Your heart rate in a surfski race

4 years 6 months ago #27797 by Impala
Dear all,

I am struggling quite a bit with managing power input and heart rate during surfski races. I am 50, have quite a record of competitive endurance sport (running, kayak marathon) and, by this, thought to have a good feeling for how to determine a level of effort during endurance competitions that I can keep up until the finish.

But since I have started to participate in downwind races two years ago, I am at a loss how to approach this. Typically, as soon as I catch my first wave, my heart rate goes up to 175 or above (my max HR is a bit over 190), and just tends to stay there. Or it goes further up to 185 when I really try to stay on the wave. This is contrary to my expectation that surfing should bring your pulse down, and trying to hop to the next wave is the stuff that costs. So far, my only way to relax my heart rate is to let the waves pass me, which is highly frustrating, as then your speed is no higher as when seakayaking, and you are much less in control of what's happening. But OTOH, I can't imagine that I can sustain a heart rate of 175 or above for 1.5 or two hours. Or is that just how it is in downwind races?

I am aware that I have not sufficient exposure to waves, as I rarely have the opportunity to practice on open water. This surely creates technical issues, but I am also interested about whether this high heart rate throughout the downwind race is something common you have to live with (and adapt to), or whether you found a way to relax at least bit during races.

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4 years 6 months ago #27799 by photofr
The best thing that I could recommend you and everyone else struggling with this is:
1. More DW exposure
2. Force yourself to excel once on the wave
3. Excel some more
4. Relax, stop paddling, excel some more

At that point, you are probably wondering when should you inhale, right?

Don't worry about getting more air... you will always inhale way more than what you are exhaling. Focus on that and I can pretty much garantee you will loose 10 to15 beats per minute.

For reference, we are about the same age.

There are other things you can do... one of which is to dismount your ski in training... thus getting yet more comfortable with your environment. The thing is, it's very basic, but the No. 1 problem is to 'just' relax on your ski.

Or simply: just paddle more.

(Brittany, France)
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4 years 6 months ago #27800 by Schravesande
If you cannot do more down winds , do as much interval training as possible. This replicates your down wind effort quite closely (heart wise) as on a down wind you are basically doing intervals all the time hence the high heart rate.
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4 years 6 months ago - 4 years 6 months ago #27801 by Impala
@Schravesande: Intervals are an integral part of my training, so I was indeed expecting they would show some merit, and maybe they really do ... but the difference between classical intervals and DW is:

- during interval training the recovery phase is long enough to allow your HR to fall to 70% of max., and you also do not go to the limit during the interval efforts
- OTOH, downwinds have very short and irregular recovery phases

So downwinds rather resemble High Intensity Training where you do a max. effort of whatever for 1 min and 'recover' only for 20 sec. At least this is what I did two years ago in a group ('Original Boot Camp', mostly stuff for the legs). Well, I found this extremely demanding and at times had the feeling that I am, hmm, just getting too old for this :S The HR does not really go down during such a short recovery; all what happens is that your muscles get a bit of less anaeroboc blood. Maybe I should do something like this on the water, but it is not really fun on the flat and requires a lot of discipline to carry through (alone).

I generally do not have a problem to race at a high intensity. Recently I did a one-hour race at an average HR of 178. But is it wise to power through a DW race like that, as this high intensity leaves you no further reserves to handle unforeseen stuff which is common on the ocean? I am just interested at what intensity you guys race, and whether you also observe that your HR ultimately stays very high even when you mean to relax a bit on a wavecrest.

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4 years 6 months ago #27802 by M.v.E.
I am also over 50 and started with Surfski paddling when I was in my late 40s
Iam not a strong paddler and do not have close access to the sea so my opportunity for downwind is limited. Maybe your high heart rate has something to do with your downwind technique ? When I started surfskiing I attended several surfski clinics in Tarifa/Spain and that really helped me a lot ! When I do a decent downwind and catch a wave I brace and relax and let the wave do the work for me. So my heart rate goes down. I am still not very good at it but at least I am able to catch some waves and have fun. Of course it really depends on the conditions. If the waves are too fast for my ability or too confused it is a different story.
I don´t wear a heart rate monitor but I only get very high heart rates on flat water races especially at the start.

