We here at Cali Paddler are always striving to be better, and have more fun, on the water. Whether it is related to fitness, technique or attitude, there are many well documented ways to becoming a better paddler. However, some ways to improve your SUP, Prone, Outrigger Surf-Ski or Dragonboat performance are not as commonly discussed as others. We wanted to share the following top 10 tips to help you get better, and open up our Cali Paddler Treasure Chest of Secrets....to YOU! Enjoy.
Paddle Tip #1 -
Trade boards and craft with friends
It is not a secret that being comfortable on your own craft is an advantage only gained through time on the water. But what better way to introduce something different and grow your skillset than to jump on another board, canoe or surfski? Not only will you find yourself in a new environment, but you will be able learn subtle nuances and differences, and how to react to them. You will become a better all around paddler who can jump on any craft any time. Plus you have fun as you get to revisit the learning stages of our sport a bit each time. And who knows, next time you jump on your craft again, you might have an awareness of it you previously took for granted.
Paddle Tip #2 -
Go paddle when it's not perfect
Some might say that its always a good time to paddle. And we agree. That said, we sometimes thumb our noses when its too windy or too flat. Too cold or too hot. The tide is too high or too low. It is during these not-perfect conditions though that we can have the best chance to learn and improve. Cross-winds got you bummed about paddling your SUP? It is a perfect chance to get used to paddling on one side and using a j-stroke. Too flat for your surf-ski to catch any bumps? Time to go out and refine your technique. Remember, the concept of good conditions is relative. So make them good for you at that time. As our good friend always says, “Better SUP than Sorry.”
Paddle Tip #3 -
Push your comfort level
As with any endeavor, we will never improve without pushing the envelope. Whether you increase the distance you paddle, or paddle in conditions that you are not normally a big fan of, you only get better when you push yourself. So take the precautions needed to be safe, and then find that windy day, or that channel with a big tide push. Paddle near that boat wake you used to fear. Or venture out to the ocean with friends and expand your comfort zone. Pretty soon, that scary wind, wake and wave will not be so scary. It will be wonderful!
At the time of this writing there is a great FB paddle group called the 100 Paddle Challenge and their current challenge is to log 100 miles of paddling in "challenging conditions". Fantastic work John Beausang and Distressed Mullet on this group and encouraging us to "push our comfort level"! Check em out.
Paddle Tip #4 -
We have devoted a whole article to what we call the smile drill, so please be sure to read it here, but in short, smiling when you paddle makes you happier and faster. Not only does it force you to acknowledge how lucky you are to be on the water paddling, but also indirectly forces you to breathe more and use your larger airway, and flush the lactic acid that give us dull tired limbs.
Paddle Tip #5 -
There are always great things to do for cross-training. Yoga, running, lifting, you name it. Paddling though is kind of the best way to get better at...paddling. That’s right, shocking we know! Many times we come across great ways to help us become better balanced, stronger, and more ready to paddle. But there is no substitute for the action itself. So don’t let the cross-training fully take place of the paddle-training, and embrace the chances when you can get on the water.
Paddle Tip #6 -
Ask questions of everyone
Remember the saying there is no such thing as a wrong question? Well, paddling is one of those sports where knowledge is no further than the paddler next to us. Questions can be as simple as picking their brain about stroke technique, or asking what conditions were like at a recent race. Even if your paddle partner is brand new, and doesn’t have years of experience, they can certainly help you identify if you are leaving your paddle in past your desired exit spot, or are too far up on your board and sinking the nose. Remember, all knowledge gained helps build your understanding of our great sport. Also, please remember to inquire with folks at races and shops. Paddlers love to talk paddling (see this journey entry from Paddy Paddler), and regardless of how good they are, almost always are approachable, which is one more thing amazing about our sport…the humble ambassadors it has).
