The beginner’s mind: How to Take Your Paddling to the Next Level
Simple Steps to Improve Your Paddling
“Catch every little bump!” yelled Connor Baxter as he flew past me skipping away on the water. Connor was giving a free paddling clinic at a SUP event at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, California. I was reluctant to sign up for the clinic because I didn’t want to be clumped in with the beginner paddlers that I saw waiting on the beach to start. Then I thought, here is one of the fastest SUP racers in the world and he’s going give me some tips for free. I jumped on my board and paddled out staying close to Connor and asking questions the entire time. In that short ½ hour on the water Connor was throwing out some great tips about SUP stroke technique but more importantly how to read the ocean so you can go faster. That day inspired me to learn as much as I could about improving my SUP skills and to have a “beginner’s mind”.
You don’t need to be a beginner to have a “beginner’s mind”. The trap that we fall into is the belief that we have experience and competency in a skill and therefore we don’t need any more training. In our Instructional Skills training at REI Outdoor School we call this the “false master”. This is the student that has some experience and thinks that they have nothing left to learn. I have to admit that I’ve been that guy in a class that thinks he’s got it down only to be shown up by some newbie. Regardless of previous experience, the students that will get the most out of the class have a “beginner’s mind”. They are open and willing to try new things knowing they will probably stumble along the way. One of the aspects I love about SUP is that it’s such a relatively new sport and nothing is set in stone. Just like boards and paddles have evolved significantly in the last 6 years, the most efficient SUP stoke is also evolving. So, if you can get into the “beginner’s mind” there are some very good resources online and SUP coaches that can take your paddling to the next level.
Attend a Group Clinic or Take a Private Lesson
I am fortunate to live near one of the top pro SUP racers in the world, Danny Ching. In addition to being a top pro SUP and outrigger canoe racer, Danny is also an excellent coach. For the past two years I’ve hooked up with Danny for a private SUP clinic. Before the session Danny will ask specifically what I want to work on and will be prepared to go straight to that topic without wasting our time. While on the water he can quickly spot my weaknesses and offer up fixes in the form mental cues. After the 2 hour session I feel like my SUP stoke has definitely progressed and I can’t wait to get back on the water to try out my new skills.
Orange County, California is home to a large segment of the SUP industry, including QuickBlade Paddles. Four-time Olympian and QB founder Jim Terrell offers coaching in his indoor flume. This is an above ground pool with a platform in the middle and an electric motor driving the water around in a circle. There are mirrors all around so you can see yourself from every angle. You stand on the platform and paddle while Jim fine tunes your SUP stroke. I did this a few years ago and really liked how Jim was able to walk around and provide realtime feedback on my stroke. I have to admit that I was kind of nervous during my session and kept spraying water all over the big mirrors. Next time I’ll relax a bit more or at least bring a squeegee.
The YouTube Generation
If my two teenage sons want to learn anything they just fire up YouTube and start watching some instructional video. Whether it’s how to jump five stairs on a skateboard or do some card trick, they can find how to do it online. The same is true for SUP skills. There are some great online coaching programs and SUP stroke videos that I make use of.
I’m a big fan of Larry Cain, not because he’s a awesome coach or an Olympic Gold and Silver medalist but because he’s an old guy and can still hang with the best of the young bucks. Larry and John Beausang started the subscription based coaching site Paddle Monster with the tagline “We train Joes like pros”.
There are two types of memberships: Basic and All Access. You get different levels of access to training plans, group discussions, video library and video analysis. Larry is very active on the message boards answering questions and giving in-depth coaching advice. My favorite section of the site is the video library where Larry has created a comprehensive collection of SUP stroke technique and skills videos. They recently hired strength and conditioning coach Chris Chapman and he’s created a bunch of excellent strength exercise videos.
Jim Terrell instructing a student in the flume.
Paddle Monster also offers SUP stroke video analysis by Larry Cain for an additional fee. I sent a video of myself paddling to Larry and month later I received back an email with a link to view my video analysis. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was little worried when I saw that the video was 20 minutes long. I hit the play button and for the next 20 minutes Larry dissected my SUP stoke breaking down each part and speaking about how I can maximize efficiency to gain speed. Just like the NFL TV commentators, Larry freezes the video at key points and draws on the screen to emphasize his notes. Larry’s coaching style is very straightforward and specific while still keeping it positive. I had to watch the video a couple of times to take in all the notes and I still refer to it before heading out for a paddle. I highly recommend having a SUP stroke video analysis done by a reputable coach.
QuickBlade Jim Terrell stroke Analysis Videos
Jim Terrell created two informative videos analyzing the stroke of several paddlers. He has them each paddle past a floating measuring tape with 1 foot increments. Once the video is downloaded to a computer, Jim is able to overlay tracking lines from the paddle showing the arch of each paddler’s stroke. He then measures aspects of the stroke such as the position of the catch and how far the board travels over the water between strokes. In my opinion, these are the first videos a paddler should watch.
Paddle Like a Pro with Danny Ching DVD
This video is not available to watch online but you can buy the DVD for $24.95. This video is pretty short but it’s gets to the point and offers up some great tips. I think Danny has really evolved the SUP stroke like no one else. He takes you through his basic stroke philosophy with the help of overlay screen graphics. He also goes into buoy turns, specific drills and choosing a paddle. The worst thing about this video is how easy Danny make it all look.
SUP Examiner Paddling Tips
Our very own SUP Examiner is amassing a nice collections of paddling tips. I like these because they cover SUP skills and how to manage equipment.
The above resources are just a starting point. Find the online instructional videos that click with you and if you can, attend a SUP clinic or book a private lesson. My recommendation for the new year is to make a commitment to keep learning and have a “beginner’s mind”.