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Technique journey - Unstable boat, lessons learned

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2 weeks 4 days ago #39688 by manta
Hi Again

Sorry for another long post.

Background
I am 48, have been paddling four years and am generally in good shape. I have paddled a Fenn Bluefin almost exclusively for the last four years.

This post will detail my foray into intermediate boats and what I learned about technique, which may help novices and old sea dogs alike.

Let it Roll
The first thing one notices when moving to a skinnier, rounder hulled boat is the tendency of the boat to want to roll. Initially this feels like a terrible idea, but coming to terms with a rolling hull is very important. Stable boats like the Bluefin and their ilk are wide and flat bottomed (definitely not sexy). They are great to learn to paddle on and even to keep as rough water, crazy conditions, options. The one thing they don't really do is roll.

When you start paddling a more dynamic hull, rolling is the aspect of the hull that makes the boat seem most unstable. It is that rolling motion which the body must become accustomed to dealing with. I mentioned in my Zest review that the secondary stability of that hull is particularly forgiving. However, to get to the point where one realises it is forgiving, one must allow the boat to roll. Roll to the point of failure, i.e. falling out. This will no doubt amaze you, as it did me. I was not prepared for how far a hull will roll while allowing the paddler to remain in the boat. Add a brace stroke at the right moment and it is possible to paddle a very unstable, rolling hull, without falling out. It won't be fast, but you will stay in the boat.

Learn to embrace the roll. It takes time to become confident in the roll as well as your own ability to deal with it, but do no stifle the roll or the learning trajectory will be a very flat one.

Drills, drills and more drills
Taking the new boat on the water for the first time gave me an immediate wake up call. My technique was rubbish. When I started paddling I did the Chalupsky drills religiously. After a few months I did them less and less, until I was not doing them at all.

Fast forward a couple of years and my technique had deteriorated. I had learned some bad habits, the most egregious being the late exit. Pulling the paddle out late on a stable hull, does not feel unstable. Do the same thing on a hull that wants to roll and that late exit will pull you out, or over enough that you have to brace for your life. I realised I needed to go back to the drawing board.

Quite a number of years back, I used to do weighted squats with the sole purpose of posting the biggest numbers I could. I became quite strong, but then I could add no more weight to the bar. Some coaching exposed the problem, poor technique. I was forced to rebuild my squat from scratch. It was humbling as I had to go down in weights massively. After a year though, I broke all my previous PB's and did so without a single injury throughout the process.

Sometimes we just have to be humble and start over. I have had to do that with my paddling technique. The rolling hull will not tolerate bad paddling technique. I have had to start over with my technique. The result has been much, much slower times. I am convinced that just like with the squats, I will be able to not only rebuild my previous speed, but far exceed it.

Don't be afraid to take one or two steps back to start going forward again.

Look up - Not at your Garmin between your feet!
We have a tendency to want to be appraised of the slightest changes to speed or power at any moment. So we put our Garmin or other sports tracker on the foot strap. The problem is, we need to look down, when you look down with your head, your posture changes. The change to posture over time results in poor technique.

One of the quickest improvements I saw was removing the tracker from my foot strap. Instantly my posture improved and that improved my exit, which improved my setup for the next stroke, which improved my catch. It sounds mad, but as the body in an integrated system, we must work with it, as opposed to against it.

I have not missed having the watch between my feet. I can still glance at it on my wrist should I need to, but since moving it, my intuition regarding speed as well as HR has improved. I can feel when I am working and when I am not. The improvements to technique were not only almost instantaneous, they were also the biggest improvement catalyst of them all.

When the going gets rough, keep twisting
Isn't it strange that the moment we feel unstable, we tighten up, tightening up makes us less responsive which results in feeling even more unstable. It is a cascading system that usually results in either taking a swim or losing all semblance of a decent forward stroke.

My antidote to this has been focussing on leg drive. Leg drive is the key to keeping pressure on the foot plate. Keeping pressure on the foot plate keeps us stable. Once we stop leg drive, we undermine the integrity of the entire stroke. That leads again to poor forward stroke and a poor forward stroke makes us feel unstable.

