Surfski versus other sports
If you have checked out my FAQs you’ve probably seen a lot of my thoughts regarding surfski paddling as it relates to other sports. I also thought it would be a good idea to blog about it and try to tie it all together and share some hard facts for anyone who might still be skeptical.
As I blogged about in my paddling journey, the initial impetus for me to want a surfski was both to have something else to do in the summer besides running and biking and more importantly to do something that would make me a better cross country skier. Of course it didn’t hurt that I was surrounded by fresh blue water , but I grew up working on very cold and brutal water and not playing in it, so for me playing in the water was actually a bit of a foreign concept.
Skeptical After My First Few Attempts
My first few attempts at paddling the surfski were nothing short of disappointing and I was initially very skeptical that I would ever be able to really drive my heart rate up to the levels I saw cross country skiing, running, and biking. However, as my forward stroke and stability evolved I quickly started to see the possibilities.
By the end of my first full year of paddling I was able to put a lot of power into the stroke and get my heart rate up, but my technique was still heavily arm driven and it was very hard to sustain a heart rate equivalent to what I would average in other sports.
Starting to See Some Benefits
While I wasn’t quite seeing the high heart rates, I did notice a marked improvement in my cross country skiing after a full summer of paddling. My balance, core strength, and upper body endurance were all stronger than they had been in the past and this began to translate to a lot more V2 skiing. As I think most skiers would agree, cross country skiing (and in particular freestyle) has evolved to favoring the upper body and balance more than just pure leg strength, This is where paddling in the summer can pay off in spades.
My technique has continued to evolve and I now feel as though I am using my full body and I can see the results in my heart rate. My average heart rate on a 10k paddle is only slightly lower than a 10k run or cross country ski at the same level of effort and is higher than my typical average heart rate riding a hilly bike course. Not having any hills to contend with, I find that I run a pretty constant heart rate when paddling. Typically I will be a little lower when going into the wind and higher when paddling downwind. This seems a little counter intuitive to a non-paddler, but I tend to keep a higher cadence going downwind and a lot of sprinting to catch waves.
The Cold Hard Facts (as told by Mr Garmin 310XT)
Below are the Garmin/Heart Rate results from the last two races I have participated in. One was an 18 mile paddle race this past August in Duluth, MN on Lake Superior. The conditions were flat clam and I was paddling a Think Evo. The other race is a 27k cross country ski race on hilly terrain (the Vasa) that I did this winter. You can see that my heart rate averages aren’t that different, especially considering the paddle race was an hour longer.
- 18 Mile Paddle Race (flat water on Lake Superior / Aug 2011)
- 15 Mile (27K) Freestyle Cross Country Ski Race (Feb 2012)
What I have learned
- You most definitely can get a total body workout and your heart rate at its max paddling a surfski. However, if you are starting from scratch you should expect it to take a little time as you develop your forward stroke technique and stability
- You will struggle to sustain high heart rate outputs if you don’t learn to engage your full body in your paddle stroke
- You will see your core balance, core strength, and upper body endurance improve through paddling
- Although it is hard to pinpoint exactly how the paddling balance carries over to other sports, I am a firm believer that it truly does. I have never considered myself blessed with any special balance abilities, but I’ve done pretty well picking up new activities such as snowboarding, slalom water skiing, yoga, and slack lining and I have to attribute some of this to paddling.
- When I am doing a lot of paddling, my heart rate on the road bike seems to stay lower and I have the aerobic capacity to run faster. This is similar to what I experience coming off of cross country ski season. It may be that the legs just aren’t conditioned enough to drive the heart rate up, but I think it is also because paddling and cross country skiing are total body workouts that stress the cardiovascular system more and therefore make it more efficient. Some of this may just be different body types. I’ll be interested to hear and see what others have to say on this
- We are very blessed to live in an area with some of the best road and mountain biking in the country, there are certainly times when running is the best and only option, and you’ll never find me on the water when there is snow on the trails, but……..
I will leave you with just a couple fun questions to ponder
- When the heat index is 110% in the middle of summer would you rather be in woods on your mountain bike with your jersey glued to your skin or out on a nice stretch of fresh blue water with a light breeze in your face or at your back?
- When the wind is blowing 15kts in late summer/early fall, would you rather be roller skiing or out surfing downwind on Lake Michigan swells?
- Would you rather be getting honked at or side swiped by the big monster truck while riding your road bike, or out enjoying a peaceful workout on the water in the early morning and maybe surfing the wake of a cigarette boat passing by
- Back to that heat index of 110%, would you rather be running with your achy knees, ankles, achilles or out paddling away on the water?
- When you really need a Zen moment of total presence on a sunny summer day, would you rather be in the Yoga Studio or out on the water?