Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Best Technique Tip for SUP Downwinders

I know this guy named Drew Testwuide, he's become a friend over the past year or so.  Drew is the Captain of the Barbary Ghost which just happens to be the best SUP downwinder support boat on San Francisco Bay.  I'll write more about how this works in another post.  For now, just know that boat supported downwinder trips are dakine.

I feel very fortunate that I'm able to assist Drew with a few of these trips.  In addition to wrangling boards to a from the boat (often in high winds and from pitching deck), I serve as another set of eyes on the water, and even can offer some advice and coaching to first-timers.  Over the past couple of trips, I've tried to think of a tip or two that I can give people on land before getting on the boat or getting in the water.  Many of you may disagree with me here but I consider downwinding to be the top of the pyramid in the SUP world.  Other aspects of the sport merely prepare you for downwinding.  Combine the aerobic and anaerobic training components from racing, the board trimming and wave riding from surfing, the paddle finesse and bracing from whitewater, and the forecasting and trip planning from touring and you have downwinding my friend.  All roads lead to surfing whitecaps.

Okay, on to the tip; the fabulous Nose Draw into Forward Stroke.  First the why.  During a downwind run, we are usually in an off-set or a full surfing stance.  For me, that means I have the best control and most power while paddling on my right side because I am regular footed.  What happens when I paddle on my right side?  You guessed it, the boards wants to go to the left.  In a parallel stance, no big deal, I just switch sides and paddle on the left a few times before switching back to my right.  Not quite as easy on a downwinder.  In an off-set stance or full surf stance, I'm not going to have much power on my left side, that's number one.  Number two is, I'm going to slow down a lot during the transition to the opposite side.  Number three is that I have a really good chance of falling when the paddle is out of the water.  So how can we get lots of strong powerful strokes and braces on our dominant side?  You guessed it.  The nose draw into forward stroke.

How does it work?  Remember, If I am paddling on my right side, my board wants to go left so to counteract this movement, I need to pull the board to the right and that's where the nose-draw  portion of the stroke comes into play.  The nose draw pulls the nose to the right just seconds before the forward stroke pushes the board to the left (slightly).  They work together to keep me going (more or less) straight.  Beautiful huh?  This is considered a "blended stroke" where we combine two distinct strokes into one fluid movement.  Now, on my powerful right side, I stand way back at the tail, utilize my blended stroke to maintain speed and heading.  Nice!  When I get lucky and catch a little bump I can use a hanging low brace on the right side for stability (that's a bonus tip, no extra charge).

To help visualize this blended stroke imagine a lazy "r" connected to the rail of your board (on the right side).  The bottom of the "r" is where you are standing, while the top of the "r" is where you begin your catch. Now take your paddle and trace the "r" using the power face of your blade.  Look at the diagram below.  Try to mix some nose draws (alone) into your paddling to correct your heading.   Once you feel comfortable, start incorporating a little nose draw into your forward stroke from time to time.  See if you like it.  Remember, it doesn't have to be dramatic, sometimes just a little pull is all you need.  I hope this helps you have more success, and more fun on the water.  

Nose draw into forward stroke on the right side in off-set stance.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Downwind Fin Review - (COMING SOON!)

Over the past couple of years I've been trying a few different fins on my Angulo Shaka XLT.  I have finally found one that I'm going to keep on there for a while.  The right fin can make a huge difference in the way your board feels and performs.  Fin design is all about acceptable compromises between stability, performance, and speed.  It's also a little bit of a black art: one part science, one part anecdote, one part looks, and one part personal feel.  Granted, my review won't be very scientific, but hopefully it will give you a place to start if you are looking for a good fin for downwind conditions.  I might do it as a video so I don't have to type so much!  Stay tuned!

I will be reviewing the following SUP fins:
  • Larry Allison (Fibre Glass Fin Co.) Ninja
  • Larry Allison (Fibre Glass Fin Co.) Gladiator
  • C4 Downwind - Todd Bradley Signature
  • Futures - CA Downwind

Thursday, April 10, 2014

SUP Paddle Shaft to Blade Offset Angle

I enjoy being a part-time SUP instructor.  I feel honored to be able to introduce this sport to people when teaching for Blue Waters Kayaking on Tomales Bay or California Canoe & Kayak on the Oakland Estuary.  The people that stick with the sport will always remember me as the guy who gave them their first lesson just like I remember the guy that gave me my first lesson at Outside Hilton Head about 5 years ago.  

During my lessons, I like to do a little introduction on the beach.  I briefly talk about gear before moving on to what we are going to go and where we are going.  I spend most of the time talking about the paddle, the parts, the length, how to switch sides, etc.  I make sure to show them that the paddle blade is offset from the paddle shaft.  I tell them that this offset helps them pull the paddle from the water to begin the next stroke.  Normally, that is enough.  The point I want to get across to them is that during the lesson, they are going to have their paddle facing backwards!  Oh the horror and embarrassment!  