Paddle Tip #7 -
Paddle all craft
It should be no surprise to those who know Cali Paddler (learn how we are unique), that we encourage paddling everything you can. And one of the reasons is because it actually makes you better! Understanding the water and how to read it is one of the best skill advantages a paddler can have. And each craft has a different vantage to see and encounter that water. Paddle a prone board, and see at eye level how the wakes from the wind affect your board. Paddle a surf ski and see how good balance can make you faster. Jump on an OC1 to learn about how leg drive can add to your arsenal of weapons next time you are on a SUP. Remember, the water is not our home environment (as much as we’d like to make it that way). So experiencing it from different craft can help us become a better waterman or waterwomen, who understand its nuances and power, so we can thrive more when we paddle our primary craft.
Paddle Tip #8 -
Experiment on the water
Unless you are on a dragonboat, oc6 or other multi-person craft, you are paddling solo! And hence, you aren’t going to disrupt other people when you experiment. It is just you, so why not change your stroke rate. Keep paddling on the same side before changing and see how, and when, your speed drops. Take a different line during a big tide and see how your speed is affected in deep water versus shallow. Or take a wide line to see if the wind is calmer in the shadow of the rocks, affecting your speed. Everything you do out there is a chance to learn to be a better paddler. And experimenting with tweaks and changes is how we refine our skill. So take the different line once in awhile. Reach further with our blade and up the rate. And see if your speed and energy are affected.
Paddle Tip #9 -
Paddle with faster people. And slower.
Paddling with someone faster than you has long been a widely held view to improve. After all, if you are constantly waiting for a slower paddler to catch up, you won’t physically push yourself as much as if you are chasing someone. Plus it is very helpful in setting goals. “Today I want to hang with Danny Ching for 3 sides before he drops me” (ok maybe would be happy with 2). Or paddle with a better paddler just to watch their technique and ask questions (see earlier tip #6). Don’t be afraid to paddle with fast folks who might drop you. There is nothing to be embarrassed about in that. In fact, they will respect you for it.
The other part of the equation is to also paddle with slower people. Two reasons. This might force you two focus on your technique more, to enjoy the scenery a bit, and get back to casual time on the water. Something we sometimes forget about in our quest to improve. It is also a chance to pay it forward and give those paddlers a chance to paddle with someone faster. Just like you wanting to paddle with someone fast, so do they, and that person could be you.
So, find folks your speed to train with, but also find those that push you to work hard. And those who remind you of where you used to be.
Paddle Tip #10 -
Appreciate how lucky you are
Paddlers are pretty fortunate to have found such a great sport. And when we lose sight of that, we sometimes stop having fun. And let’s be honest, we are not going to get better if we don’t enjoy our time on the water. So next time you are doing an interval and your heart and chest is going to explode and you want to quit. Or you turn at the buoy and realize you have a gnarly headwind to content with. Or its 5am and your alarm goes off to get to your next race or workout. Realize this: we are paddlers, and there are much worse things we could have chosen to spend our time doing. In fact, we at Cali Paddler don’t think there is a single better activity we could spend our time trying to improve at than paddling. And we are pretty sure, you agree, or else you wouldn’t be reading this list. :)
[ Photo credit and gratitude to OnItPro.com and Element Yoga for your picture contributions to this article. As well as all the paddlers and companies who are featured here including Danny Ching, 404, Epic Surfski, Bark Paddleboards, Kamanu Composites. Thank you for helping us share the stoke! ]
Team Writer Clarke Graves - If there is water, he will paddle it (regardless of craft). Clarke is a surfer turned paddler who grew up in San Diego but has traveled every corner of California enjoying its beauty and appeal. He has had the privilege of racing SUP, OC6, OC2, OC1, Prone and can't wait to hop into a dragon boat and surf-ski for an extended length of time.
One of Clarke's goals is to paddle as much shoreline in California as he can, with as many paddling friends who are willing to join him. If you have an idea for Clarke to write about or any questions, send it our way and we will pass it along!