The moral of the story here, is that if I can learn to paddle a surfski, anyone can. I started out as the absolute worst, not even keeping the boat upright to take more than 4-5 strokes. The sad part is this continued for at least 4-5 weeks. I finally got a little better, but over the next 4-5 years I still never paddled with another surfskier and was by and large a complete hack.
I admit that my Podcast career hasn’t been too much different. Starting out as a hack, but hopefully getting better with each one.
To get in the right mindset and put fear at bay, some of the best words of wisdom I go with are “this is just an experiment” Enjoy!
Practice catching runs with fewer strokes – 50 strokes drill
The more I contemplate this advice and put it into practice the more sense it makes. As arguably the greatest downwind paddler in the world, Oscar would not advocate this so strongly if it didn’t work. Articulating how and why it works can sometimes be a bit of a challenge. But here is what I’ve learned:
Setting a mental limit on the number of strokes to catch a run really helps to ensure you make the right decision. As the conditions get bigger (I would say over 3-4 foot) the number of choices you have in front of you at any given time increases substantially. There is almost always a big run in your field of vision and with enough stokes and a maximum effort you can catch those runs. The problem is, if you have to give everything to catch a run, chances are, you don’t catch it in an ideal position and it won’t set you up to link several more. Additionally you’ll be so tired that your likely to take a break at just the exact time when you should be putting in some strong strokes. Contrast that with catching a smaller run, one you can catch with limited strokes, use to build more speed, and catch bigger runs with still fewer strokes. This is the key. Eventually you come off the string of runs and as your momentum drops, it is time to replay the mantra.
Stability before ability. As Sean tours the globe doing clinics, the number one issue he sees is paddlers in boats beyond their abilities. This year Sean worked with over 800 paddlers around the world, we would all be wise to head his guidance.
The stability mantra has now become gospel and I do believe we are seeing a shift and more new paddlers are buying boats that fit them better. That said, there are a lot of guys who got into surf skis before this wisdom became so widespread, and hence there are still a large number of paddlers who would be better off in a V8 or equivalent boat. If you can afford to have two boats, I’m a big proponent of adding a V7 or V8 to your quiver. It will allow you to accelerate your downwind skills, open a wider window of paddling conditions where you can be safe, and provide something you can use to introduce friends and family to this awesome sport. My garage only fits an 18 foot boat, so I was forced to put away my beloved V10 GT in mid November and probably won’t pull it out again until mid April. But I am loving my time in the V8 as I go out in bigger and colder days, but feel totally relaxed and confident experimenting with bolder downwind moves.
Experiment with diets until you find what is right for you – but be smart about it and measure whatever you can. Denny’s story is both inspiration and educational. What I love most is that Denny wasn’t afraid to experiment with a radically different diet, even though he was already extremely successful in multi-sport, paddling, nordic ski, and running races. With an already lean physique, Denny wasn’t looking to lose weight, rather purely to increase performance. Low carb worked to a point, but as Denny monitored his glucose, and hormones, it became clear that it was not optimal for him. After further research Denny landed on the Perfect Health Diet which has worked tremendously well for him.
I have personally gone from a high carb, grains, and beans vegan diet, to a low carb eggs, meat, and cheese diet, and everywhere in between. Generally speaking I seem to have better high end performance on the high carbohydrate diet and better endurance on the low carbohydrate diet. Which for someone of normal good health, may be expected. At the end of the day, I still don’t know what is most optimal for me, but I continue to test glucose levels, research my genetic testing results, and experiment with different supplements to find the optimal and sustainable eating approach that fits my on the go lifestyle.
The key point is this, for any given diet you can find lots of passionate, brilliant, and well credentialed experts for whom the diet transformed their life, cured THEIR illness and lead THEM to optimal health. But everyone is unique. My advice is to do smart and well measured experiments until you find what works best and is most sustainable for YOU.
Keep an open mind, stay humble, and be a committed student for life. Boyan exemplifies this more than anyone I have ever met. I often go back and re-listen to the podcast with him. He is a true gift to the surfski community and an amazing educator. Boyan studies the science of waves, other seemingly unrelated sports, and pretty much anything and everything he can to continue breaking new ground and bring his insights to the paddling community. He has truly earned his nickname as the Zen Master of Surfski surfing.
