Getting on the Water
Paddling for the first time:
Be prepared to swim a lot!
And don't worry about it. All first-time paddlers swim and remember - any paddlers laughing at you have been there before; and non-paddlers don't count!
Paddling is easier of course on flat water; you might want to start on a lake or river. Just bear in mind though that waves are FUN and your ultimate goal is to paddle on the sea.
The best way to start is to sit with your legs dangling over the side of the ski.
It doesn't look elegant, but it's a lot easier and you'll stay upright.
Take short strokes and don't pull the paddle back past your body. Keep your head still and keep your eyes on the front of your ski.
When you've mastered the basics:
After a while you can try bringing your feet into the boat; now you'll be able to steer using the foot pedals and you'll go a lot faster. You'll probably fall out a lot too but persist, you're making progress! You'll want to take longer strokes with your paddle by reaching further forward. But don't forget: don't pull the paddle back past your body. You'll lose balance and pull yourself into the water. To improve your stroke still further, as you put the blade into the water your forward arm must be straight, locked at the elbow.
Time to become an expert:
Now you're really making progress and you can start to involve the rest of your body in the paddling stroke. The secret is that your arms don't do the work. Your back and abdominal muscles are the ones to carry the load. The way to achieve this is by rotating your abdomen as you pull the paddle back, using your leg to brace yourself by thrusting your paddle-side foot into the footwell. You should feel your abs and your back muscles working if you're doing it properly.
A word about "bracing"...
"Bracing" means using your paddle to stay upright by pushing it against the surface of the water. A detailed discussion of high and low braces is beyond the scope of this guide, but you need to know that your paddle is your friend when it comes to staying upright. Never let it go!
Pushing the Envelope
To me, Surf Ski is all about wind and waves.
There is nothing like the thrill of a big downwind run, the bumping, crashing, spray-filled rush of surfing down wave after wave... But you'll never get there if you restrict yourself to "fair weather" paddling. You have to push the envelope - go out when there are waves, go out into the wind (never the wind - read the article on safety). Be sensible - but push the envelope; test yourself and your capabilities and the rewards will come in the form of greater proficiency - and much more fun.
Getting Back onto the Ski in Deep Water
There are two ways of getting back onto a surf ski: the "straddle" method and the "side-saddle" method. It's strongly recommended that you practise both.
The Straddle Method
The straddle method is recommended for most situations as it's the quickest and you often want to be paddling again as soon as possible (when for example you find yourself in the middle of the break zone in front of an oncoming set of waves!). It goes something like this:
- If the ski is broadside to the waves, turn it so that it's pointing upwind or downwind i.e. into or away from the waves…
- Put the paddle across the ski; hold the paddle and the foot strap closest to you with the same hand; the hand closest to the front of the ski.
- Position your other hand on the other side of the seat, holding the other side of the ski.
- Launch yourself out of the water so that you're face down with your chest around the area of the foot straps.
- Swing one leg over the ski.
- Grip either side of the ski with your hands and lift your body up - your backside slips into the seat; your feet are still over the side; your paddle is in your hands and you're ready to get cracking.
The Side-saddle Method
With some skis and in some situations (like a combination of rough seas and strong wind) it can be easier to use the side-saddle method which goes like this:
- Let the ski go broadside to the wind.
- Get on the windward side of it (i.e. you want to be upwind of the ski).
- Holding the sides of the ski, hoist and swivel yourself so that your backside lands in the seat; both your legs are still over the windward side of the cockpit, with the ski sitting tilted over at about 45 degrees. The situation is stable and you can sit there quite happily with the ski "sailing" downwind.
- Now lift your leeward (i.e. furthest away from the wind) leg into place on the rudder pedal; your windward leg is still over the side. You can hold the paddle asymmetrically so that most of it is being dragged along the surface on the windward side, aiding stability.
- Finally shift your backside so that the ski comes upright, lift your other leg in, and off you go.
For a good discussion of paddling technique, click here.