It can be harrowing to try and maintain leg drive when the hull keeps wanting to roll. It feels completely counterintuitive to be "unsettling" the hull with shifting our weight from leg to leg. The truth however is the leg drive is not the culprit of the instability, it is a poor forward stroke. If our three contact points are being used correctly namely, butt in bucket, foot pushed hard on the plate and blade in the water, then we are stable. Losing proper contact with just one of those three points results in the dreaded, confidence sapping, instability feeling.

This is where point one is so vital - know how the hull rolls and how far you can let it roll. Being comfortable with a rolling hull goes a long way in feeling more stable.

Brace, brace, brace BUT know when to stop
Bracing is a critical skill. If the brace is bullet proof, it should keep us in the boat no matter what (almost). What I learned however is we can become over dependant on the brace. In the beginning of the journey with the rolling hull, I needed to brace a lot. My brace is good on both sides and I never fell out of the boat.

Over time I noticed an issue. As soon as I started to feel a little unstable I would throw in a small brace tap. It almost became a habit. I had to learn that a properly executed forward stroke is just as good as a brace. I have had to conciously brace less because I was using it as a crutch to avoid the discomfort of feeling unstable. I had to learn to love the roll and also to take that next stroke even when feeling unstable.

Bracing is very important, but make sure that it does not become a crutch for poor technique.

Slow down to speed up
Spearing in a noiseless catch, is one of the best, most gratifying feelings one can have in paddling (my opinion). When we get it right, the paddle goes in without making a sound, and does so, so effortlessly it hard to believe it went in at all.

I always used to paddle with earphones, listening to music or a podcast while paddling. Since I have been on the technique rebuild, I have not paddled with anything in my ears. I have found my ears are one of the first indicators of a poorly executed stroke. The most notable being the catch, a splash or a slap on the catch means wasted effort. It can also lead to injury over time as the slapping paddle conducts the shock wave through the arm and shoulder.

When I started paddling the rolling hull, I could hear by the slapping noise that I was rushing the catch. I have had to slow right down on getting the paddle into the water. When I say slowing right down, it may be a couple hundredths of a second, but it makes all the difference for a clean entry. This is something I have to work on constantly. I have a tendency, especially when feeling unstable, to rush the stroke. A bad catch unsettles the whole stroke. I had to work on my patience, slow in, fast out. My recovery is now a lot quicker, but I am patient getting the paddle into the water and also keeping the blade locked while applying the power.

Slowing down on the catch has made a huge difference to being more stable. A slap or a splash unsettles the paddler, which unsettles the hull. It has been challenging to stay focussed on clean entries in choppy, messy conditions. This is where having done drills really helps. As I paddle I just break the stroke into its components and talk myself through the messy, unstable bits.

Summary
I am hoping this can be a conversation. There are no doubt aspects I have not mentioned that are key to other paddlers journeys. If we unpack them together, we can all learn how to get better and more efficient in the boat.
The following user(s) said Thank You: balance_fit, malvina, Brian York

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2 weeks 4 days ago #39689 by Brian York
Manta,

Great write-up!

I just started surfski paddling this year. I started off in a V10 Sport and recently acquired G2 V12. It was a big jump however I'm improving in the v12 at a reasonable quick pace and It may soon be my one and only, all conditions boat. That being said I can completely relate to your experience as if it were my own. I would like to elaborate on a couple tips you pointed out and it's in regards to keeping the pressure on the foot plate and butt in the bucket. It is entirely my observation but I have noticed remarkedly better stability by focusing said pressure more specifically through my heels and into the lowest part of the foot plate. I have also found that exact foot plate position plays a critical role in this connection. Similarly with my butt in the bucket, I have found that by focusing my butt position into the very deepest part of the bucket and slightly off the back of the backrest also improves my stability and rotation. Theoretically speaking I'm certain that moving these pressure contact points to the lowest parts of the boat give a noticeably lower center of gravity and with that a better sense of stability.