The biggest take away I had from this podcast with Boyan is to approach every paddle with the mindset that there are waves to ride. They may not look exactly like what you’ve seen before, and they may not immediately jump out at you, but they are there when you find your flow.
Anyone who has ever met Dawid, has felt his passion. It is 100% authentic and infectious. In this podcast Dawid reveals his super secret Kayla Beach Body Workout . But the big takeaway is that with the right base of training (and this is a serious base) you can remain competitive with just a few intense on the water sessions a week.
Greg’s story is one of incredible focus and dedication. To win back to back gold medals in a sport where the US was virtually unknown for decades is an incredible feat. I’ve been in a tandem with Greg and felt his power, so I was very curious to get to the bottom of how it was developed. In our podcast we did exactly that as Greg explained how in the year leading up to his gold medals he made a committed effort to strengthen his weakness which was explosion off the line. Greg committed to doing all out 20 second intervals (up to 10 with 2 minutes in between). Clearly this did the trick!
The 20 second interval can be an extremely powerful training tool for many paddlers. To paddle well downwind, you need to be able to explode and accelerate the boat. I don’t believe this is as much about raw muscular size and strength, rather it is more about the neurological recruitment of all the muscles in the body and having good technique to use them. Think of the skinny baseball pitcher who throws a 95 mph fastball. I know that my technique and acceleration improved substantially when I started doing intervals on the ERG. If you are struggling to hit high sprint speeds or generate the power to paddle downwind, add some all out 20 second intervals.
Zsolt has a really cool story. Growing up in the mecca of flat water padding in Budapest and ultimately landing in the big ocean surfing of Hawaii. These days Zsolt keeps a foot in both worlds coaching a National Flat water sprint team and getting into his flow in the big swell off Oahu.
When Zsolt describes the kids that he sees go from good to great, it is all about having the ability to “hit it and quit it”. In a split second they can explode with everything they have and in the next second they have relaxed every muscle in their body. Something most of us probably never give much thought to, but well worth considering.
When it comes to the ocean, Zsolt points out the greatest downwind paddlers have a very steady rhythm in the ocean. Maybe two different gears, but certainly not 5 gears. I believe this can be tied back to the words of wisdom from Oscar above. So much of it comes down to being patient and not chasing the runs that you aren’t well positioned to ride well.
Carter Johnson is very humble and self deprecating, but don’t be fooled, he has amassed quite an impressive resume in the long distance arena. Arguably one of the best ever.
We had a lot of fun discussing Hood River and the Gorge Downwind Festival, but what really stuck with me from this Podcast was Carter’s words of wisdom around Pareto’s Law, the well known 80/20 rule. As much as we all know and use this rule in our day to day lives (I believe it is quickly becoming a necessity for survival in the age of information overload), I had never really thought about how it applies to training and racing.
As Carter eloquently puts it, the amount of training effort required to get beyond the top 80% quickly becomes exponential. With smart and dedicated training most paddlers can get to the top 80% at roughly 5 hours per week. Try to go to the top 90% and above and now you’re talking 15-20 or more hours per week of training. Unless you’re planning to make a career out of it, shoot for the 80% mark, putting in 20% of the effort that the guys at the 90-100% range put in, and you’ll surely be the one having the most fun and keeping your life outside of paddling in tact!
Oscar came back on the podcast to give us the blow by blow detail of his scare with arterial fibrillation (A-Fib). Fortunately it turned out to be nothing too serious and Oscar was back to racing just a few weeks later. The biggest change for Oscar was a mandate to cap his drinks at 2 per day. In the end this may be just the ticket to get Oscar into the shape of his life. Look Out!
Beyond A-Fib we of course had to talk downwind paddling and Nelo. Oscar provided some new downwind tips I had never heard before, including how to catch the wave on the shoulder and surf into the power zone. On the Nelo Surfski front, lots of new action with some super cool new boats coming out.
I hope everyone has enjoyed our first 10 podcasts as much as I have enjoyed putting them together. It is still very painful for me to hear myself talk, but it is well worth the wisdom I’ve absorbed from all of the world class paddlers I’ve had a chance to interview.
Stay tuned for the next 10