High performance whitewater SUP paddling

exiting wave using Bernoulli effect

Exiting wave using Bernoulli/wing effect

With the thousands of SUP enthusiasts globally and SUPs going everywhere and anywhere there is water…how could there be anything new and challenging in the SUP sport? I’m here to tell you there is another level of performance waiting to be explored. My SUP style is heavily influenced by my whitewater history as a squirt boating pioneer, slalom racer, and  freestyle world champion. A paddling experience that left me with a thirst for the third dimension

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going around the flagpole and back into the flow

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elevating the bow shortens the water line and makes for sharp turns and pivots

I’ve explored a new and different way of SUP paddling that relies on forward momentum strokes, like the Duffek, as well as using the board as a foil to help pivot, with the bow elevated in a very small space. This allows quick, accelerating turns and dynamic, pivoting peel outs. An edgy, low volume board is essential to the synergy of rail and current meshing. This can push you to balancing on the knife edge of control. This edge of performance is where things evolve. It’s the realm where new possibilities are realized…and it sure is fun to play with.The Bounce SUP 10’6 is my board of choice for whitewater play. I’m 5’10” and 150 lbs and it feels like just the right size. It’s edgy and tracks well while its classic longboard shape lends itself to fast hull speed~ the hard rails make carving easy. The Bounce SUP 10’6 has a  low volume wing-like shape design that  lends itself to slalom boat  performance characteristics and suits my style of SUP paddling…..also important: The TCT construction  can take a hit from a rock — check out their VIDEO to learn more about it.  

I prefer a four inch rubber fin which gives when it contacts rocks AND is less drag when sinking the tail. I use Werner paddles exclusively because their superior performance and durability. The paddles are light, virtually indestructible, feel great in hand, and have optimal stroke purchase. To do a pivot with control you sink the tail by forcing it under slightly with a bit of tilt and  using the board momentarily as a wing~ which elevates the tip of the board out of the water. The impact with the outer rear rail and the currents pushes the tail under magically cutting the waterline in half and making the board pivot like a dream.

Whitewater slalom racers use this technique to turn without killing forward hull speed and I’ve adapted these techniques to SUP. Slalom racing requires dynamic technique using infinite variables and unbending intent. These qualities will serve you well if you intend to enter the third dimension with your board.

Just SUPing whitewater is hectic and unforgiving. Constantly reading the water and adjusting your edges is essential. Drive your board forward with attention to avoiding tripping over your outside edge. Center your weight over the “sweet spot” of the board. Read the water intently and adjust to avoid getting ‘clipped’ by the intricacies of turbulent flows and tilt the board with your feet to keep the inside edge engaged and providing forgiveness in all your encounters. Look where the board is going and not down at your feet to keep your balance right. Look for “future water” and currents to tap into which will take you where you want to go. Use what is already there and don’t try to muscle the moves, grab future water and hold it while moving thru the catch phase. Its like sailing and the paddle is the sail… and remember always looking in the direction the board is heading. Just like in squirt boating- you have to point your chin the right way. Board, paddle and rider become one with the power of water~harnessing it while melding with it.

The better the board is tracking through the water the more stable it will be. Hull speed equals downstream board stability. It also helps to time your strokes to grab the backs of waves. The river is moving faster on the downstream side of the wave than on the face and you can get more pull that way with less effort. A good analogy for a proper forward stroke is to envision the blade being stuck in cement and you are pulling the board and body to that point instead of pulling the paddle and blade to the body.

Frequent and regular flatwater forward stroke practice sessions are how I train to optimize my forward stroke power and efficiency. When done right, a deliberate pivot turn can tie all this together and make you a better whitewater paddler. The essential Duffek/draw stroke provides power as well as a point to pivot around. I use wing effects (a slight angle of attack towards underwater) to get the tail to drop instead of trying to force it down with body weight.The water flowing into the rail is like air passing swiftly over a wing and lifting, or in this case ‘downward lift’. You can pivot the board to change directions in mid-current, peel out, and accomplish complicated squirt moves such as splats and smears. Yeah- you see the bow lift up and pivot around through the air- but all the action is really in the tail control.

