× Tips and techniques for getting the most out of surfskiing.

Paddle Faster

2 years 4 months ago - 2 years 4 months ago #26538 by photofr
Paddle Faster was created by photofr
For the last couple of months, I have done a lot of ski demos and placed a sheer number of people on different skis. The common denominator is that paddlers want to be faster.

There are tons of things you can do (right now) to become a faster paddler, including purchasing a new ski - but perhaps for different reasons than you think.

NEW SKI
Let’s face it: new skis are tons of fun, and just thinking about unwrapping your new ski will yield a smile.

In an ideal world, your new ski will prove to be faster with a robot on it, as well as with you on it. If your ski is more than 5 years old, chances are that you can easily find a new model that will be just as stable, yet faster for the conditions you paddle in. Now, don’t just run to the nearest store: continue reading!

In the worst case scenario, you replace your ski with a ski that’s just not stable enough for you. Here’s what happens next: your paddling technique deteriorates, you lose efficiency, as well as endurance. Ultimately, you lose speed. You also take the risk of not being able to paddle as often (too rough, you are now grounded on the tippy ski). When you paddle less, you risk becoming slower. This worst case scenario is probably the most common error that I see happening all the time.

It’s been said before: stability before speed. What about a bit of a challenge then?
Hands down, you must have a stable ski if you want to go faster. After all, a stable-enough ski allows you to apply your newly acquired powerful paddling technique. I do however recommend, for those who can afford it, to challenge yourselves with a tippy ski – at least from time to time. So in that case, getting a tippy ski as an additional ski could make sense, and ultimately could make you more comfortable in rough water (on a more stable ski).

As you probably notice, the key is to find the right balance, and there’s a fine line for mistakes. The ultimate is to find a new surfski that will only be slightly tippier. Your new ski should be comfortable to paddle, and should excel with YOU ON IT in the conditions that are ultimate for you in the near future. Lucky for you, this is 2016, and there are now 100’s of models available that are deemed “quite stable” for an Intermediate ski, or “quite stable” for an elite ski.

TECHNIQUE
You did say that you wanted to be faster, right?
Let me try to simplify things a bit: a faster ski will improve your speed by about 0.3 km/h (if you are very lucky). In a matter of weeks, and about 20 hours of hard work, you can improve your speed by about 1.2 km/h with better technique.

I know this because of experience, where most instructors can take an intermediate paddler, place him or her in the right ski and make them faster with better technique. Just so you know, there’s a lot more than just videos on paddling strokes to make you faster on the water, and that’s part of what I consider “technique”.

Make no mistakes about it though: It all starts with having a ski stable enough.

COMFORT
Comfort is another tricky one. What’s comfortable for me might seem torture to you. As a general rule, take your comfort to a new level by finding the following ultimate ski:
A stable enough ski (as mentioned) – so that you can apply technique and strength.
A comfortable bucket area and sitting position (pad it if needed) – for more efficiency.
A narrow catch area – this one cannot be modified, so be sure you aim right.
A light enough ski – pure enjoyment, and the more fun you have, the more often you will paddle.
Very reactive ski – if you just want to go straight, perhaps a flat water K1 is your ticket. For everything else that has to do with surfski paddling, you want a very responsive ski that will bring smiles in open water.

PADDLE
Review your paddle. All of your technique and power is transferred directly to your paddle. It has to be “just right for you”.

Your blade might be too soft, or the wrong shape, your shaft might be too stiff, but more often than not, your blade surface may even be too large. There’s no need to destroy your shoulders while on a surfski, so be sure that your shaft isn’t set too long either.

The right paddle choices for YOU will yield more efficiency, and more speed.

CLOTHING
You want to be safe out there, but instead of donning that 7mm scuba diving wetsuit, you may want to look at alternatives. Ideally, you should have as much freedom of movement as possible, especially around the shoulders and waist area.

STATE OF MIND
This one plays a huge role in your speed. Try your favorite 15 km loop with a positive attitude and a smile, then try the same 15 km loop with nothing but negative thoughts. See the difference, because I can’t totally explain that one. In a nutshell, you want to have a positive attitude while on the water; calm and relaxed at all times. Bring some “Aloha” into your paddling.


I am certain that there are many more ways to improve your speed on a surfski. Share some of your experience, because nothing is too small when it comes to making a slight improvement in speed.

Here's a good example:
The woman in the picture has been paddling kayaks for about 20 years. In 2014, she got herself a surfski that's too tippy for her. Since then, she's only paddled some 50 or 60 km (TOTAL). Now look at that smile as she is on the water with her husband! She simply on a more stable ski, able to apply her technique.

