(Disclaimer: I have heard it called prone, traditional, and simply paddleboard. Folks are protective of the terminology and proud of its awesome history, which I respect. Most commonly I hear folks refer to it as prone, so I will as well in this article.) :)
My background before paddling was surfing. And while paddling has in fact grabbed hold of my heart more than surfing ever did, (mostly because of the community aspect), there was always an intimate connection to the water that surfing provided. To feel every pulse of energy underneath me...with every stroke as I went for a wave. So perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that prone paddling is becoming my favorite new paddle craft.
Why it took so long to get into prone is a mystery. I had many coaches and paddlers say I would love it. And it has always been the paddle craft that I had the most respect for. The "saltiest of the paddlers" did prone I always felt. Two years ago, to complete a goal of mine to race four watercraft (sup oc1 surfski and prone) in one year, I borrowed a stock paddleboard (12') from an adventurous paddler I respect a lot. With a 1 hour practice paddle under my belt, and a humbling amount of 'fall-off-the-board' later, I entered the next day my first race. Oceanside Becky Stuart Race.
Being that it was the short course, (four miles), I held no illusion that this was some epic undertaking compared to the Molokai 2 Oahu, Jay Race, Rock2Rock and Catalina Crossing studs. But it was enough to completely kick my arse. And enough to confirm that prone paddling is awesome.
That said, the board was returned later that day and so my prone world went dark. Until last month. My local paddle shop West Coast Paddle Shop had some demos available of various prone designs they carry (Velzy, Lahui Kai, Kings and Bark.). Another race was coming up, the SundaySundaySunday race series, and they let me try one for the race. A stock Bark Commander. And then I got to keep it a bit after to try, and I made a point to share with other paddle friends I know and have them share their impressions and feedback for this article...and get them stoked as well.
The last few weeks of prone paddling have been amazing. Let me try and share why...
Logistics, transport and storage
The simplicity. No rigging needed. Unload the board. Head to the water...Go! We are all busy and time on the water is sacred. So being able to get in a paddle during a busy day is pretty awesome. Plus what paddler hasn't forgotten a seat, iako or paddle as they race out the door?
Even the board itself is smaller than many of the other craft out there so you can carry it easily on any car and to the beach with ease. Like SUP, storage of a prone board is likely easier for those with minimal space at home than oc or surf ski.
You have the water at eye level when you paddle. Every wake and bump. Every current. You see it. but you also feel it. Your whole body is aware of it as the board rises and rocks. Unlike outrigger where you are sitting above sea level, and more so with standup, here you are 'in it'. Not to mention your arms and hands are your paddle. You are directly connected to each rewarding stroke. You. The water. Forward.
It feels fast
Perhaps it's just me, but some craft just 'feel' faster and more rewarding with each stroke than others. While an oc6 generally goes faster than an oc1, the one man canoe to me feels faster. Well, the same is true for me when I compare prone to SUP. Now don't get me wrong, I am pretty sure SUP is faster. And I have had a ton of standup paddlers absolutely drop me in my very short prone career. But when I am on various craft, the prone paddler board feels fast. And I really really like that.
Like most paddle sports, as you learn more, and increase your training, you go farther and faster. Prone was no exception. As I got tips on how to be more efficient, my deltoids stopped burning, and I learned to engage my core more. As I improved on my knees I had an even faster way to help the board fly forward. Fun stuff. And a great workout too.
Variety of paddling
Unlike most craft where you are locked into one position for your whole paddle, prone gives you two. Laying down and on your knees. Each one with nuances to master and enough technique to keep you busy for years. However the biggest positive for me was having the option to switch when one position became uncomfortable or I got tired. Neck getting tired, jump up to your knees. Getting a little tippy in cross chop, down to your belly and away I go. It's like two disciplines to enjoy on one craft. Throw in that you can do different strokes (double arm vs freestyle swim) and use your legs as you paddle for extra bursts and there is no shortage of arrows in the quiver.