There's only so much data a person can process while standing on the beach anxiously awaiting their first lesson so I try to keep it brief.  In my head though, there are thoughts of keeping the blade vertical for a longer period of time during the power phase, increased reach, and improved caster, and less board heave.  If I'm not careful, I then start thinking about how my paddles have different offset angles and what that means which leads to thinking about the new Werner Stinger that I tried last weekend with a measly 7 degree offset and why that would be advantageous for whitewater paddling.  I'm slowly learning to keep my mouth shut and to move on with the lesson and not rattle off why the Werner Stinger has 7 degrees, my Werner Nitro and Spanker have 12 degrees, and my KeNalu Molokai has 9 to 6 to 3 (at the tip) degree offset and why I like the Nitro for surfing but it's not because of the angle, it's because of the blade shape and size as compared to the larger and fatter Spanker which looks similar to the KeNalu but I like the KeNalu better for downwinding because it seems to flex a little bit more because of the smaller diameter shaft and how much I like the lighter weight and the way the non-power face of the blade helps me brace blah blah blah.  At this point in their life, they DO NOT CARE ABOUT THAT! 

I can't help but think though, why ARE these paddles "bent".  Where did it come from?  I found a really good article on the Mad River Canoe website that explains all of this a lot more.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

SUP Downwinder Tips and Checklist

Downwind paddling is exciting, challenging, rewarding, and incredibly fun.   However, as the excitement factor increases, so do the risks.  Luckily, we have the ability to mitigate most of these risks if we prepare ourselves physically and mentally, obtain advanced training, adhere to safe boating practices, learn about the "four Ws" (Wind, Water, Waves, Weather), have a plan, and always paddle in conditions and venues that match our abilities and experience.  Here are some tips to help you have a fun, safe downwind trip:

1. Maintain good mental and physical fitness.  Downwinding takes a lot of energy, be prepared to work hard. Never paddle under the influence. Seek additional training and continue to refine your skills.

2. Be a weather "expert" and learn how the weather affects conditions in your area and how these conditions may change (sometimes rapidly) throughout the day.  Learn to use online resources for wind and weather forecasts.  Obtain information from various sources (NOAA Marine Forecasts, Buoy Data from multiple locations, etc.) as data points to help paint a picture of what the conditions will be like when you arrive.  Listen to marine weather forecasts and current conditions on your VHF radio.  Do you know what a "Small Craft Advisory" means?  Do you know how "winds 15 knots" vs. "winds gusting to 30 knots" affects your ability put-in, paddle, and take-out safely?

3. Gain some familiarity with the venue by going with someone who has experience there.  Consider how the tides can affect both the water conditions and the put-in/take-out locations.  Have a bail-out plan along with optional put-ins and take-outs.

4. Study nautical charts of the area.  Learn how to find respite from the wind.  Learn the navigational rules of road.

5. Keep your equipment in good working order.  Make sure you are dressed appropriately for the conditions and always prepare for immersion.  Prepare for wind chill.  Check your fin periodically, make sure it is secure.  If your leash is damaged, replace it.  Replace your leash cord (piece that connects your leash to your board) every so often.  Bring adequate food (gels work great for me), water, and sunscreen.  Carry a cell phone in a waterproof case and carry a VHF (marine radio).  Learn proper radio procedure and etiquette.  Consider carrying a tow rig and practice using it in rough conditions.

Wear a PFD on your body, not on your board!  A PFD provides buoyancy, thermal protection, impact protection, and most have pockets for storage (sunscreen, gels, radio, etc.). Many have reflective panels or piping. This is an essential piece of gear and is a Coast Guard requirement.  Learn how to fit it properly.  Have a whistle easily accessible.  This can serve as your Coast Guard required signaling device.

6. Listen to, and respect the advice of more experience paddlers or instructors.  Paddlers of other crafts (like kayaks, surf skis, and outrigger canoes) can make great guides, coaches and mentors.  Take advantage of their local knowledge and ability to read the water.  Reach out to fishermen and locals as a valuable source of information.

7. Go with a buddy and practice communication through hand/paddle signals and radio.  Talk about what to do if separated or in case of emergency.  Leave a float plan with someone and also leave a copy with your vehicle.

8.  Make your final "go or no go" decision based on your data points, the recommendation of your guide/instructor, your on-site observation of the conditions, and an honest assessment of your skills.  Experience creates confidence. Challenge yourself but trust your instincts. If it is too big, too rough, or if you don't feel right about it, don't go. Go have a beer instead and live to fight another day.