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2 weeks 4 days ago #39690 by kwolfe
Man, we should paddle together sometime. Basically the same stats except 1 whole year younger. I started 6 years ago with an Epic V8. I made a ridiculous leap to a V14, then SEL, Nelo 550, then V14 again. I'm primarily a flat water paddler however the lakes around here do get wind chop.

Funny but your observations about the hull and roll are spot on. I actually feel somewhat more stable in in a tipper ski these days. The reduced primary stability enables the ski to move more and doesn't want to follow the surface of the water so much.

The V14 showed me how detrimental a late exit can be through multiple swims. I will say, this also eliminated the shoulder pain I was having because of that late exit.

I know folks say stability before ability however in my case (remember flat water), the tipper ski along with the addition of speed stroke, really help me. The speed stroke enabled me to see the speed results from small changes in my stroke. Funny, how a good catch and early exit makes the stroke feel like you're not putting in as much effort but the GPS says you're improving.

Great post!

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2 weeks 3 days ago #39693 by waverider
Agree with all of this, went through the same journey moving to K1, trust your balance. Over reacting to wobbles with the addition of hesitation makes it all worse. Too much time in a stable boat allows masked flaws to become the default that are difficult to override. Late exits being the classic. Ideal is to have two boats.

First thing that goes in rough condition is rotation and leg drive, without leg drive you loose connection to the boat and stabilizing power on the blade. Leading to more instability and around it goes. So now i try to maintain leg drive as much as possible even if I feel unstable.

Slowing things down aids the symmetry and flow, which increases stability and confidence.

Notice even the k1 sprint paddlers spend a lot of their time on precise slow drill paddling, not going flat out. I rarely paddle flat out as that is when technique goes down the drain. Also agree a GPS is a distraction when focusing on drills, and the ego kicks in and you just want to paddle faster than you should. and you are off chasing the rabbit..and ah yes the head down posture staring at your footstrap, affects good breathing if nothing else.

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2 weeks 2 days ago #39695 by qmento
Thank you everyone. I'm paddling a Boost LV X and soon to receive a Vault X. The advice presented here will be very helpful. In preparation, besides working on posture and technique and paddling in junky conditions, I've been using a 2 cm seat pad in the Boost for a year (and have gotten quite used to it). Do you think that will help with the transition?

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2 weeks 1 day ago #39696 by manta

Manta,
Great write-up!
It is entirely my observation but I have noticed remarkedly better stability by focusing said pressure more specifically through my heels and into the lowest part of the foot plate. I have also found that exact foot plate position plays a critical role in this connection. Similarly with my butt in the bucket, I have found that by focusing my butt position into the very deepest part of the bucket and slightly off the back of the backrest also improves my stability and rotation. Theoretically speaking I'm certain that moving these pressure contact points to the lowest parts of the boat give a noticeably lower center of gravity and with that a better sense of stability.

I believe you are correct, lowering the centre of gravity plays a vital role in stability. Oscar Chalupsky recommends the low elbow position in the stroke for the same reason, it keep the centre of gravity low.

I paddled this weekend and specifically took notice of your recommendation to push on the lowest part of the foot plate. I do believe it made a difference.

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2 weeks 1 day ago #39697 by manta

The V14 showed me how detrimental a late exit can be through multiple swims. I will say, this also eliminated the shoulder pain I was having because of that late exit.
Great post!

Shoulder health is actually big for me. I have had to have a shoulder reconstruction due to my MMA days. I started with SUP but my shoulder was never able to love that stroke. The ski stroke is a lot more forgiving, but as you say, making sure technique stays on point, helps with the shoulder issues. I can literally immediately feel if I am not paddling correctly as my shoulder objects.

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2 weeks 1 day ago #39698 by manta

First thing that goes in rough condition is rotation and leg drive, without leg drive you loose connection to the boat and stabilizing power on the blade. Leading to more instability and around it goes. So now i try to maintain leg drive as much as possible even if I feel unstable.
Slowing things down aids the symmetry and flow, which increases stability and confidence.
Notice even the k1 sprint paddlers spend a lot of their time on precise slow drill paddling, not going flat out. I rarely paddle flat out as that is when technique goes down the drain.

