3 Challenges That Will Make You a Better SUPer on Your First Day (2/3 Series)
Welcome back to my 3 Challenges Series. This is the second post in my three post series where I break down the 3 Challenges I use to teach beginners how to be more comfortable on a paddleboard. Last week I broke down Challenge #1, which was getting comfortable performing the neutral, staggered, and surfer stance on both sides. This week, we will move on to Challenge #2: Nose to Tail walks.
Challenge #2: Nose to Tail Walks
This challenge is pretty self-explanatory. You must first walk to the nose of the board as far as you can (like if you moved one more inch, then the board would buck you off), then walk backwards toward the tail. It can be pretty challenging and maybe even intimidating. This is where most of my students will fall in the water, which is exactly what I want them to do! This challenge is about finding your limits and getting to know your board. Here's how:
Let's start with some reflecting back to our reference points I established back in the first post.
Imagine that your board is divided into thirds, length-wise (hot-dog style). We will refer to the left third of the board as the left rail, the center third of the board as the stringer, and the right side of the board as the right rail. In order to be the most stable on your paddleboard, you need to think of it like skiing or snowboarding. If you "catch an edge", or in other words, the water submerses one of the rails of your board, then your board will tip and you will most likely fall in the water. So our goal is to control the rails of the board to prevent this from happening.
Another reference point that you will need to understand is that the longer the paddleboard, the more surface area it has on the water, which requires a little bit more energy to turn or maneuver the board. So shorter boards are therefore easier to turn, and longer boards are harder to turn but are easier to paddle in a straight line.
So by understanding these two points, we must assume that in order for us to maximize our potential on a paddleboard, we must be comfortable moving around the paddleboard to manipulate how it is interacting with the water. We will never be able to be a solid paddleboarder if we keep our feet glued in one spot on the board the whole time.
So some helpful tips to think about when walking on your board is to think about narrowing your stance so that your feet are on the outer edges of the center "stringer" third of the board. This will prevent the board from drastically rocking side to side as you're moving around.
Another point to keep in mind is that in order to be fully balanced we must think about maintaining good posture. This is imperative in any balance-related sport. The body position you should have is actually the same position that I use when I stand on a running horse. Your shoulders should be stacked over your hips, and your hips should be stacked over your ankles. Your knees should be soft, meaning they are not locked and are able to absorb any movement from the water or the board. Your head should also be UP, with your ears over your shoulders!
It is absolutely essential to get into the habit of paddleboarding with your head up! This challenge is a great way to take it home. It is natural for a beginner to have their eyes down on their feet while they are walking around the board. When you are looking at your feet, it forces your head to drop forward, which is like the equivalent of putting a 10 lb weight on your chest. Looking down will cause your weight to be thrown forward, so you'll fall forward. Either that, or it will cause you to have to compensate for the added weight toward the front of your body by bending at the knees and throwing your butt backwards. This low-squat position may feel more comfortable because it allows you to look at your feet and lower your center of gravity, but it actually is a lot more unstable because you aren't allowing yourself the freedom to be able to adjust for any unpredictable waves or bumps. One wave or jolt of the paddleboard, and you're swimming!
Another pointer that will help with this challenge is to think about sticking your boobs out and bringing your belly button to your spine, which is a verbal que for pulling your shoulder blades back and down while keeping your back straight. If you just read that and practiced it, your should feel like your abs are now engaged and your chest is open. If you haven't had much practice with this body position, then there's a good chance that it's a little bit more difficult to breathe right now, huh? You're probably doing it right.
Developing a strong core will make balancing easier. Make sure to drive that belly button toward your spine and engage your core while you're practicing the nose to tail walks, but don't get too caught up in that that you forget to keep your knees soft and fluid!
If you fall forward while performing this challenge, then that means that your head was down or your shoulders were forward. Think about keeping your chest open and neck long.
If you fall backwards while performing this challenge, then that means that you lost your core. Your back was probably arched, which caused your shoulders to go back over your hips and made you fall backwards. Think about keeping your belly button back toward your spine.
If you fall sideways or in any other weird way, it was probably because your knees were stiff and not fluid with the movement of the water underneath your board. Imagine you are on a trampoline with a friend who is jumping their heart out, and you don't want to jump anymore so you're absorbing their bounces with your knees so you don't get bounced off.
If you're having difficulty figuring out how to engage your core and make your back straight with shoulders back, try this drill:
Go put your back to a wall and stand with your heels just a few inches away from it (space away from wall depends on how much junk you have in your trunk).
Once you're situated, notice the small of your back (the area above your pelvis) is probably curved away from the wall. Fix it. Flatten your entire spine into the wall. Tuck your tail bone under by tilting your hips backward. Your abs should be engaging at this moment to maintain this position of completely flattening your backbone against the wall. This is what I mean by driving your belly button toward your spine. Hold this position.
Now think about your shoulders. There's a good chance that they are rounded forward right now. Fix it. Flatten both shoulder blades against the wall by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Once you've established that position, the last step is to bring it all down by pulling your shoulder blades as far away from your head toward the ground as you can, increasing the length of your neck. Wha-BAM! Perfect posture.
Now practice doing this without a wall. And on a paddleboard. And you know what? This posture is actually very best if you do this 24/7, so aim to have this posture all the time.
Here's a great tutorial video I found for those who are interested in fixing their posture:
**Side Note for Technique Progression**
The purpose of this exercise is to establish good posture, which is the foundation of balance as well as paddle technique. I understand that you do not typically actively paddle while standing in an upright position, but the concept is still the exact same. The only difference is adding variations to your stance and angles of your body to accommodate for the paddle placement. If you understand the structure of postural balance and the relationship of stacking and compensating these pivotal points in your body, then you will be able to build up to being able to execute more technical paddle strokes and braces while balancing over your board.
Because of my vaulting background and my training in posture and balance, I believe I was able to pick up paddleboarding on rivers much faster than the average person. I have spent countless runs on class III rapids thinking about and adjusting my posture in my shoulders and my core and have seen and felt immediate results through minor postural adjustments, such as having an open chest and shoulders back, head up, and core engaged.
I also attribute my postural training as the reason why I can *mostly* control my falls to falling back down on my board versus falling in the water away from my board when I run whitewater. This helps me to be able to recover quickly when I'm paddling higher consequence whitewater.
I believe that performing the simple drill of nose to tail walks will develop the body awareness necessary for maintaining balance on a SUP. This drill eliminates distracting variables such as paddling or moving the board, allowing the student to focus solely on their posture and harmony with their board.
Thanks for reading and be sure to check out the final post in this series... Challenge #3!