Current Ski: Nelo 550 L
Previous Skis: Stellar SR 1. Gen. / Stellar SEI 1. Gen. / Stellar SR 2. Gen.
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4 years 6 months ago #27803 by Schravesande
We are on the same wavelength. Nothing replaces actual down wind but intervals and the HTI that you refer to are the closest. When I raced seriously we did not have heart rate monitors so I have little experience with HR. In fact we did not even have decent stop watches. Anyway my interval training for DW was 30sec at about 85% and 30sec at about 50%. Often had to slow down a bit on the slower period but tried to keep the speed period fast. Now that I have a HR monitor I am horrified at the way a DW pushes your rate up.
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4 years 6 months ago #27811 by Jordan
Interesting topic. I think it's unwise too relate downwind paddling to any other endurance event for the reasons you mentioned above.

I've done some downwind races when I was less efficient and in my early teens, where my heart rate was at 179/180 BPM for around an 1hour 20minutes.

Your cadence when paddling is pretty much directly proportional to your heart rate. Your cadence goes up, your HR does the same.

Depending on conditions you may extend your paddle length. Thus decreasing your stroke rate and therefore your HR.

Downwind conditions in such places such as Mauritius, where the swells move a lot faster, you have a lot more time surfing on the waves and a they are "cleaner". You are able to use 1. Less strokes to get into the run, 2. Have more rest once on the run. All these factors lead to a lower HR. See Dean Gardiners video of him surfing downwind. His heart rate can't be very high at all, yet he is going a considerable distance.

Downwind conditions such as in the Mediterranean where the runs are generally closer together and messier requires different downwind tactics. In a race you'll be clawing over the top of runs requiring a burst of quick strokes and then have less time resting on the run, before you have to do the whole thing again. This is going to lead to a higher HR even if you might be going the same speed. It's the nature of it.

So I'd think about the conditions you are paddling in. And just try to maximise them. And keep in mind that it may not be able to get lower than the 170 mark if you are constantly working in intervals at above lactate threshold pace.

Hope that makes sense. If you are worried about keeping that HR up for a considerable amount of time. I would say to not wear a HR monitor and go by feel during a race?
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4 years 6 months ago #27817 by Impala

Thanks a lot for your extensive thoughts.

"Depending on conditions you may extend your paddle length. Thus decreasing your stroke rate and therefore your HR."

Until recently, the situation was rather the opposite: despite myself being 177cm/73kg (not really muscular), my cadence was quite low because my paddle was just too long, big and also heavy. To obtain the cadence to get and stay on a wave, I had to put in more power than others with smaller, lighter paddles, which is also very exhausting. I have now started experimenting with much lighter paddles and I am positively surprised.

"And keep in mind that it may not be able to get lower than the 170 mark if you are constantly working in intervals at above lactate threshold pace."

Thanks, so from your and Schravesande's comments I gather that being at that HR for longer during DWs is not unusual ... important feedback for me.

"I would say to not wear a HR monitor and go by feel during a race?"

That's what I did at the recent Dutch Coast Race, so I had one issue less to fret about. It worked in the sense that I got through, but nevertheless around 10 mins before the finish I was so exhausted that I stopped trying to catch waves. This would never happen to me in flat race.

There is another interesting aspect to this 'HR during races' topic. It has been proven that the race situation as such drives up heart rates in endurance competitions of all sorts, and not only for inexperienced participants. Maybe it is the higher adrenaline level in a race situation, whatever. I clearly notice that the sheer excitement of surfing waves drives up my pulse immediately, long before I get really exhausted. The scientific publications discussing this phenomenon suggest that heart rates during competitions cannot be taken as indicators of exhaustion or anaerobic stress in the same way as training HR.