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Ludovic
(Brittany, France)
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2 years 4 months ago #26546 by Aurelius
Replied by Aurelius on topic Paddle Faster
For the benefit of those of us relatively new to the world of surf skis, how stable should one be on it before even thinking of going to a faster ski? Are there any benchmarks to aim for? I started with a Mako XT which was an absolute nightmare at first. It took me about two weeks of practice before I felt confident enough to take it into the middle of the lake without fear of falling over. A few weeks more, and I could stay upright in waves without having to brace, and by then the fear of going for an unplanned swim had become a distant memory. Would that have been the time to try a faster ski?

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2 years 4 months ago #26547 by photofr
Replied by photofr on topic Paddle Faster
I don't mean to laugh, but know that we pretty much all went through that exact thing with stability.

At the stage where the "unplanned swim is becoming a distant memory", you are then ready to REALLY work on your paddling stroke. Ideally, you'd 3 to 12 months working at it and try to refine it well. Watch speed increase almost every other day. Get an instructor, a mirror, or at least a video of you paddling.

Raise your seat on flat water, then raise it in windy conditions, and finally raise it as well on your super rough conditions and see how that goes for you. Keep layering your seat pads: it will get you ready for the next level ski, and will promote stronger paddling from a higher "standing" point.

The fact is raising your seat significantly could also mean that you can skip a step: for instance, you are using an XT (great ski BTW) and then instead of moving to a Swordfish next season, you could move straight into an Elite S in two seasons. If however money isn't too tight, you can start thinking about the Swordfish.

There's no true science to this... just don't rush it as much as you'd think.

Here are hints to help:
It's only water. Learn to brace better, and force yourself to remount more often.

The "benchmark" to look for? Are you SUPER comfortable on your current ski in any conditions? If not, there are still plenty to learn on THIS ski.

Ludovic
(Brittany, France)
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2 years 4 months ago #26588 by Aurelius
Replied by Aurelius on topic Paddle Faster
Here's another question that may be relevant to those relatively new to the sport, and who own more than one ski. The question is, will training on a ski that's easy to paddle possibly HURT your progress on a ski that demands a higher skill level to paddle well?

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2 years 4 months ago #26591 by red_pepper
Replied by red_pepper on topic Paddle Faster

Aurelius wrote: Here's another question that may be relevant to those relatively new to the sport, and who own more than one ski. The question is, will training on a ski that's easy to paddle possibly HURT your progress on a ski that demands a higher skill level to paddle well?


It's good to have a ski you're really comfortable paddling and a ski that pushes your boundaries. It's true that you can get sloppy in your technique if you only paddle a stable boat, but if you get into a boat beyond your abilities you'll screw up your stroke and develop habits that are hard to overcome. Having a stable boat allows you to work on solid technique, while a challenging boat will both push your balance skills and show you weaknesses in your technique.

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2 years 4 months ago #26595 by Aurelius
Replied by Aurelius on topic Paddle Faster

red_pepper wrote:

Aurelius wrote: Here's another question that may be relevant to those relatively new to the sport, and who own more than one ski. The question is, will training on a ski that's easy to paddle possibly HURT your progress on a ski that demands a higher skill level to paddle well?


It's good to have a ski you're really comfortable paddling and a ski that pushes your boundaries. It's true that you can get sloppy in your technique if you only paddle a stable boat, but if you get into a boat beyond your abilities you'll screw up your stroke and develop habits that are hard to overcome. Having a stable boat allows you to work on solid technique, while a challenging boat will both push your balance skills and show you weaknesses in your technique.


I was curious because I have both an Epic V7 and a Stellar SR. I probably spend 80% of the time in the V7, which is so stable that I don't really have to think about balancing it. The SR is faster, but more demanding at slow speeds or when executing turns, where it's relative lack of stability is most pronounced. In the V7, my top speed is limited only by muscle power, but on the SR it's limited by my ability to keep the boat balanced. I'd estimate that if I were as comfortable in the SR as I am in the V7, my top speed would probably increase by .5 mph.

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2 years 4 months ago #26598 by red_pepper
Replied by red_pepper on topic Paddle Faster
The SR is friendly enough that I suspect you'll grow into it quickly if you focus on it for a few months. And yes, you would probably see a significant speed increase over the V7. You may want to change your boat ratio to more like 50/50, or perhaps even a higher percentage of time in the SR. When you're in the V7, focus heavily on your technique; you may even want to start padding your seat to raise your CG and make the boat less stable, so you'll gradually get used to a less stable boat and make the transition easier.

