To become masterful at whitewater SUP (paddling with ease and grace in the midst of chaos) you have to embrace the process. This requires knowledge of both intellectual and physical skills. Focusing a portion of your training on stroke fundamentals is the take away of this article.
The following are five strokes, once mastered, will give you much more finesse and control on the river. A lake, pond or large eddy is a perfect place to practice these skills.
For the purpose of this article, we are going to define the ‘sweet spot’ of the board as the area in the middle of the board, usually near the handle. This area provides fairly even ‘trim’ which is the relation of your weight on the board fore and aft. In later articles, we will discuss moving towards the rear of the board and towards the nose, using the sweet spot as our point of reference.
1~ Forward stroke – The forward stroke is the most important stroke and propels the board straight ahead. Start with your feet about shoulder width apart, chest out and shoulders back. Stand on the sweet spot of the board. ( area in the middle of the board, usually near the handle on the deck) this will help get the trim of the board right.
With the knees bent slightly and arms hanging straight down – make sure your hands are spaced out enough on the paddle shaft for optimal pull potential (hold paddle overhead, hands spaced so elbows are at a 90 degree angle). Twist the torso leading with the hip and shoulder of your onside, make sure the shoulders and pelvis are on the same plane at the same time keep your arms firmly straight with a slight bend in the elbows. Make sure the grip hand is up at eye level and stacked vertically with the lower hand on the catch phase ( point of blade entry at the beginning of the stroke) the top hand should remain at eye level through the stroke. Using the torso muscles while keeping your arms almost totally straight pull the blade through the power phase twisting slightly as it exits the water and back to the catch phase, the top hand or grip hand should stay at eye level throughout the stroke. Make sure to always pull with the core muscles for the stroke, this will give you more power and save your shoulders from injury. Rotate the torso so your chest is pointed away from your onside at the apex of extension. Also remember, the stroke is a torso twist for the catch followed by a torso twist in reverse for the for the recovery then back to the catch phase for another stroke and so on. Grip the handle and shaft lightly , this will protect your wrists from too much torque and prevent injury. Try to make the stroke as fluid as possible, remember to use the arms to facilitate and engage the power phase via the core. The arm muscles should be used minimally when pulling the paddle through the stroke, the core is where the power comes from and good paddlers can optimize the force on the blade at the start or catch by simultaneously engaging all core muscles. Also a Duffek or draw stroke at blade entry on the catch phase will help pull the board back online, this is key to going straight on whitewater or flat water.
2~ Sweeps – Reverse sweeps and forward sweeps are turning strokes that can optimize your SUP experience. A sweep is a low shaft angle stroke with the paddle extended out to the side of the board. Sweeps turn the board by forward and reverse stroke propulsion and are very effective for turning the board in river current. The forward sweep engages the power face of the blade and the reverse sweep utilizes the back face of the blade for thrust. Make sure you are standing on the sweet spot of your board in a karate stance, feet shoulder width apart. The forward sweep will start near the tip of the board addend just past the body depending on the reverse sweep will begin near the tail. Dip the paddle in the water near the tip or tail depending on the stroke. Apply smooth constant pressure on the shaft throughout the stroke. Always point your torso and look in the direction the board is turning, this enhances the turn ability of your stroke. Step back a few inches from the sweet spot, this will adjust the trim aft and make turning the board easier.
3~ Duffek – The Duffek stroke was invented By Czech slalom paddler Milovan Duffek and is a static or foiling draw with the power face toward the front end of the board and facing the rail. The Duffek is a combination stroke using momentum to apply force for fluid turning followed by a transition to a forward stroke in one graceful motion and keeps the board online without sacrificing forward momentum. The Duffek can also be used on the recovery phase of the forward stroke for turning or keeping the board online this is done by turning the blade sideways and slicing through the water on the recovery while applying pressure to the power face.
4~ C stroke – A forward stroke that has a curving arc shaped like a inverted C. The C stroke starts like a forward draw stroke but a foot farther out from the rail of the board. The paddle moves through a continuos arc or “C” under the board and ending at the body. The stroke is used for quick turns and accelerating from a standstill while also turning the board. Step back a few inches from the sweet spot for quicker turns.
5~ C stroke into a reverse sweep – A reverse sweep added onto the end of a c stroke. It becomes a fluid extension of the c stroke and terminates back to the catch phase, this sets you up for another forward stroke. Its a great stroke to keep the board turning if need be. Remember always look in the direction the board is turning, step back a few inches from the sweet spot so the tip comes out of the water to make the board turn faster.