Stand up paddling superstar jenny kalmbach gives her essential tips for beginners who want to know what’s sup
I knew so little about what it takes to be a stand up paddling (SUP) athlete when I entered my first race seven years ago, but over time I picked up tips here and there and found out what worked best for me. Here are my tips for someone just starting out!
Choose the right equipment – not all boards and paddles are the same, there are many options. Boards vary in size and shape, 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.
For beginners, I recommend a bigger, more stable board that will make learning how to SUP much easier. Once you progress, you can try different styles. For instance, I teach beginners on 12-foot boards that are 30 inches wide, but I race on a 12’6” board that is only 24 inches wide. The boards are constructed from different materials too, which can make a BIG difference in how much they weigh. It can get complicated, but overall, beginner paddlers will want boards that are larger all over.
The recommended paddle length has changed over the years and more paddlers are now using paddles shorter than the ones they started with. I’ve gone from a 78-inch paddle (the length from the bottom of the blade to the top of the handle) to a 74-inch paddle for racing and training, and a 72-inch paddle for SUP surfing. When I teach SUP, I help paddlers measure their paddle height by having them reach their arm straight up vertically, then I place a paddle alongside them. The right height falls just under your wrist, so your wrist should ‘break’ over the top of the handle. This is usually a good place to start, and once you paddle a few times you can decide if you want to use a longer or shorter paddle. It comes down to preference, but avoid a paddle that is too long and puts too much pressure on your shoulder or a paddle that is too short and requires you to lean over too much, which will causing discomfort in your lower back.
Here are a few paddling tips:
- Make sure your feet are parallel, a little more than hip-width apart
- Focus on pushing your feet through the board to maintain balance. As you get comfortable, you can relax your feet and your toes if they start to tighten
- Reach out with your paddle so that your bottom arm is straight. Place the blade into the water and pull the blade back through the water to your feet
- Try and get as much of the blade in the water for more power
- Avoid bending your arms too much. You want to keep both arms straight (not locked) as your reach out and pull back.
- When pulling the paddle back through the water, focus on using your lats and obliques
- Make sure you don't pull the blade past your feet. You want to be taking the paddle out of the water as it nears your toes
- SUP is an all over body workout, so with the right technique you should feel it in your arms, core, legs, and more.
When I teach people how to SUP, turning a board is one of the areas I go over in detail. There are two ways to turn that I recommend. The first, which is the most efficient way, 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 right side, the board will go to the left, and vice-versa. To make the turn more effective, make sure you get plenty of the blade in the water. The other way to change directions is to paddle backwards. While this is an effective way of turning, it is not the most efficient way.
A few years ago, I realised that I was losing time in my races from turning slowly around the buoys in course races. So I put the time in and practiced my buoy turns during every workout, which really paid off. I practiced pivoting my board around buoys during my training sessions. As I neared a buoy, I would hop to the back of the board, step on the tail to push the board underwater and I pivoted around a buoy, using my paddle to help me pivot and keep my balance. The more I practiced, the more comfortable I became so that during a race I’m now confident that I can do a fast, clean pivot without falling.
A few of my must-haves during training and racing are:
- my multisport watch (Garmin Forerunner 910)
- hydration pack (Dakine Watermans Pack)
- sunscreen (Coola Sport 50)
- sunglasses (Oakley Radar Edge)
- 2XU Elite Compression Tights for endurance and recovery.
Recovery is really important, so after a long day of training I’ll put on my compression leg sleeves or leggings as soon as I get home and I’ll wear them for the rest of the afternoon and/or evening. If I’ve had a heavy training day or a long bike ride, I’ll also elevate my legs for 30 minutes or get a massage. If my legs are still feeling heavy, then I’ll sleep in my compression tights.
It’s important to know when you’re getting run-down and know that it’s OK to take a break. Listening to your body will make you a stronger athlete and will help to keep you injury-free! For me, the signs usually include elevated heart rate in the morning, feeling fatigued during workouts and even on days off, and a lack of motivation to train. Depending on how I feel, I’ll take a day or even a few days off training and get a massage.
In July, Jenny came 2nd in the prestigious Molokai 2 Oahu Paddleboard World Championships.