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4 years 6 months ago #27857 by Watto
Excellent posts above, thanks all. I could write pages on this having similar experience struggling compared to recent times. Come from a similar competition background as Impala including athletics, rugby, triathlon (age group champion at one point, Ironman), open water swimming (Rottnest Channel Swim 20kms solo and duos - 6hr best solo time in my mid-fifties), cycling, multiple Avon Descents (downriver 135km two day race) and over last few years downwind paddling.

I write the above not to big-note but for context - I've done a fair bit of stuff continuously over the years. I've just turned 66 and about three year ago started struggling with breathing, erratic heart-rate, poor racing performances off the mark, dizzy spells on the bike etc. Yes, ended up diagnosed with developing atherosclerosis and PVC - premature ventricular contraction - where heart beats erratically under effort esp above 75% Upshot of the latter is heart efficiency diminished significantly and randomly, some days better than others, some parts - generally last two thirds of an event less trying than first third. BTW non-life-threatening, I'm not going to cark it or anything as a result of exercise just diminished exercise performance.

My point in regard to above not to say you have a heart condition (worth getting checked out anyway) is that bodily changes can take place over time so that when you hit a high-intensity mode for an extended period your body (strength, stamina, heart, lactic build-up etc) can't keep up as it used also when potentially exacerbated by maybe one or two significant things as with me. Just getting old in part plus some potential physical malfunction. This also beyond the physical in terms of fitness - my resting heart rate atm 52bpm. (Have masses of HR data which is very interesting in terms of recovery but irrelevant here.)

Consequences other than the physical I find hardest to deal with, where previously able to match it pretty much with mates in whatever discipline who are 15-20 years younger; now I'm struggling and it pisses me big-time. (On medication etc but no silver bullet.) Throw in for me late onset asthma - WTF! - which I can manage, mostly only comes along occasionally - and the psychological domain becomes the challenge.

Some solutions.

1. Do not relent! F*ck it, just do the best you can and get on with what you enjoy doing to the best of your ability. Impossible to deny ego-dentingness of it all, however in the greater picture let the Zen prevail and just deal with it. Rule #5 ( HTFUHTFU)

2. As advice above - and I love the comments about amount of intensity required in shorter chop even when its big - pace yourself. Make the most of rest-time available. As David Mocke pointed out when I had a three-on-one training session with him when he was in Perth for The Doctor, which he demonstrated by clapping his hands, maintain your cadence but vary your effort within that. Imagine soft claps and loud claps but same pace.

3. Modify kit accordingly. Shorten paddle length and reduce blade size and paddle weight. For me boat weight counts - I reckon a lighter boat gets up and going more easily, ie less effort to get to same speed.

4. Modify and/or improve technique. Looking at my own GoPro bow footage my own paddling needs heaps of work using all body-bits effectively. For me much much more with the legs and better rotation. (These I'll be focusing on in two sessions a week training up for Mauritius this year). Just use arms for example and pretty soon your blowing like a bellows yourself.

5. Strength makes a difference, so though frustratingly guppy-mouthed for a good part of every downwinder, reckon that for me at least, dedicated strength training will mean less effort required as it were to go hard. Same as strength training on the bike, cadence one thing but strength and specific training of it, altogether another.

6. As mentioned paddling smart makes a big difference, linking runs etc. This easier said than done for me when getting up to and maintaining speed required to hold runs finds me gasping for breath - difficult to sustain.

Sorry about the length of response but was good for me anyway just to unload. Best of luck and hang in there. Can't resist - this from Tennyson's "Ulysses":

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
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4 years 6 months ago #27863 by Impala
Hi Watto,

in a first version of my post (that was somehow eaten by the software) I mentioned that last year the doc could not find a heart issue with me ('you have a virginal heart'). But there are of course two caveats: a) the testing was just 20 min cycling, so effects during longer competitions cannot be observed, and b)following a nasty infection three years ago, my heart was actually affected (apparently with no lasting damage), so I've been acutely aware of that problem since then. The doctor who tested my heart last summer also pointed out that competitions of marathon duration and longer are just not healthy for the heart, as many studies have shown in recent years. From that perspective, the usual downwinds are (hopefully) less risky than ultra-marathons.

