STAND UP PADDLE 101
Star athlete and marine environmental crusader
Kalmbach makes stand up paddling look like a breeze. Follow her tips and you’ll be cruising too!
When I entered my first race seven years ago, I knew so little about what was involved in being a stand up paddling (SUP) athlete. Over time I picked up tips, tried them all out and locked in my favourites – hopefully they can help you too if you’re just starting out in the sport.
BOARD? GO BIG ALL OVER
For beginners, I recommend a bigger, more stable board that will make learning SUP much easier. I like to teach beginners on 12’ boards that are 30” inches wide, but once you progress, you can try boards in different styles and shapes – for instance, I race on a 12’6” board that is only 24” wide. The boards are constructed from different materials too, which can make a big difference to their weight. The material used in the board and its shape and weight will vary depending on what you’re interested in doing, whether that’s surfing or racing or just paddling around with friends. There are even inflatable boards, which are great for taking down river rapids. In general, however, beginner paddlers should start with boards that are larger all over.
PICK YOUR PADDLE HEIGHT
The recommended paddle length has tended to become shorter over the years. Like a lot of SUP athletes, the paddles I use now are shorter than the ones I started with, down from a 78” paddle (the length from the bottom of the blade to the top of the handle) to a 74” paddle for racing and training, and a 72” paddle for SUP surfing.
Here’s a guide to finding your correct length. Stretch your arms up vertically. When a paddle is stood on end next to you, it should reach up just under your wrist so that your wrist should ‘break’ over the top of the handle. Start with this, and once you paddle a few times you can decide if you want to use a longer or shorter paddle, but the variation shouldn’t be too much. A paddle that is too short can make you lean over so much your lower back will become uncomfortable or injured, while a paddle that’s too long will put a lot of pressure on your shoulder.
A few technique essentials can make sure you spend a lot more time moving across the water than falling in it!
- Your feet should be parallel and just over hip-width apart
- You'll be able to maintain your balance if you focus on pushing your feet through the boar. You can relax your toes and feet if they start to tighten, but overall this will feel more comfortable over time
- Aim to have your bottom arm straight when you reach out with your paddle. Place the blade into the water and pull the blade back through the water to your feet
- Don't pull the blade past your feet. You want to be pulling the paddle out of the water as it nears your toes
- You will create a more powerful stroke by making sure you get as much of the blade as you can in the water
- Keep both arms as straight as possible (but not locked) as your reach out and pull back with the paddle
- Focus on using your obliques (muscles in the sides of your waist) and lats to pull the paddle back through the water
- With the right technique, you should feel it in your arms, core, legs, and more - it truly is an all-over body workout!
TAKE A TURN FOR THE BETTER
I teach two different ways to turn. The most efficient is to reach your paddle toward the front of your board and push the water away from the nose of the board. If you do this on the left side, the board will go to the right, and vice-versa. Make sure you get plenty of blade in the water so you can make a more effective turn. The other way to turn is to simply paddle backwards. This is a perfectly effective way to change directions – just not the fastest or most efficient way.
A few years ago, I realised that I was losing time by taking too much time to turn around the buoys. So I made time to practice my buoy turns at every water session, really working on pivoting my board around buoys. What that means is that as I neared a buoy, I would hop to the back of the board, step on the tail to push the board underwater and then I’d pivot around the buoy, using my paddle to help me pivot and keep my balance. The more I practiced, the more comfortable I became. Now during races I’m confident that I can do a fast, clean pivot without falling.
Here are a few of my must-haves during training and racing:
- sunscreen (Coola Sport 50)
- sunglasses (Oakley Radar Edge)
- multisport watch (Garmin Forerunner 910)
- hydration pack (Dakine Watermans Pack)
- 2XU Elite Compression Tights for long training
RECOVER AND RECHARGE
Overtraining is the most common training error I see at my level, so I’m very careful about recovery. As soon as I get home after a long day of training I’ll put on my Compression Leg Sleeves or leggings and I’ll wear them for the rest of the afternoon and/or evening. If I’ve done a long bike ride or had a heavy training day, I’ll also get a massage or elevate my legs for 30 minutes. If my legs are still feeling heavy, then I’ll sleep in my Recovery Compression Tights.
Recovery is very important, so if you feel yourself getting run-down, realise that it’s OK to have a break. You can become a stronger athlete and give yourself a better chance to be free of injury if you just listen to your body. For me, warning signs usually include a lack of motivation to train, feeling fatigued during workouts (and even on days off!), and elevated heart rate in the morning. If any of these signs crop up, I’ll take a day or even a few days off training and get a massage.
In 2014, Jenny came 2nd in the prestigious Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships.