Our bodies automatically maintain our life-support, growth and regeneration processes, (despite our best efforts to poison ourselves). Athletes complete complex dynamic actions, without having to first work out the forces and angles. Sometimes the response is faster than the brain can send a message to the muscles anyway, (especially before that first coffee). To me, sport is like physics without the numbers and the key is to get into the "zone". By focusing their awareness into the present moment, athletes surrender the job to the intelligence in their bodies. To do this, they simply move as much attention as they can, from their inner dialogue and place it into their five senses. Shifting focus from perception to experience - its a reality trip.
SUP is something we do in the environment, not in the classroom or in our heads. Stability and motion is achieved through experience and from that, arises understanding. The best way to learn anything is to be playful, to experiment fearlessly with a sense of curiosity. It took most of us a year to learn how to walk, and after years of sitting, some of you will be amazed at what you will let go off when you re-visit the reality of balance in a liquid environment, (not the kind that comes in bottles lol).
The perfect paddle technique is no-technique, in other words, let your body work it out, here are some ideas however, that I have learned from observing how my body achieves board speed even in rough conditions. It's all about efficient use of energy through high quality attention. When we focus on our senses rather than listening to our minds, the quality of our actions increases "beyond belief", pun intended.
N0. 1 - BALANCE - "I allow the board to move to me"
If we can keep our eyes level with the horizon and our centre of gravity centered over our base of support, then we are able to apply force with-out falling. Sound tricky?, it is at first, very much, then suddenly not at all. Balancing on water is a process of allowing, rather than a "doing", and therein lay the keys to the beauty and the freedom.
It takes time to surrender a little control, but eventually we learn to let our hips be swayed freely by the motion in the ocean. This works because the force that is transferred up through the board is absorbed by the movement of the hips, (like bamboo swaying in the breeze grasshopper), allowing my head to stay centered over my weight and my eyes to remain level with the horizon, ( I don't have to watch the horizon, but it helps when beginning).
In this way, SUP rewards flexibility with freedom, the more restriction I can release from the soft tissues that act across, (particularly, but by no means limited to) my lower back and leg joints, the more narrow the board I can use and the rougher the water I can apply effective force from. When sitting, the emphasis shifts to the shoulders, when standing, your whole body learns to be swayed freely. Our bodies, like our faces store our habitual emotional states. Release the tensions from your body and you may find your ideas and opinions loosening up also.
Returning to balance is a sub-tractive process, in the ocean we soon let go of that which is not of value. The ironic lesson I have found is that freedom comes, to the degree that I can surrender control to the forces that are already in motion. This is like seeking to understand before we act. Next comes the bit where we get to choose direction and apply force.
No. 2 - DIRECTION - "vertical paddle, straight line"
The "rails" of the board are the bottom edges that engage with the water. As with a train, the rails determine the direction. Dig a rail into the water and you will begin to move in that direction. When we paddle on the right side, we are paddling at least half the width of the board to the right of the centre-line of the board. (you can not paddle down the centre-line of an ordinary board). This acts like a rotational force making the board turn to the left, to turn more, paddle even further from center and to turn less, paddle closer to the centre of the board. To go dead straight, we cancel this rotational force by putting weight on the rail of the same side we are paddling on. You do not need to think about how much weight to apply, simply paddling with the shaft closer to vertical will shift more of your body weight onto one foot, engaging the rail on that side, resulting in a straighter direction. This is counter intuitive to those who are still trying to keep the board flat. The lesson - " to return to balance and achieve greater efficiencies, some trust is required".
To turn the board around quickly, it is good to remove the weight from the rails at the front half of the board, by putting one foot back and moving your upper body over it. This is like taking the train of the tracks for a moment rather than trying to twist it over them. Your feet remain shoulder width apart, one foot back. Bending your knees to lower your center of gravity, will help you to stay balanced.
If I paddle on the right side of the board, my hips circle around to the left, this l allows my right shoulder to drop and left to come up - bringing my paddle into a more vertical line, ready to stroke close to the board. It also shifts most of my weight onto my right leg which engages the right hand side rail of the board, cutting a straighter line to the goal.
To apply directional force, keep the paddle vertical and close to the board, to apply rotational force, move it closer to the horizontal line and paddle far from the board. Pushing the blade away from the back of the board turns it quickly to the same side. When paddling, zero compromise equals zero waste, so make each stroke count if you want to increase performance.