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2 years 4 months ago #26602 by ShaneS
Replied by ShaneS on topic Paddle Faster
Its a good point you raise about being unsettled in the SR when turning. I'm not sure what it is with the SR but mine feels less stable when turning than my tippier Fenn skis - its as if the ski is pivoting around the bow instead of an axis at the cockpit which makes the turn feel strange, feels more like a slide than a turn. On a wave face in daylight not so much, but on the flat on those dark morning paddles, or when you get those glassy reflections that make it hard to focus on the water, it can somehow be disconcerting. I recommend doing plenty of figure eight drills and forcing yourself to paddle through turns instead of gliding around, to grow accustomed to the feel.

Fenn Swordfish S Carbon Hybrid - 2016
Fenn Elite S Carbon - 2016
Stellar SR Excel - 2015
Cobra Expedition - 2013

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2 years 4 months ago #26604 by photofr
Replied by photofr on topic Paddle Faster
TRY changing / replacing your rudder as that might make your turns so much smoother. That may help as well on the flats (faster straight line, and removing the jerkiness when turning on flats).

ShaneS wrote: Its a good point you raise about being unsettled in the SR when turning. I'm not sure what it is with the SR but mine feels less stable when turning than my tippier Fenn skis - its as if the ski is pivoting around the bow instead of an axis at the cockpit which makes the turn feel strange, feels more like a slide than a turn. On a wave face in daylight not so much, but on the flat on those dark morning paddles, or when you get those glassy reflections that make it hard to focus on the water, it can somehow be disconcerting. I recommend doing plenty of figure eight drills and forcing yourself to paddle through turns instead of gliding around, to grow accustomed to the feel.


Ludovic
(Brittany, France)
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2 years 4 months ago #26605 by Aurelius
Replied by Aurelius on topic Paddle Faster

ShaneS wrote: Its a good point you raise about being unsettled in the SR when turning. I'm not sure what it is with the SR but mine feels less stable when turning than my tippier Fenn skis - its as if the ski is pivoting around the bow instead of an axis at the cockpit which makes the turn feel strange, feels more like a slide than a turn. On a wave face in daylight not so much, but on the flat on those dark morning paddles, or when you get those glassy reflections that make it hard to focus on the water, it can somehow be disconcerting. I recommend doing plenty of figure eight drills and forcing yourself to paddle through turns instead of gliding around, to grow accustomed to the feel.


The reason I mentioned feeling less stable in turns is only because turning happens at relatively slow speeds. When my speed drops, the boat feels less stable. I currently have a 4" rudder on my SR, so it doesn't turn nearly as tightly as my V7, with its much large rudder. It does feel a bit like the SR is sliding through the turns, but I assumed this was normal for all watercraft. The V7 does it as well, but to a lesser degree.

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2 years 4 months ago #26612 by Aurelius
Replied by Aurelius on topic Paddle Faster
Here's a great video I found illustrating the art of proper paddling in a surf ski. The relevant section of the video starts at 5:20 and ends at 9:12.



Two things I can see right away that I'm doing differently is not rotating my torso as much, and pushing the paddle too far toward the rear of the boat before lifting it out of the water. The video shows the paddler ending the stroke at roughly the point where his hand reaches his knee, whereas in my case, my hand travels all the way back to my hip.

So unless someone can spot something wrong with the technique demonstrated in the video, I'll try to duplicate it in my own practice sessions.

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2 years 4 months ago #26618 by ShaneS
Replied by ShaneS on topic Paddle Faster
Unfortunately Stellar skis are sluggish turners at the best of times - I suspect because the design focus is based on typical North American conditions - flat water, lakes or bay chop rather than ocean swells, and mainly straight running rather than downwind wave hopping. I say this based on owning a 2nd gen SR but also from trialling others from across the range.

They are a nicely finished boat but I have found mine in the Excel layup is fragile (stress cracks and hull dents) and and not as good as others in the ocean when you want to manoeuvre across wave faces. I'm not saying they're bad - just not as good....

Fenn Swordfish S Carbon Hybrid - 2016
Fenn Elite S Carbon - 2016
Stellar SR Excel - 2015
Cobra Expedition - 2013

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2 years 4 months ago #26620 by red_pepper
Replied by red_pepper on topic Paddle Faster
I haven't paddled a Fenn, but my Stellars seemed to turn as well as or better than some of the other brands I've owned (but I'm not paddling in your conditions).

I'm surprised you had issues with your Excel layup; I've had three in Excel that seemed quite robust. Was the cracking in the gelcoat, or deeper? What kind of racks are you using to transport the boat?

