Dale's Downwind Update

Sunday, 06 February 2011 14:03 | Written by  Dale Lippstreu
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Heading out with Oscar Chalupsky Heading out with Oscar Chalupsky Credits: www.surfski.info

A recent post in the surfski.info forums asked for an update on Dale Lippstreu’s downwind paddling ability – after his two sessions with Oscar Chalupsky paddling Millers Runs in Dale’s double.  Has anything changed?  Here’s Dale’s reply.


Have I improved?  I think that I can honestly state that I have improved - quite a bit. Firstly my personal best for Millers Run has dropped from 48:12 to 45:08 and if I use  Rob.info as my constant benchmark I feel that I have improved quite dramatically on a relative basis.  Over the last 2-3 years Rob has been consistently faster than me downwind and I have generally been faster on the flat.  This season I have been drastically less fit and he has beaten me both on the flat and downwind by a disturbingly large margin. Since I paddled with Oscar it’s been much closer downwind (he is still nailing me on the flat) and I have actually beaten him on 2 occasions (although one was admittedly when Rob was paddling new review ski that he wasn’t used to).

[Editor: we’ll see about that – plenty more Millers Runs to come this season!]

What’s Changed?

So what has changed and what bears updating from my previous report?

Well I have now set up my rudder pedals flush with the footplate and have found that I rather like it. My recommendation to anyone who sets up their boat with pedals that are canted back is that they should try setting up the pedals so that they are in line with the footplate.   It may feel a little strange at first but it reduces what Daryl (in the comments on my last story) referred to as “ghost steering” and It almost certainly reduces the likelihood of rudder stalls. It quickly feels right and now find that my steering is not compromised in any way.

Tracking across the runs

In my article I made a big point of emphasizing how Oscar tracks across runs and I have really worked at this.   The biggest challenge when I first started downwind paddling was to avoid broaches and my solution was to try keep the ski at right angles to the runs at all times.   This became so ingrained that I always found it difficult to work my way left or right when the finishing point was at even a fine angle to the runs.  Now I work sideways pretty much all the time and if the runs are headed directly to the finish I simply work left and right.  Running at an angle to swell makes for much better boat speed and control and, most importantly, allows you to exploit the energy being offered as the runs change shape and direction.  I now find myself with paddle down watching the water and steering a lot more.

Perhaps my greatest learning or realization in the intervening period has been that the way one leaves a run is one of the most important aspects of downwind paddling.  If one follows the line of the runs then one generally loses it by stalling off the back.  If you do this badly enough you wind up fully stalled with flooded foot wells and at best you wind up with very little momentum and having to expend a lot of energy getting the ski back up to speed.  The trick, I have discovered, is to head across to where a new run is forming and place the nose of the ski in the hole just behind the bump.  If you time it well you can arrive with a lot of speed and avoid having to expend a lot of effort in linking through from the departing run to the new one.

Dale Lippstreu

Dale "Downwind" Lippstreu heads out for a Millers Run

Cart before the horse?

My suggestion that the way you exit a run is the most important aspect of downwind paddling seems so odd and counter intuitive that I feel the need to elaborate on the point.  Clearly you cannot exit a run until you can catch it so it might appear that I am putting the cart ahead of the horse.  My point is that catching runs is very largely about speed and acceleration.  The better the paddler you are the faster you will be going and you will be better able to put in a powerful interval when required i.e. it’s all about fitness, technique and stability.  These are the given parameters and my point revolves around the question “what technique can I use to maximize my downwind performance within these parameters”?

My answer is that you can get away with a lot less energy and paddling technique by the way you manage the transition between runs.   My insight following my paddle with Oscar (and maybe I was a bit dim in not realizing this a long time ago) was that “linking” runs is not only about using boat speed to move forward from run to run but also about using boat speed to get positioned where the next run is forming.  In short, the trick is not to get yourself into a position where you fall off the run because you cannot make it over the bump in front but rather to place yourself behind a forming run with good boat speed.  Nine times out of ten the only way to do this is track across the run and the trick is to arrive at the point of the opportunity (the emerging run) as it develops.   It sounds very trite but I have been focusing on this for the last few weeks and it seems to be paying big dividends.

More selective

I mentioned in my article that the biggest challenge for me would be for me to stop chasing every run and become more selective like Oscar.  I am actually finding this happening.  As I spend more time on runs looking around and observing the water my approach is becoming less frenetic.  Whereas I was previously prepared to give pretty much anything a go I now am a lot more selective and save a lot of energy that was previously wasted trying desperately to claw my way over the bump up front.  I have no doubt that I miss a few that were gettable but mostly I pick up the one immediately behind which very often doubles up into the one I missed anyway .

So am I now the compleat downwind paddler?  Far from it!  I am astounded by how effortlessly the hotties still disappear into the distance.  The problem is that those guys won’t write articles like this; they have been doing it so long that they don’t think about what they are doing and most probably can’t explain it.  Maybe I will get there one day but in the meantime I can share my learning as I progress.

I will respond with other part of the request (for an update on the EOS 660) shortly.

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