A paddling buddy of mine, former GDR elite paddler, died as a consequnce of atrial fibrillation at 72 (not from conditions itself, but he bled himself to death while asleep thanks to anti-coagulants he was taking). When I myself started noticing irregular resting heart rates, I started with MG-K supplementation ... and since then my heart beats like a clockwork, fingers crossed. Endurance training makes you lose huge amounts of MG and K, so supplementing them seems a good idea (and also reduces cramps when getting out of the boat :blink:

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4 years 6 months ago #27876 by robin.mousley
Just my 2c in the light of the (interesting discussion)...

In downwind conditions, I tend to have a high HR average - I'm 53 so theoretical 100% is 167.

I've been paddling for 10 days now, having come off a 5 week recovery period - I strained intercostal muscles and couldn't do much of anything except walk. So I'm definitely not at peak fitness whereas at the end of November I was fitter than I've been for years.

So... My last Miller's Run where I was fit (injured myself 2km from the end), great conditions, scored a time close to my PB, my average and max HR were 145 and 157.

The garmin connect track for this run is here:

Click the Splits button to see the stats for the three sections (initial paddle to the rock where the Miller's Run starts, the run itself and then the race that I attempted but aborted when the pain became too much).

Of interest (I guess) is to see how my HR falls during the Miller's Run - you can see clearly where my HR falls right down to the 120s... That would be when I managed to sequence a number of waves - conditions that day were really good.

My last recorded Miller's run post recovery but definitely not at peak fitness in messy conditions (i.e. the runs were not conducive to multiple sequences of linked waves, therefore more effort required to launch onto waves), I had average and max HR of 158 and 167.

The garmin connect track is here:

On this one you can see that my HR never falls below 149 - I was working hard almost the entire time.

My observations are:
  • Good technique means that you maximise your harnessing of the wave energy and that will allow you to coast, causing your HR to come down.
  • If the waves are messy and not conducive to linking, then you simply have to keep working to catch waves more frequently and your HR will stay high.

As far as overstraining my heart is concerned, I trust my body to slow me down... For example, yesterday I had a really hard Miller's Run - messy waves and the wind died - and then I raced in the evening as well. The race didn't go well for me - I started ok, but you can see on the garmin trace how my HR just fell and fell after I hit the wall. I simply didn't have the stamina to keep my cadence up. (Hot, flat conditions).

(I don't have the track for the Miller's Run - my Garmin 910XT did a brain fart and corrupted the data.)

Interesting topic...


Currently Fenn Swordfish S, Epic V10 Double.
Previously: Think Evo II, Carbonology Zest, Fenn Swordfish, Epic V10, Fenn Elite, Red7 Surf70 Pro, Epic V10 Sport, Genius Blu, Kayak Centre Zeplin, Fenn Mako6, Custom Kayaks ICON, Brian's Kayaks Molokai, Brian's Kayaks Wedge and several others...

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4 years 6 months ago - 4 years 6 months ago #27882 by Impala

Thanks for these concrete examples ... not everyone is keen to bother about HR, wear the strap etc. During my running period I rarely did it. I increased my use of the HR monitor when I supected that I do too much training in the 'grey zone', i.e. too often training at an intensity level that is neither relaxing nor really exhausting, but something in between.

So even for an extremely experienced DW paddler like you, clean vs messy conditions make such a big difference. That's heartening indeed ... ;)

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4 years 6 months ago #27897 by owenfromwales
Interesting thread, as Rob said.