It has been a battle to maintain leg drive when the instability hits. The natural instinct (which is wrong) is to tighten up, but the leg drive actually assists in keeping the boat stable.

I start every paddling session with 15 - 20 minutes of drills. I make sure they are done slowly and with good form. I believe over time, the muscle memory will adapt and the stroke will improve. I am now a lot more focussed on good form and letting the speed come from there as opposed to ugly all out efforts that may be fast, but reinforce bad technique.

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2 weeks 1 day ago #39699 by manta

Thank you everyone. I'm paddling a Boost LV X and soon to receive a Vault X. The advice presented here will be very helpful. In preparation, besides working on posture and technique and paddling in junky conditions, I've been using a 2 cm seat pad in the Boost for a year (and have gotten quite used to it). Do you think that will help with the transition?

Increasing your seat height as you have done, is the recommended process to move from a stable, to a less stable ski. Epic brought out a series of pads and those were linked to stability in different boats. Essentially you could paddle a v8 and add the pads until your were eventually comfortable paddling with the whole set. Then when moving to the less stable ski, your body would have made most of the necessary adjustments.

I am sure the system works. The only caveat I can think of, is when moving to the less stable boat, you will be sitting flat in the bucket again. The added height of the pads actually induces a better forward stroke because the body dynamics are more favourable. I am not sure how it will affect the paddler to then once more be sitting flat in the bucket. Just something to keep in mind if it feels weird when you move to the new boat.

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2 weeks 1 day ago #39700 by Epicpaddler
"It has been a battle to maintain leg drive when the instability hits. The natural instinct (which is wrong) is to tighten up, but the leg drive actually assists in keeping the boat stable".


That's been one of my biggest challenges switching to a more advanced ski. I think it was Nick Cryder on here who said "find your feet". I always repeat that mantra when I'm feeling unstable in bigger seas. It forces me to remember leg drive and power through the stroke.

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1 week 5 days ago #39703 by zachhandler
Hey Manta nice post! I have been paddling rolling hulls for almost 20 years now and the struggle for a better stroke is still a constant companion. I feel like I think about technique on almost every single stroke on flat water.

The only thing I would add at this point is that any fear of falling in needs to be minimized as it will cripple your stroke in a boat that is tippier than you are used too. I recommend people do tons and tons of remounts to get over that instinctive fear of capsize. It’s nice to do some at the start of a paddle so you get that anxiety out of your system right away. Another interesting way to trick the mind is to swim the ski off the shore to start the paddle and then enter from deep water. A loose relaxed body just works better.

Current Skis: Kai Wa’a Vega, Nelo 550L g2, Carbonology Feather, Think Jet, Knysna Sonic X

Former Skis: Epic V12 g2, Epic V12 g1, Epic v10 double, Fenn Elite S, Custom Kayaks Synergy

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1 week 4 days ago #39707 by manta

I recommend people do tons and tons of remounts to get over that instinctive fear of capsize. It’s nice to do some at the start of a paddle so you get that anxiety out of your system right away. Another interesting way to trick the mind is to swim the ski off the shore to start the paddle and then enter from deep water. A loose relaxed body just works better.

I agree, having a bullet proof remount is very important. It is one of the reasons I sold my Swordfish, I struggled remounting the deeper bucket. The CS Zest I have now, is just that 5% more forgiving which allows me to remount predictably.

I usually do my remount practice at the end of the session. First off, it simulates being tired, when most of us will most likely need to remount. If you can remount after a hard, tiring session, you will most likely get it when you need it. Secondly, especially in winter, I like to remount just before exiting the water to limit being exposed to the cold for too long.

In summer, I will definitely take your advice and do the remounts first, and at the end.

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1 week 3 days ago #39708 by balance_fit
Excellent job Manta! It's so good, because it depicts how your experience of discovery has validated many of the things that the coaches continually preach. And, through such experience you've found what works for you as well.

