Spear, Pry, Flip your way to faster paddling
At TC SURFSK we are always trying to think of new, creative, and simple waves to provide good advice and tips to help our customers improve their paddling technique.
Anyone who has read my blog over the last couple of years knows that I am a big believer in the style of paddling that Oscar Chalupsky teaches. I continue to follow his guidance, tips, and drills in my own paddling and have been thrilled with the results. Although I am now a true weekend warrior and only workout/paddle on the weekends, with a committed focus on technique I continue to get stronger and stronger both on flat water and in downwind conditions. The other day I went out for a simple 6 mile paddle on a pretty nondescript day with a slight south wind (nothing surf able). I started easy and cranked it up for the last few miles to end up matching the fastest 6 mile average I’ve even done at 7.5 mph.
A Simple Mantra
The biggest challenge in coaching and writing about technique is coming up with the right simple terms and mantra that are memorable and truly descriptive of what we’re trying to do in the paddle stroke. After some serious thought and consideration I recently landed on Spear, Pry, Flip (SPF). This is a very simple sequence of words that I believe really give an accurate description of what is happening when the paddle stroke is going well.
Spear is a pretty common term used in describing the catch phase of the paddle stroke. It continues to amaze me how hard this is for so many people to master. I believe it is absolutely the foundation of the stroke. If you can’t get the paddle cleanly into the water, you’ll never get a lot of power out of your stroke. There are very simple drills to work on this and it is a great test of your level of stability. I find that very few people can stay focused on the simple drill of spearing the blade with the top hand for very long. Many of them really struggle with stability when doing it. If you can’t do this on flat to slightly choppy water, you probably need to consider a more stable boat.
Pry is a new term that isn’t typically used in describing the paddle stroke. I stole this from Erik Borgnes when I first heard him describe the same side leg push / arm pull (power phase of the stroke) as trying to wedge open a gap between two object stuck together. This really resonated with me and I thought the word pry worked equally well and made for a familiar acronym.
It is a quick explosive movement and much shorter than most people instinctively think it should be, the “pry” phase is absolutely where the true power is applied. Historically there has been a lot of discussion in paddling circles around the proportion of push versus pull. I believe this discussion is very misleading as it talks about the top hand pushing. In fact there is a push and pull, but it is actually the same side heel pushing the boat forward while pulling with a straight lower arm, and hence prying open a gap. My recommendation is that you don’t even think about doing anything with your top hand once it has done its job to spear the blade into the water. At that point you should transition all conscious focus to the stroke side of your body.
One little tweak I’ve been playing with that I believe has helped my technique tremendously is to widen my hands on the paddle. I’m convinced it is worth experimenting and even exaggerating this position to see if it can give you a better feel for pulling with a straight arm / body rotation. In my case, I’ve gone to having my hands just under an inch off the white/yellow tape on the ends of the Epic blades. The idea of having the lower hand very close to the blade seems to force, or at least make it easier, to pull with a straight arm.
Finally we come to the exit. Flip is truly the best way I can think to describe the exit. After a power “Pry” phase the blade is out away from the boat, but still in front of you. At this point it is a quick “flip” to bring the blade out of the water before inserting on the other side. The flip should happen while keeping the elbow down and without raising the shoulder. So it is essentially a pivot motion where the back of the hand raises up and back As with the spear, you are going for a very clean, quick, and crisp exit. This is not only critical to not slow down the boat, but also paramount to having a stroke that adds tremendous stability in rough conditions.
Putting it all together
When you put it all together you end up with a very simple three part sequence that leads you through getting the blade in the water clean and quick, applying maximum power with a same side push/pull and body rotation, and then quickly and with minimal wasted effort, getting the blade out of the water and ready to spear on the other side.
Get out there, give it a try, and let us know if it works for you!