SUP Downwinder Checklist:

  •        Check weather, marine forecasts, and tide tables before you leave
  •        Create a float plan and a bail-out plan
  •        Soft Gear List:   thermal protection for your body (wetsuit), PFD,  sun protection (hat, sunscreen), footwear, water, food, container of warm water and a change of clothes left at the take-out
  •        Hard Gear List:  Board, paddle, leash, cell phone, VHF radio, cam straps (several in longer lengths for stacking multiple boards).  Make sure cars at the take-outs have straps.
  •        If your car is at the take-out, make sure you have your keys!
  •        Final “go or no go” decision for each participant.  This type of paddling requires a commitment to the journey.  Paddling upwind back to the put-in can be difficult or impossible.
  •        Safety talk - ABCD:  Area (distance, hazards, etc.) Boards (gear and clothing), Communication (hand and paddle signals, radios), Doctor (any medical conditions or concerns)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Favorite Piece of Gear - NRS Hydroskin Review

This past weekend, I went on a really fun paddle down Walker Creek and Tomales Bay with a friend of mine (Matt P who also has a blog).  We were talking about how we need to be more active with our blogs and started talking about ideas for a blog post.  I immediately thought of a "favorite piece of gear" post.  The moment I thought of that, I knew that I would have write a little about my beloved NRS HydroSkin shirt.  This is my favorite piece of gear.  Why is it my favorite?  Keep reading.

When I first started getting into SUP, I knew I would have to get a wetsuit.  In the bay area, the water rarely gets over 60 degrees.  For most of the year, it's in the low 50s.  This means, you have to have a wetsuit if you are going to spend any time in the water.  My first suit was a farmer john style that I picked from the boys down at  Clavey.  The suit by itself was not quite enough, so I got the HydroSskin shirt to go with it (also from Clavey).  I figured this would give me the most versatility for the least amount of money.  Here's what usually works for me:

  • Cold Day/Cold Water = Wetsuit and HydroSkin
  • Warm Day/Cold Water = Wetsuit and rash guard
  • Warm Day/Warm Water = Hydroskin and board shorts
I have used this shirt while touring, teaching, surfing, downwinding, racing, even snorkeling in Hawaii.  When I'm not wearing it, I usually keep it in my drybag in case I need it.  It is compressable, and doesn't take up much room.  Last Spring, after reaching the end of my run, I gave my wife a call for a pick up and within minutes, the temperature started to drop as the sun went down behind Inverness Ridge.  I was tired, wet, and hungry and started to shiver.  I reached in my bag, ate a Cliff Bar and put on my HydroSkin.  I warmed right up.  I had to wait an hour or so for my wife.  I was happy to have that very dry and very warm shirt!  It's only .5mm but feels a lot warmer than that due to the construction.  Go to the NRS site to learn more about this amazing material.

I like Pros and Cons lists, so here goes:

  • Simple - It's just a shirt.  No zipper, no pockets, no weird collar, no buttons, nothing to snagged or caught.
  • Versatile - Wear it with farmer john, or by itself.  Wear as an outer layer or as a thermal layer under a rain jacket or paddling jacket.  Great sun protection too.  
  • Packable - It's a lot of warmth in small package.  Roll it up and put in a drybag or in your cockpit.
  • Warm - It's warmer than you would think.  The neoprene is only .5mm but it's as warm as 2mm in my opinion.
  • Flexible - stretchy and fits well.  I am 6'5" 235 and the XXL fits me perfectly. The neck is great, it does a good job of keeping water from flushing but is not too restrictive. See the pictures below.
  • Outer Skin Texture - Slick but not grabby like neoprene.  Allows easy entry into my pull-over PFD.  Never had any chafing or blistering. The texture of this material allows my PFD to "float" over it.  It's almost like they were made to work together.  My PFD is an Astral Greenjacket, btw.
  • Value - Even at full price ($95), this piece of clothing is a great value.  Often, you can find the long sleeve version on sale for about $60.  
  • Flushing - If you wear it for surfing and you fall often like I do, you will get water up this shirt.  It is a shirt after all.
  • Stays Wet - This thing takes forever to dry.  If planning another session for later in the day or first thing the next morning, get two shirts so you always have a dry one.  
  • Honestly can't think of anything else to say.
So yes, the NRS HydroSkin shirt is my favorite piece of gear, EVER.  There, I said it!  NRS is having a sale right now so I might buy myself a Christmas present.  Oh, I'm not affiliated with NRS in any way and I get no discounts or special considerations from them.  I pay full price or look for sales like everyone else.  I have the blue and gray already, but I like the red and gray too.  Get one.

BAM! - My favorite piece of the gear, the NRS HydroSkin shirt.

Holds up to abuse.  No torn seams or holes.  The center piece of fabric in the collar is very thin and flexible.

Form fitting but not too tight and offers good sun protection.

As you can see here, extremely flexible, more than any wetsuit.

You can see texture of the inside, comfortable, not itchy.

Here is the main material.  I am using my LED flashlight to try to show the thickness of this material.

Here is the thin material (HydroSilk?) under the arm to add in comfort and flexibility.