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2 years 4 months ago #26623 by photofr
Replied by photofr on topic Paddle Faster
The turning ability of a ski is not very important in calm or flat water. In the ocean, it's a whole different story: you want to go faster, you will eventually need a responsive ski.

The Spark is known for being a good surfer. However, to this day, my 560M is the most agile ski I have ever owned. I am convinced that part of me going faster than ever is due to how quickly I can change direction, and its ease in surfing - but that's a no-brainer: the Nelo 560M is like 3 feet shorter.

Ludovic
(Brittany, France)

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2 years 4 months ago - 2 years 4 months ago #26624 by ShaneS
Replied by ShaneS on topic Paddle Faster
This is starting to drift off topic sorry ....
My comments are in comparison to other skis I've owned, not meant to be against the Stellar in isolation. All of my skis are handled the same way, in same conditions, pretty well babied compared to how I see some treated.

To red_pepper's questions:
*******************************************************************************************
Transport racks are the local standard - Rhinorack cradles well spaced on a Toyota Prado. I also run fabric pads on the rubber cradle wings and on longer trips the skis are in padded covers. (might put a separate post under general on the fabric pads, its a simple cheap way to protect your hull in transport)
*******************************************************************************************
One crack was in joint between hull and deck halfway between bucket and rudder - still waiting on final decision but looks to be accepted as a warranty so consider it an isolated issue.

My more general comment is related to fine gel coat cracks at any bruise or dent location. I'm talking about a paddle blade whack as you get rolled by a wave, or light knock again a sign post when carrying your ski through the car park - it happens :-/

Some may say "to be expected", but when a similar bruise occurs to a carbon or hybrid Fenn you only see a slight depression. With the Excel layup Stellar you will usually get fine stress cracks in the gel coat around the dent or bruise. I suspect it is because the Nomex crushes and the brittle gel coat does not yield to follow it. Worst I've had was being tee-boned at low speed during a paddle clinic causing cracks in the deck gel coat radiating up to 6" each way from the impact point. I'm not intending to start up a brand war here - just sharing my experience comparing two well known premier brand skis borne from different designers' experiences and material selection. In terms of having fun in the small surf at the local river entrance sand bar, or running with closely spaced bay chop, the 5.8m SR is still my go-to boat.

Fenn Swordfish S Carbon Hybrid - 2016
Fenn Elite S Carbon - 2016
Stellar SR Excel - 2015
Cobra Expedition - 2013
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2 years 4 months ago #26626 by red_pepper
Replied by red_pepper on topic Paddle Faster
Not interested in a brand war either - just curious. I had a few hairline gelcoat cracks in one boat around some holes (different layup), but I've never seen the crushing / bruising you mentioned. I had dents in the light layup of another brand, but never in the Stellars, so I was surprised to hear your experience.
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2 years 3 months ago #26976 by MAS
Replied by MAS on topic Paddle Faster
Solid tips photofr! I started year ago, active paddling several times per week except Jan - mid-April when lakes where frozen. Outgrew first plastic sea kayak in about 1,5 months, then Epic 18X Sport sea kayak provided good platform for learning technique and developing fitness. I then got a Nelo Viper 48 (sprint K1 style but more stable) and has been mostly paddling it while struggling to master it. I'm not swimming but not able to put in full power even on best days and can still go faster with Epic 18XS at full effort. But ~10kmh effort with Nelo is a LOT easier effort than with Epic so that is where I get to enjoy it being a significantly faster boat.

Couldn't agree more with red_pepper: It's best to have at least 2 boat. Me sticking with only my 18XS for too long resulted in developing a technique of hard paddling which is unbalancing boat too much. Not a problem with 18XS but was initially huge issue in Nelo and I'm my main focus is still developing smoother use of power to not unstabilise Nelo.

I wonder what should I do next boat wise? Epic 18XS is good for fitness, but way overstable even for technique work. I tried V8Pro which also felt so stable that applying full power without any hesitation was easy (flat water). Thus did not feel to make sense to buy it. Perhaps V10Sport or rather Nelo 520 since for lakes where I paddle V10S feels way too long? Nelo Viper 48 is a good challenge but I guess I really need something more stable for maintaining fitness and good stroke while I try to get comfortable with Viper.

An the other hand I wonder if little practise occasionally with even tippier K1 would help to develop balance since I have not been swimming with Viper for a long time and sitting still on water requires focus but is not a challenge any more. I'm actually a bit puzzled how stable I feel idling in Viper and still have tremendous challenge in putting in full power. Either I developed really bad habits paddling 18XS or its totally a mental barrier (lack of confidence). Any tips from the more experienced paddlers?

