Oscar Chalupsky Paddling Clinic: Highlight of the Summer for 18 Paddlers
As many of you know, Oscar and his wife Clare made a brief appearance in Traverse City and a very fortunate 18 paddlers had the opportunity to spend the better half of their Monday with them. Based on the feedback I have received, it is not too far fetched to say that for these lucky paddlers, it was absolutely the highlight of their summer.
Oscar can be a very intimidating guy and there is no shortage of stories about his voracious appetite for competition, arrogance, and ability to drink. But after spending just a little bit of time and really observing Oscar, I’m convinced beyond any doubt that there is no one on the planet with more passion for sharing their love of Surfski padding than Oscar. He simply loves the sport and wants nothing more than for others to experience what he experiences when he is out on the water. As I write this, he is in the middle of his US tour where I believe he is doing somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 clinics over the course of 30-40 days. I would venture to say that most of us wouldn’t be able to keep Oscar’s pace for 2 or 3 days, let alone 2 or 3 months.
Delayed but not Deterred
In the case of his Traverse City trip, Oscar was due to fly in late Sunday night, then out on the 6:00 AM flight Tuesday morning. Unfortunately his flight from Toronto was canceled and Delta was not able to get him into Traverse City in time for the clinic the next day. After cussing out Delta, Oscar took matters into his own hands, rented a car, and drove 8 hours to Traverse City to arrive just 30 minutes before the start of his clinic. At this point a normal person would be a bit worn down and you might expect that it would show during the clinic. This was most definitely not the case with Oscar. Oscar only knows one speed and just like when racing, he gives 150% to everything he does. At the time the clinic started the wind was still blowing and there were runs to be had on the lake, so I thought we might shortcut the dry land instruction and drills, to get out on the water, but that was not to be. The dry land instruction was extremely thorough, and then came the in-water drills.
Drills and More Drills
While dry land and in-water drills without the boat may not be very exciting they are absolutely critical to understanding the fundamentals of what Oscar is teaching. As I reflect back on my own teaching, I now realize that I have been jumping way too fast into paddling, and to be more effective I will be adding a heavy emphasis on drills. Trying to put it all together at once is simply too much.
Developing the Right Safety Skills Will Go A Long Way
Another item that really struck me during the clinic was how truly fanatical Oscar is about safety. There are two critical focal points where he drills the students relentlessly. One is to always have a paddle in the water. This is the single best habit you can develop to ensure you don’t tip out of your boat. This means getting equally comfortable bracing on both sides and with one hand when you need the other hand to wave or make adjustments. The other item is mounting the boat. As with most things with Oscar, there are not multiple options or preferences here, there is one, and only one way to do it right. The correct procedure it to do it “lady like” and mount with elegance and grace using the “side saddle” method. Oscar teaches that no matter what the circumstance, every time you get on and off the boat it is with both legs together over the side. He had a great drill to develop this skill where you practice a paddle stroke synchronized with swinging your legs (together) from one side of the boat to the other. At this point I realized I have some practice to do. I didn’t have the nerve to try this in front of Oscar because I knew it wouldn’t be pretty. In the last 2-3 years I’ve adopted the side saddle method for remounting the surfski, and have been able to use that pretty successfully, but it hasn’t been 100% effortless and bullet proof in all conditions. I now realize that the synchronized leg swing with paddle stroke is the number one skill to develop to ensure you can quickly and easily remount your surfski in any conditions. I have to admit I’ve embarrassed myself trying this at the beach recently and I’m sure that anyone watching me launch out onto the white-capping lake with 3-4 footers is gravely concerned when I can’t get in the boat without tipping over 🙂
We focus a lot on wearing life jackets and warm clothing, having leashes, carrying radios, cell phones, flares and whistles, and while this stuff is all important, knowing how to brace well and having a bullet proof remount it absolutely the number one thing you can do to ensure you never need to rely on the safety equipment you are carrying. I would venture to say that an ineffective remount is often the root cause of any surfski paddling mishap. In most cases it become a snowball effect where the paddler comes off their ski, struggles with the remount, almost gets up on the boat, then falls off again. After multiple attempts, they may finally get on the ski, but now they are cold, panicked, and tired and it doesn’t take long before they come off the ski again and the whole cycle starts over until they reach a point where they can no longer self rescue and assistance is needed. Oscar provides simple drills and a methodical approach you can take to ensure this is never an issue for you.
Finally Time to Ride in the Tandem
Finally after almost 3 hours of dry land instruction and drills in the water, the padders got in their boats to put it all together. The group did some paddling while Oscar barked critique and then it was time for everyone to get a ride in the tandem. Oscar made sure that each and every student got a chance to take a ride in the tandem. By the time the last student finished, we were about 4 1/2 hours into the clinic (For a second, just imagine what it might cost to spend 4 1/2 hours with Tiger Woods) We then corralled everyone up and headed to the bar for pizza and beer while Oscar showed some great presentations on the sport of surfski paddling and the history of the first Epic V10 being built.
It is quite clear to me that there is no company more passionate about spreading the Surfski Gospel than EPIC. Every employee from top to bottom is passionate about paddling and growing the sport. I’ve seen enough to know that it is extremely hard work, and Greg, Oscar, and the others at EPIC dedicate countless hours to spreading their passion and trying to get surfski paddling the recognition it deserves. I don’t think there is another company in the sporting goods industry where the founders spend as much time touring the world, using their equipment, spreading their passion, and teaching anyone and everyone who is willing to listen.
While it is easy to speculate on what it costs to build a boat versus what they sell for, I can assure you that no one in the chain, (Epic or the dealers) are getting rich selling surf skis. You should know that when you make a decision to buy a new EPIC, you are buying much more than the best surfski you can buy. You are supporting the growth of a sport that you love and a company that works tirelessly to perfect their products and teach you how to use them like a pro, so that ultimately you get the utmost enjoyment. When you’ve taken an Oscar clinic, implemented the drills, practiced your technique and learned to paddle downwind, I can assure you the repeatable experiences you will have will be absolutely priceless!