Easier in wind
Paddling SUP, a side-wind can really make for a long day as you have to stay on one side and use various paddle strokes to maintain your course. And a headwind can make your SUP session feel like you are going backwards. But with prone, you are so low to the ground there is less parachute to catch the wind. Made for a fun part of the course in one race because I passed a bunch of SUP paddlers who were definitely faster than me.
The rough stuff...
Now im not going to say everything is all glide and that every paddle was a downwinder with prone. In my limited exposure I got a taste of what makes it challenging, to go with rewarding.
Getting smacked in the face
Yep mother ocean likes to remind me to say awake every so often and send a rush of water my way.
Cold and wet
Let's face it, you are close to the water. All of you. So for those paddling prone in the winter, having a wetsuit top and booties might be part of your wardrobe. That said, you are working out and get warm quick, so chances are you won't shiver long and will be shedding that neoprene before your first mile.
I'm not gonna lie, I fell in. You will too. These craft are made to go fast so a narrow rounded hull is gonna help with that. But with all paddle sports the more you paddle the more stable you get and pretty soon, it's second nature.
This puts you in a different paddle position. So your neck will be tight when you first start from looking up. My body got used to it after awhile, though. My nipples chaffed after my first long paddle as well. I recall each paddle sport leaving its mark on me some way or another. So I am sure I will toughen up and just rub some dirt on it as I get more experience. :)
Hard to hear
This one was unexpected, but when I paddle with SUP friends, it is actually a little hard to hear them with me being so close to the splashing water sounds, and them up so high.
I urge everyone to try prone paddleboarding. If for no other reason than to garner the well-deserved respect and empathy for those who are paddling alongside you at the next SUP race. Whether you paddle a stock board, 14', or an unlimited, its gonna be a blast. These boards are fast, fun, and provide a closeness to the water I have not felt in oc1, sup or surfski. You will not be disappointed!
And if you find out you like it, share your tips and stories with us.
[ Photo credit and gratitude to C. Silvester! ]
Interested in new paddle craft? You might also like:
- Help help where's my ama (an outrigger paddler tries surfski)
- Tale of a Dragon Boat Paddler (Racing Outrigger)
- Dragon Boat - First Impressions from an Outrigger Canoe Paddler
- Interview with Chase Kosterlitz - The SUP to OC Experience
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, Surf-Ski and can't wait to hop into a dragon boat 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!
Jim Dreeben - September 30, 2019
I took out my 14’ Bark Prone Board on my 79th birthday (8/25). It is my favorite watercraft although I still go canoeing, kayaking and SUPing. The prone board feels faster than other paddlecraft; I love fast. I wear a long sleeve shirt because of the green flies, which was the only reason I fell off the board, a few times.
Cali Paddler - August 07, 2019
Re: Dan Vargas, it is our suggestion that you contact the Lake Tahoe water authority and safety agencies to get the most accurate info. We have heard various suggestions that if you have a paddle you need one, but otherwise you are a vessel, but we have yet to find something concrete for Tahoe specifically. Also of note, because it spans two states it is also subject to multiple laws. Which may complicate the answer. Sorry we don’t have something more specific to share.
Dan Vargas - August 07, 2019
Hello, I have a 10’6" X 19" fiberglass paddle board which I have been using for over 17 years. Because of the rise of S.U.P.s and regulations thereof, do I have to have a life jacket now? I never used one. I paddle Lake Tahoe.
Galen Davison - January 29, 2017
thanks for your encouraging words on Prone paddling. I currently swap SUP and prone depending on the conditions here in Victoria Canada. I’ve recently modified my 14’ Starboard Carbon Ace with knee deck pads and chest pad and bracket to hold paddle (between legs, hanging off back) if standing is an option in calmer sheltered waters. the feeling of prone takes me back to my competitive swimming days, and yes, it feels faster.