s) taking place at the coast on a suitable forecast.
The biggest issues 90% of people have when learning to SUP is changing their feet from the paddling stance to the surf stance without falling off and doing a tail sink turn which are both key elements for paddle surfing success. For the purposes of this article let’s deal with these issues separately.
In terms of changing the feet this is definitely best practiced on flat water so you can train muscle memory and get used to making different paddle strokes to ensure your board is perfectly positioned for catching your first wave stood up. The first tip I normally give beginners is that a fast board is a stable board so before trying any kind of transition getting some speed up is a good idea.
There are two ways of changing the feet from paddling to surf stance. You can either shuffle your left/right (front) foot into position then step back with your back foot, making sure your toes are facing out towards the rail and you’re stood directly down the centre of the board. Initially keep your feet around the middle of the board (as it’s the widest most stable area). Then try paddling on both sides of the board with your feet in the surf stance.
Once you’ve got the hang of this still in the surf stance try shuffling back, getting the nose out of the water. See how far you can get back towards the tail before you fall in. Now try again but don’t go too far back and this time try putting in some semi-circle style strokes first on the left hand side. Sweep round until you’ve done a full 180 degrees then step forward back into the paddling stance (both feet facing forwards) to kill the rotation. Repeat the exercise paddling on the right hand side. Congratulations you just did a basic tail sink turn in the surf stance!
The key to taking these new skills into the surf is practising paddling in the surf stance and learning how to confidently move the back foot, weighting the toe and heel sides (opposite rails) so that the board arcs round to the left or right putting you in the perfect position to catch the wave. For a sharper turn place the back foot further back for a more gradual turn further forward or weight the back foot/rail less.
I’m regular stance (left foot forward) so to turn left I’ll paddle on the right and weight the heel side with my back foot and to turn right I’ll paddle on the left (which may feel a bit twisted also known as switch) and weight the toe side rail with my back foot. A good flat water exercise is to imagine you’re going through the gates of a downhill slalom and do S turns switching the paddle and back foot weighting accordingly. Once you’re confident with this try turning the board 180 degrees in both directions first very gradually (as if the wave is miles away and you have plenty of time) then arcing round sharply (like you’re going for a last second drop in).
The advantage of doing this over catching a wave in the paddling stance is that you’re already in the surf stance so there’s less to think about once you’ve caught the wave and you’re not worrying about doing a foot change when your board accelerates down the face (often leading to that inevitable splash). The added bonus of using the back foot to steer is that this skill is transferable in terms of turning the board once you’re up and riding.
The next important area to address is timing i.e. making sure you’re far enough round the turn when the wave hits or worse still you’ve gone too far round and need to change hands with the paddle to straighten up, slowing you down right at that critical moment! Practice is the key ingredient with this but you can make life easy by thinking about position in very basic terms.
If you imagine the beach is 12-o-clock and you’re positioned at 6-o-clock facing out to sea, to drop into a right you need to turn the board left so it’s pointing between 12-1.30 as the wave hits and if you’re scratching for a left the board goes right so you’re pointing between 10.30-12. As before if the wave is far away use a gradual arc to turn, if it’s closer weight the back foot more but remember to trim the board flat (move the back foot forward a bit) 2-3 strokes before the wave hits so you have enough speed/glide to actually catch the wave!
Hopefully this is helpful to some of you looking to get into paddle surfing. All I would add is having the right equipment is vital to success; you need a proper hard board correctly sized to your body weight. Again and again I see ladies and kids trying to make Dad’s board turn and they can’t because it’s simply too wide! Take a few minutes to check out the Loco range to find your perfect paddle surfing partner.
If you’re serious about improving your paddle surfing why not book onto one of our forecast-driven weekend clinics in Northumberland this Autumn/Winter or for the sun worshipers amongst you we’ll be doing a couple of foreign trips for small groups to be announced shortly!
In the meantime why don’t you check out some summer paddle surfing fun from some of the team here