what makes surfski paddling cool?
Few sports can match the sense of escape as you look at land on the distant horizon while running down the face of an ocean roller. This is not a sport for anyone with a fear of water or adventure. There are risks to surfski paddling but the rewards are enormous.
Find a stable boat first and foremost, even if you’re just going to test someone else’s. Boat stores and surfski paddlers with some experience will give you the best advice on secondhand boat models. There’s nothing worse than battling to stay upright on a twitchy surfski.
If you’re a novice, try the ski out on an expanse of calm flatwater first. Always give a stable boat the benefit over a supposedly faster boat. The slower boat will actually be faster for several seasons until you have your technique nailed. A swim can cost you several minutes or even your race.
Surfskis come in either (single ski) or S2 (double ski). There are about half a dozen brands to choose from in South Africa. In alphabetical order, brands to investigate are Custom Kayaks, Epic, Fenn, Knysna Racing and Red 7. A ski that has an adjustable foot well is normally a better purchase as it is more easily sold when you want to upgrade.
Apart from your boat, the only other essential piece of equipment is a decent paddle. Get proper advice from a seasoned paddler on sizing. Paddles come in fixed or split shaft. A split shaft allows adjustments to the length and pitch (angle of the blades), so it can be used by differently-sized people.
Once you’re into proper offshore paddling, an hydration system becomes a good idea for paddles longer than 90 minutes. Usage of a PFD (a personal flotation device, similar to a lifejacket, but smaller, lighter and more comfortable) is strongly advised, for all levels of paddler, although many would disagree.
Finally, suitable clothing like a vest for warm conditions and long-sleeve thermal for cold weather, plus double-layered lycra paddle shorts will make your paddling experience that much more enjoyable.
training for novices
Due to the no-prisoners nature of the open ocean, you need to pass a proficiency test to enter surfski races in South Africa. There are surfski schools in Cape Town and Durban, and these should be your first port of call to prevent expensive kit mistakes as well as getting your paddling up to speed.
Failing that, it’s a very good idea to pair with a more experienced paddler, starting on shorter events to build your fitness and develop your balance before you even get to thinking about racing other paddlers, simply to put extra skill in the memory banks.
Spend as much time on the water as possible. This is the TOYA Principle (Time on your Arse). Mix slow easy conversation days with speed days and strength days. Doing some land-based weight training is also highly advisable.
Read Dawid Mocke’s top five surfski paddling tips.
Sit straight up in the boat and lean slightly forward. Imagine a rod running down your spine and into the ski that will not allow you to lean forward or back. Extend both arms at eye level (with the paddle in your hands). Now attempt to place one of the blades of your paddle in the water, next to the ski, as far toward the nose of the ski as possible. The only way you can get the blade further towards the nose of the ski is to twist from the waist. Herein lies the secret of great paddlers.
You still have the rod down your spine, but you have twisted from the waist to enable you to place the blade in the water as far toward the nose of the ski as possible. Now bury that blade in the water as far ahead but as close to the side of your boat as possible, and initiate your stroke by twisting from the waist. Keep the arm that is extended locked. All the power of your stroke comes from the first 40cm of your stroke ie from where you bury the blade, to in line with your upper thigh.
If you continue further with your stroke past your waist, two things will happen:
- You will pull yourself off balance
- You will be slowing down your surfski. Keep your shoulders relaxed, and don’t lean back in the surfski. Lean slightly forward and you’ll notice your stability increase immediately.
1. The arm that is punching forward should be kept at eye level.
2. When paddling correctly, you should be working your stomach and mid/lower back and lats.
3. If your arms are getting tired quickly, you are doing something wrong. Your arms are only used to place the paddle in the correct position. Once the paddle blade is in the correct position you use your stomach, back and lateral muscles to twist from the waist.
4. In order to initiate your twist, concentrate on pushing your foot onto your pedal to give yourself the leverage to unleash the power of the twist.
5. Lean slightly forward in the surfski. This increases your stability.
6. Ask more experienced paddlers to comment on your stroke. We have all been through it. You will find that any surfski paddler more knowledgeable than you will help you with your stroke. They’re a friendly bunch!
Excerpts from www.surfski.co.za
We will be updating this page with lots of downwind paddling tips during the course of 2011, but in the meantime, watch this Oscar Chalupsky video on catching small runs:
Generally only compulsory in races, it’s still a good idea to wear a PFD (personal flotation device / lifejacket) whenever you’re out at sea. Just as important is to check the weather forecast before you leave home. Www.windguru.cz is one of the most popular sites. Note wind direction and speed, air and water temperature and anticipated rainfall. A knowledgeable paddler is a safe paddler!
For a short blast of 4-8km you won’t need a hydration pack. You’ll only be paddling between 45 minutes and an hour, and you won’t even be thinking of drinking. Simply drink well before the paddle and you’ll be fine. When it comes to long paddles and races such as the Dunlop Surfski World Cup (30km+) hydration is important. Various hydration systems are available, including those that attach to the boat itself and others that are contained by your PFD (personal flotation device).
Michèle Eray’s pointers for a multi-day surfski event:
Before the event:
- Know what you are getting into, and prepare accordingly.
- If it’s a multi-day event, make sure you string together the same amount of days in training as the actual race will take place over.
- Go long and steady, but don’t forget the quality speed sessions.
- Try and test all your equipment repeatedly and over similar distances to that which you will race over (blisters don’t always form after 2 hours, but after 5 hours…you’ll know if that piece of foam will chafe or not!)
During the race:
- Nutrition is key! The more you eat and drink in the race, the easier recovery afterwards will be.
- Know your race plan and stick to it. If everyone takes off at the start, and your plan was to ease into it, do so.
- Sunblock on your face, not your hands! Don’t forget to put it on before you leave the house so that you can wash it off with soap. Slippery hands lead to squeezing the paddle too hard, leading to cramped forearms and possible injuries later on.
- Use a long sleeve Rash vest with UV preotection factor to keep your arms safe from sunburn. Not only will this prevent skin cancer, but you will feel much better the following day if you aren’t suffering from mild sunstroke and painful sunburn.
After the race:
- Recovery, recovery, recovery. You will only be able to perform the next day, if you have recovered sufficiently from the previous day’s hard work.
- Find a recovery technique that works, in training, and use it when you race.
- I find that nutrition plays a big role, with the time period directly after the event being most crucial. I try and have a drink that has mainly mainly carbs, a little protein, and with all the necessary electrolytes straight after I finish, followed by a more substantial meal after a few hours. I generally used
- Ignite from PVM as a recovery drink.
- Keep drinking water throughout the day as well, especially if it was a hot and sweaty paddle.
- A warm down paddle is usually the last thing I feel like doing after 3-5 hours of racing, so a good stretching session, a massage and an afternoon nap will also do the trick.
contacts & events
The KwaZulu-Natal surfski season is divided into three distinct series. The first of the year starts in January and runs to April. The other, which attracts the world’s largest fields, starts in April and runs through winter. The final series starts in autumn and ends in November. The Cape season is as dynamic, and runs from October all the way to March, with a short break in December splitting the Series in two halves. Big events include the Discovery Men’s Health Surfski Series in Cape Town and Durban, the Dunlop Durban Surfski World Cup in June/July, the Fenn Cape Point Challenge in Cape Town, the Southern Shamaal between PE and East London in December and the Varsity College Marine Surfski Series in Durban from January to April.