No. 3 - FORCE - "simple machines increase efficiency"
The Paddle is a simple Lever, (a class 1 lever for the nerds), the bottom hand acts as the "fulcrum". Force applied by rotating down and forward with the top hand, creates a force in the opposite direction at the blade end, effectively pulling the board over the water. If you move the fulcrum towards the blade, you gain more leverage, but must move more, if you shift it up the shaft and away from the blade, (such as when you use a longer paddle), you decrease the force applied at the blade, but do not need to move as much, can stand taller, but you shift some of the effort away from the core and into the arms and shoulders. SUP athletes will shift the workload to different muscles fibers in order to rest without stopping. Once again, when there is deeper understanding, technique, (knowledge) is not necessary.
Reach forward, weight going onto the balls of my feet, slip the paddle into the water with a little twist, (inclined plane?) Contract the abdominals, breath out, pulsing, almost jerking, the force down through the lever. The contraction is timed to be short and powerful, it runs through the shoulder girdle, the supporting leg and even the toes on the paddle side. The "crunch" contracts the diaphragm, so breathing out now, is natural, as is breathing in when I straighten up, circle my hips back to the other side and reload for another stroke on the same side of the board.
By locking my arms straight, I in effect stiffen and lengthen the lever, and focus its motion, particularly the fulcrum, within a smaller area, this increases efficiency and control. It also limits the contraction. more to the abdominal muscles, placing this motion nice and tidy at the centre of gravity, reducing losses due to inertia, (ok I may be reaching here, I value understanding over abstract knowledge).
How do we re-load the paddle for the next stroke, without bending our elbows? This takes practice, the key is to simply allow your hips to circle back to the opposite side from the stroke as you stand up and breath in. Simple, but it took me a while to understand the wisdom of my body. The left over energy from the stroke is used to re-load. The circle described by my hips acts like a fly-wheel, the stroke powers the reload and gives me time to take a breathe as I am naturally straightening up, expanding my diaphragm. In the stroke phase I am very tense, in the re-load phase I am as relaxed as I can possibly be with out going to jelly, (that is some real Ying Yang shit happening ha ha).
Putting it all together - The Water Dance
So far this all sounds rather mechanical. By keeping the arms straight, we learn how to generate most of the power from a concentrated contraction of the stomach muscles. This has 2 benefits. First, it keeps the contraction on the centre-lne, and second, it limits much of the motion to the hips. The Hips are already moving in an elipse in order to keep the paddle vertical and reload it. Pulse the contractions with your breathing, to find and maintain a sustainable rhythm.
Everything I described needs to be treated like a drill - there is no right way, there is only play. The reason I share these tools, is that water, especially the ocean can be an intense environment, personally I blame the wind, and the sun, (just kidding). If you can paddle with purpose and power you may end up saving somebody, rather than needing to be saved. So play, but please be response-able too.
On flat water, I notice racers are not circling their hips much, looks more like they are bobbing for apples, but damn they are quick. On the ocean, the water is moving me, the circle of my hips is the most critical of all the cycles of motion I described. So I need to lay down my rhythm in time with the motion of the ocean. The best way to do this is to say "Yes" to all the noise in my head, this little trick allows me to put my attention into my body. Thats when the Water starts to dance me and everything becomes beautiful and efficient.
Our minds are like super computers,(at best) that love to find meanings and solve problems, supposedly helping us to predict, control, acquire and stay safe. When the evidence of my senses differs from my opinions, (I have been known to harbor one or two) my mind gets agitated and goes to work. If I just say Yep, thats how it is right now, it forgets to annoy me for a moment and I can steal my attention back - leaving, (alas briefly) that which is non-sense and returning to my senses.
Personally I love paddling in little rain squalls. The ocean rolls my board, rain comes down to cover the sea in a zillion tiny kisses. White mist like snow blanketing shifting green dunes. I simply have to pay full attention or fall, so I wake up to a world of exquisite beauty, of course in Thailand it is all still bath-tub warm, and home is minutes away, but the sense of Aliveness is well..."mind blowing".
Thank you for you your attention, I have some small idea of how valuable it really is =8-) Craig Thompson July 2015