Please allow me to add my personal perspective, from a physical therapy perspective. I hope this can serve others as well.

Just a bit of background here: A few years ago I had a Fenn Bluefin, which I used for around a year. After the Bluefin, while my wife was getting acquainted with her then new ski, I used an Epic V5 to accompany her in the process. The V5 was even more stable than the Bluefin. The stability of these skis blunted my balance and righting reactions, which I had already trained on an old (2005) Fenn XT. Righting reaction is a clinical term we use in physical therapy to generally describe whatever a person does to regain balance.

My wife improved on her ski, and I upgraded to a newer Fenn XTS to keep up with her. The XTS reminded me that I had to re-awaken my righting reactions, a process that has taken a few months. And it is from this context that I'll share my personal perspective.

You wrote that "Leg drive is the key to keeping pressure on the foot plate", which you've experienced to be the source of stability when "the going gets rough".

Absolutely agreed! For me, a healthy connection with the ski via foot plate pressure has helped greatly in regaining my righting reactions in rough conditions. And as we all know, from said connection is that leg drive is applied.

In physical therapy we utilize a variety of techniques to improve balance on a patient. One of these is using the body's intrinsic balance systems to stimulate the appropriate righting reaction when a patient has issues with balance. The eyesight, head position, sensation from the feet, and other resources are used in many ways for these purposes.

On the ski, and based on my experience in balance rehabilitation, a very slight lean forward helps to engage the legs into the footplate more proactively, engagement that further extends through the chain of movements of the stroke. This forward lean is very slight, almost imperceptible to the onlooker. It happens at the hips, by way of hinging at the joint. It doesn't happen at the spine, which we know that shouldn't collapse forward.

The opposite of this concept would be to lean back into the rear of cockpit, which engages hip flexors and disengages the legs from the footplate, with the known detrimental effects on balance.

During the cycling action of paddling, one leg engages and the other one disengages from the footplate. Some paddlers accentuate this action more than others, but we all engage the leg of the stroke side more than the other. In my case, keeping said forward lean has helped to keep the engaged leg well set into the footplate, while allowing the other one to disengage to allow for pelvic rotation. When it gets very rough, this engagement has greatly helped to mantain rotation and a healthy stroke.

Only when briefly leaning back as the bow buries on a downwind run, does this technique changes: the source of leg engagement on the footplate, not being borne out of forward lean, is modified, and it becomes a leg push against the footplate, which shifts the hips back, and supports the backward lean. The trick is to avoid engagement of the hip flexors and a subsequent disconnection from the footplate.

To better experience what I've explained above, just sit down on a chair, with a straight spine and vertical torso. Keep both feet well planted on the ground, preferably barefoot. Then, while looking ahead, lean slightly forward from the hips until a slight pressure is felt on the feet, against the floor. Keeping said forward lean, press alternatively through the heels, just as on the ski, and feel how the pelvis shifts position, similar to when one rotates while paddling.

Now, with both feet planted again, press slightly against the floor and feel how the pelvis rocks backwards and takes the torso along with it, similar to what happens as one leans back on the ski when burying the bow.

Hope that this perspective can help someone. It has helped me, my wife, and fellow paddlers.

Be well

JD

Simple, not easy.

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1 week 1 day ago #39715 by manta

To better experience what I've explained above, just sit down on a chair, with a straight spine and vertical torso. Keep both feet well planted on the ground, preferably barefoot. Then, while looking ahead, lean slightly forward from the hips until a slight pressure is felt on the feet, against the floor. Keeping said forward lean, press alternatively through the heels, just as on the ski, and feel how the pelvis shifts position, similar to when one rotates while paddling.
Now, with both feet planted again, press slightly against the floor and feel how the pelvis rocks backwards and takes the torso along with it, similar to what happens as one leans back on the ski when burying the bow.
Hope that this perspective can help someone. It has helped me, my wife, and fellow paddlers.
Be well
JD

Thanks for that explanation with the activity. I tried it and could immediately identify the points you were making.
The following user(s) said Thank You: balance_fit

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