It’s been a while since I posted SUP technique post #4 and it’s time to wrap up the paddle technique series with a few more posts, so here we go:
SUP Paddle Technique Part #5 – Recovery, paddle length & grip distance
The recovery gives you a chance to relax the muscles for a moment and its important not to underestimate the importance of a quick, efficient and relaxed recovery.
Once again, there are many different ways of recovering the paddle and there is no wrong or right way, so experiment and find out what works best for you, I will try to break it down into easy to understand steps that you can follow and practice.
First off, here is a 10 minute video that goes over the points discussed in this post:
Another look at paddle length
We went over paddle length in technique post #1- Choosing the right paddle and I want to mention it again because it plays a role in recovery. At our shop, we recommend a paddle length where you can just clear the top of the paddle with the palm of your hand. This length seems to work well for touring/ distance/ race paddling regardless of how the blade is shaped.
For surfing, you can shorten the paddle by a few inches. Some like to go a little longer for distance paddling which works to a certain point, depending on the board you are using. A longer paddle allows a longer reach forward and once the blade is fully planted it can be pushed deeper if the top hand feels too high, so a longer paddle has advantages in the reach, catch and power phases. So why not make the paddle even longer? I have tried going longer and found that the biggest disadvantage of a paddle that is too long is that it is difficult to quickly pull it out of the water by your feet for an efficient recovery. The other disadvantage is leverage, your bottom hand is further away from the blade on a longer paddle, we will discuss that later. The thickness of your board, or how high you stand above water level is important as well. The Starboard ACE raceboards, for example, have deep footwells where the paddler stands pretty much at water level, while an some other thick downwind boards, the feet are several inches above water level. Try doing this test with your paddle: If you have a thicker board, stand on a phonebook or something to elevate you to the about the same level you are off the water surface when standing on your board. If you are standing at close to water level on your board, stand barefoot on the ground. With the paddle next to your toes, pull it straight up like you are pulling it out of the water. If you have to stretch uncomfortably to do this your paddle may be too long for an efficient recovery. If your paddle is too long, you have to drop the top hand further down and/or stoke past your feet to get a clean release.
Feathering the blade, recovery path
As shown in the video, the two extremes of pulling out the blade at the end of the stroke are dropping the top hand to the side which lifts the paddle out to the side and automatically feathers the blade. The other extreme is pulling the blade straight up, moving it forward in a straight line and plunging it straight down into the water. To feather the blade when moving it straight forward, the top wrist has to be twisted. The straight line is a shorter path than the big circle when dropping the top hand and making a big circle. Most efficient paddlers use more of the straight forward recovery with just a slight dropping of the top hand, resulting in an oval shaped recovery path.
For an easy to understand and follow description of the recovery motion, check out Dave Kalama’s blog, you can read it here: http://www.davidkalama.com/2010/04/paddle-techniques-recover/
The position of the lower hand on the paddle is important to performance. When coaching, I often find myself telling people to try to grip the paddle lower for better leverage. The lower hand is the fulcrum point of the paddle and the shorter the distance from the blade to the lower hand is, the easier it is to apply power to the blade (up to a certain degree). Much like a bigger blade can be compared to a higher gear and a smaller blade to a lower gear on a car or bicycle, a longer paddle is a higher gear while a shorter paddle is a lower gear. Gripping the paddle lower with both the top hand and the lower hand results in a lower gear that works well for acceleration or paddling into the wind. Marking the paddle is helpful to monitor your lower hand placement. Make sure the grip height is consistent on both sides as well.
Connor Baxter and Kai Lenny with lowered grip, photo: John Goodman
Coming soon: Technique post #6 will cover steering strokes and different techniques for turning the board around, stay tuned…
Links to the paddle technique series posts:
Paddle Technique Part 1: Choosing the Right Paddle
Paddle Technique Part 2: The Three Ingredients of a Powerful Stroke
Paddle Technique Part 3: Stacking the Shoulders
Paddle Technique Part 4: Reach and Catch
Paddle Technique Part 5: Recovery, Paddle Length and Grip
This post is still a work in progress and I will add and refine it some more over time, thanks for reading.