Especially interesting was reading Watto`s take on paddles. I guess it depends on your start point. For me, I`ve spent the last ten years with a paddle that is 160 mm across. It`s a great distance paddle, but I felt I was over-repping when trying to get on the waves. Recently my new paddle arrived, a cm longer in the blade, but what I was really after, another 5mm of width. After a few trial downwinds I am now catching more waves that I go for and saving more energy between spurts. So for me, I think going wider helped (my previous paddle must have been slightly too small for me when chasing runners). The width provides the necessary level of "lock" on the water, and if needed, shortening the shaft becomes the way to up-tempo. See also Oscar`s chat on this topic in the podcast he did recently:

Bringing it back to the HR question, my wider-than-before blades are allowing me to catch waves more easily, thereby not letting my HR build up to high to begin with, and also giving me more % of paddle time spent bracing on waves, recovering.

189cm 90~100kg
Present skis:
2017 Stellar SEI 2G
1993 Gaisford Spec Ski
1980s Pratt Spec Ski
1980s UK Surf Skis Ocean Razor
1980s UK Surf Skis Ocean Razor X 3
1987 Kevlar Chalupsky (Hummel) (Welsh copy!)
1988 Kevlar Double Chalupsky
1992 Hammerhead spec
2000 Fenn copy

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4 years 6 months ago #27898 by Watto
Fair call re paddle size Owen, still trying to work it out myself. Love my current paddle a Gara 2 which absolutely locks in at the catch and calls for significant power to hold the water and lever the boat forwards (though actual hydrodynamics different to rowing and locking in to the water). My thoughts not verified yet whether trying to haul this extra weight as it were (a locked in blade), requires greater exertion and because of he number of these strokes to get going consequent increase in HR. Comparison is cycling pushing a big gear against spinning with smaller gear and higher cadence. Thinking that through, reason higher cadence deemed more efficient over grinding big gears is focus on cardio-vascular system (higher heart rate more breathing due to repetition and lower effort) over muscular strength/power (fewer reps, greater effort to move same distance) which is less effective in long term as you drain muscle glycogen reserves. Grinding or lower cadence is actually less oxygen demanding. "As far as your cardiovascular system goes, lower-cadence ... costs less in terms of oxygen consumption but is more taxing on the muscles from a strength perspective."

On the converse, conversations with few paddlers mid fifties - older clubbies very capable paddlers recently - most seemed to use small medium-ish paddles, one a stronger build than me paddling a Gara 1. My current reasoning which experience may establish when I buy a smaller paddle is that given the same cadence I will be hauling less work. Question is whether this will impede my ability to get on and stay on runs.

From Owen's Oscar link above: "The key to catching runs – take fewer strokes, but make them powerful. Think about a Tour De France Winner sprinting for the finish. They are always in a big gear throwing down power. Crank up the cadence only after you are carrying a lot of speed.."

My strength or lack of I identify as one factor to work on.

Given all of the above is there any reason NOT to go for a tear drop vs a parallel blade? Have googled a dozen or so of the most obvious links but can't find a focussed post. (Even read Rightarmbad's post on this - remember him. Hey that guy could go so fast on big runs! :unsure:)

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4 years 6 months ago - 4 years 6 months ago #27900 by Impala
When looking at the cadence that elite surfski paddlers use when trying to catch a wave, these are between 95 and 110, which is faster than, e.g. durign ICF marathon events. Oscar, the big guy, a proponent of 'cadence as low as possible' for instance is way over 100 in his 'small runners' video, which does not even feature a race. He could probably choose a lower cadence, but this would mean that his muscles would fatigue earlier, and he would bonk towards the end of the race, despite having used fewer oxygen. I guess that this is what happens to me. The pros also have high heart rates, but they have the technique to put them to better use.

In contrast to the pros, I do not really have the option to choose a higher cadence as long as
a) my paddle is too long (length is what costs more power from a mechanical point of view, not so much the blade size),
b) as long as my paddling technique is not good enough to keep good form when moving faster.

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