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2 years 3 months ago #26979 by photofr
Replied by photofr on topic Paddle Faster
You are most welcomed. I am very glad that you found some of the feedback helpful. Sometimes, I even wonder if people read this stuff. I know I place a lot of effort into sharing different experiences, but it’s nice to hear “thank you” – especially from a first post!

I am not sure if I or anyone else will have the perfect answer to your question. Perhaps we can give you additional information that may help YOU make a more informed decision regarding which ski to go with next.

Couple of things that I have noticed over the years:
Paddlers develop bad habits faster if they paddle fast.
You may solve this by slowing down your paddling, and paying close attention to your stroke.

Paddlers make their stable ski “roll and bounce”.
When paddling, teach your brain to keep your kayak leveled, and avoid rocking, and rolling from side to side, no matter how stable your craft is. This will help in your next level ski like the Viper 48.

Forgetting to brace.
If you do not learn to brace with your paddle – instinctively – you may pay the price later when you paddle your more tippy kayak. Practice bracing, even when you are on your stable craft.

Get in over your head.
You are right, getting in a kayak over your head like a full-on K1 flat water race kayak (from time to time) may help you realize that your Viper 48 is quite stable. Choose a good day: no wind, super early morning with no wake, etc… Brace as needed, paddle slowly, pull your blade out of the water sooner, brace some more, relax more, and breathe (excel a lot). The K1 flat water race kayak will add confidence, and your Viper 48 may just feel like it’s too easy too soon.

In all, I’d say you have the right kayaks and that you do not need another one… YET. Spend more time with what you have, and make sure you enjoy them.

Ludovic
(Brittany, France)

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2 years 3 months ago #26980 by MAS
Replied by MAS on topic Paddle Faster
Photofr I'm happy to confirm that what you and few other persons write is read many times over by novices like me who are eager to learn and improve, but lack access to coaching and do not get much from fellow paddlers either. Where I live most are touring sea kayakers and rest junior sprint kayak racers and us middle-age fitness oriented paddlers are basically non-existant.

Thinking what you saying here: I'm unconsciously worried about stability of my Viper 48 even if actually has pretty solid secondary stability while initial is very different to what I'm used to. So I try to keep it stable. BUT it means that I do not dare to paddle it at full effort. Rather that swimming I simply stop applying power when I'm (about) to rock the boat. Thus I'm not close to swimming, not even in a need of bracing, but I just constantly lose my rhytm because stopping or lessening application of power. Is this what others are experiencing too when learning to paddle an unstable boat or some simply paddle hard and brace / swim as needed?

Agree that slowing down paddling cadence is key to good technique if not for the fitness development. My trouble is how to then work the fitness. I have relatively high level of aerobic fitness from running and cycling and thus need high effort paddling to get heart rate up at all.

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2 years 3 months ago #26984 by photofr
Replied by photofr on topic Paddle Faster
There's no way to change 5 things at once without poor results, so I recommend focusing on "first thing" first. I'll try to make it as simple as I can (it is text after all).

To reply to your question about what others experience when getting started:
I think you nailed it perfectly. Even an advanced paddler on a V14 who is experiencing completely chaotic ocean conditions will attest that his or her power input decreases rapidly. In essence, we all pretty much ease off on power as conditions worsen, and therefore "do not dare paddling at full effort" when the rough gets going. The good news is that the bar is raised every single time we get out on the water.

On flat water, or confined water, opinion may differ, but I recommend to mix it up. Here's a training plan that may help technique and cardio:

DAY ONE
5km - Paddle easy on your stable kayak, and brace every 30 seconds on the dot (switch sides). Focus on technique.

5 km - Paddle back on the same kayak, and brace ever 5 minutes. Focus on technique.

10x200 meter sprints - with only 30 seconds of rest between each - that should get your heart going.


DAY TWO
Repeat

DAY THREE
Get your Viper out. Repeat each of the above steps, and if you think you will when sprinting, BRACE FIRST. It should be instinctive, and it will sink in. If it hasn't yet sunk in, you will fall. Relax, smile just a little, swim, get back into it, and do it again. It's only water.

Return to Day one.

I do believe strongly that if everyone did the above paddling, and got on the water at least 3 times a week, you'd be seeing a lot more "old farts" like us rocking life on the water.

Oh... yeah... just a side note: I presume you are no longer in your 20's. Are you sure your paddle blade size isn't too large? That could be a very common mistake.

Ludovic
(Brittany, France)

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