..Load up the pivot and exit back into the flow

Load up the pivot and exit back into the flow

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coming in hot!

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engage the wing and fly!

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the steeper the pivot angle, the quicker the turn

lean up stream on the ferry and engage the rear rail and pivot. the board is the wing and the water flow provides the lift

lean up stream on the ferry and engage the rear rail and pivot. the board is the wing and the water flow provides the lift

EXPERTS TIPS: Enter the eddy with board tracking and plenty of forward momentum. Center your body weight on the sweet spot of the board, step back slightly, with your angle of entry into the eddy sweeping in broadly. An open downstream ferry angle works best for me and puts the board in the right place for the load up to the critical dynamic pivoting exit.

USE YOUR legs and feet to control the edges. It’s important to keep the leading edge from catching too much and spoiling the move. Keep your weight centered over the board while it’s tilt is adjusted. Foot placement is key. I like to use the kung fu stance or staggered stance (feet just slightly wider than your shoulders and knees slightly bent) and the classic surf stance. I move fore and aft on the board as needed for proper weight distribution during the pitch and yaw of the board encountering intricacies of whitewater flow. But, I may also stay in the same place on the board and use my front foot for the gas and back for the brake. Because your body weight needs to be towards the back of the board for the pivot, the lighter paddler will benefit from moving further back for the moment of impact and a heavier rider will not have to step back as much. Squirt boaters think of this as ‘loading the rail’. After the pivot, remember to move slightly forward on the board to flatten the hull and make the board track again. You need to

USE YOUR PADDLE to power the move and for balance. To learn to time your strokes for when you really need them, practice coming in and out of small but powerful eddies. Learn to carry the speed of the board throughout the turn via the power of your Duffek, edging and body weight placement.

LEAN FORWARD on the front foot to help carry momentum when exiting a pivot turn. Be ready for the board to respond like a wet bar of soap shooting out of your hand when squeezed. The board will surge forward and you need to be ready for that thrust. Also, when paddling downstream body weight needs to be more foreword so the board tracks properly.

Always remember the BOARD SHOULD ENTER THE EDDY ON THE INSIDE (upstream) RAIL~ then briefly flatten out and transition to loading the outside rail. When done correctly its like running and grabbing a flagpole then swinging around the pole before letting go. Combined with the soap effect, you will propel the board into the future water~ and~ future FUN! Remember , the Duffek stroke facilitates all of this, learn to be proficient with it and you are almost there.

Soooo~ how do you do your first pivot turn? Practice on flat water first. Paddle forward letting the board gain speed and momentum~ about 10 strokes should do it. Make sure your feet are spaced properly but step back about a foot (heavier riders will not have to step back as far). With the board tracking use a bow draw or a Duffek on the inside of the turn WHILE LOOKING IN THE DIRECTION YOU WANT TO TRAVEL- NOT down at the board or rails. Engage the outside back rail by pushing down on the brake foot and simultaneously tilting the board sliiiightly to the outside (maybe just 5 degrees of tilt) . This will load the rail exactly as much as you want (with some practice).

DRAW HARD with the Duffek keeping the body and torso pointed in the direction the board is going. Then, it helps to pull the Duffek/draw into a c-stroke, this turns the board and puts the blade in position to do another Duffek/draw or a forward stroke. A C-stroke is a C-shaped forward stroke that goes under the board slightly during the pivot. It’s a good stroke to use when you want to keep the arc of the pivot moving. Use the front foot or gas foot to press the front of the board back down and gain hull speed and as a counter balance during a pivot. Zoom into your amazing future from there.

A SHORTER PADDLE will make quick turning strokes easier. Look for something about 8 inches over your height. And finally, be ready for future games. Just because you did something awesome doesn’t mean there isn’t more awesomeness in your immediate future. Have a plan.


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