Monday, June 8, 2015

SUP stroke- More graceful in my imagination than on camera

Standup paddleboarding (SUP) is an inherently awkward-looking sport. Even compared to other types of rowing, SUP is more hurky-jerky, bent-over, and asymmetrically weird. It's about as graceful as moving furniture. Yet, some of the really talented and fit SUPers still manage to make it look good. I've watched a lot of videos of the professionals at work, hoping to pick up at least a vague semblance of their style for myself. The most textbook-perfect technique example I've ever seen is the video below, of former Canadian Olympic canoeing champion Larry Cain. I think he's doing a fast cruising pace, like you'd do most of the time in a medium or long distance race.

A good example of how to go fast in a sprint race is probably Danny Ching, in his record-setting 47.6 second 200 m run at a Bavarian Lake in 2014. In contrast with Larry Cain's cruising technique, Danny's sprint technique involves shorter but much more frequent strokes- perhaps less graceful looking, but undeniably effective. To emphasize how incredibly fast Danny Ching went, most of the other pros at this 200 m sprint event did it in 55-60 seconds.

Danny Ching Fastest Paddler on Earth 2014, Brombachsee, Lake Brombach, Germany from Stephan Gölnitz on Vimeo.

My own recent attempts to sprint 200 m (imperfectly measured with GPS) have, of course, been much slower; around 73 seconds if I average the upriver and downriver times. Even accounting for the slight handicap of starting and stopping my own watch and not having a rolling start, that's much slower than even the "slow" pros. I know that as a 36 year old full time scientist with no special athletic gifts and no intention of training super hard every day I shouldn't expect to SUP at pro speed. But as someone who enjoys the process of fine-tuning, or "min-maxing" as my wife Rhonda says, I'd like to make sure I'm getting as close as possible to my own personal potential.

Towards that end I did some fin testing and GoPro camera selfie filming in conjunction with 200 m sprint practices on Saturday in the Imperial River near CGT Kayaks and Paddleboards. For the fin testing I compared my go-to fin (MFC weed-wave fin, second from left) to two BlkBox race fins that CGT was letting me try out (blue 8" and orange 6.25" fin).

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The orange 6.25" fin looked really small in the board, and as expected I had to switch sides more often when using it. My 200 m times were around 1:16. The blue 8" fin looked and felt great. I got 1:15 paddling against the wind and current and 1:11 paddling with the wind and current. I didn't have to switch sides too often, but I could still do a pivot turn nicely when I needed to. For better or worse, though, my go-to striped MFC fin was exactly the same- 1:15 against the flow, 1:11 with the flow. So no new fin purchases for me yet.

As a side note, SUP fin testing involves much more guesswork than windsurfing fin testing. In windsurfing it's obvious whether or not a fin is working because of the lift it gives as you press against it when sailing at high speed. With SUP, you're going much slower and less steadily and you're never really in a position to feel what the fin is doing. The only differences in SUP fins that I think I can detect on the water are if the fin is hugely oversized and draggy, pitifully undersized and slippy, or catching weeds. Catching weeds makes a fin draggy and slippy at the same time. The old green windsurfing fin on the left in the picture is draggy, based on my times. The yellow fin on the right is good for going in a straight line and is indistinguishable in speed from my good MFC fin, but it has less rake and doesn't shed weeds 100% of the time so I'm sometimes nervous to use it in a race.

Enough of the boring stuff about fins- on to the boring video of me SUPing back and forth. Some possible problems I've identified from watching myself on the video and comparing with better paddlers are:

1. Hunching my back too much; not bending at the waist enough
2. Poor reach / catch phase of stroke
3. Deep, power part of stroke coming too late; paddling past my feet

If anyone would like to add their own critiques or suggestions on fixes, please be my guest. Thanks!

SUP Stroke analysis, take 1 - 6 June 2015 from James Douglass on Vimeo.


Johnny Douglass said...

Your fin comparison is interesting. I remember studying rudders for sailboats nearly 50 years ago. My Boeing boss raced sailboats and often press-ganged me into crewing. I built a little sailboat and the first rudder was a disaster. The boss advised me a little on rudders. He said to make the thickest part about a third of the way back unlike on airplane wings where it is closer to a fourth of the way. I hung out some at the shell house at U of WA, now made famous by the book Boys in the Boat. There were some people building small performance sailboats and I was surprised at how thick the rudders were. I guess that was to get a lot of turning force without stalling when tacking. Do you ever stall the fin on a SUP? Do people ever experiment with thickness when optimizing between straight tracking and quick buoy turns?

James Douglass said...

Hi Dad,

I've seen lots of discussion about sup fin sizes and outline shapes, but not much about thickness and foil cross-sectional shape. However, the foils do seem to have the thickest part about 1/3 of the way back, like a boat's rudder or windsurfing fin. Most sup fins are fairly thin- certainly no thicker than a windsurfing fin and much less thick than a daggerboard or rudder. I think the lift required from a SUP fin is usually pretty minimal. I was going to say that I never feel the fin "stall" or spin-out, but then I remembered one situation where it can is when you're accelerating on a wake or a swell and the nose and forward rails of the board catch and try to turn you against the fin's tendency to keep you straight.


chris said...

As for fin is concerned, check out the Black Project fins. Originally a windsurf fin designer he has set his sights on SUP. Black Projects has spent time optimizing the foil instead of concentrating on surface area and outline. His fins are fast! The Black Projects Maliko fin has a very thick foil in regard to SUP fins. And it's variable profile is interesting to say the least. Makes a measurable difference in performance you can feel with the first stroke. If you have a dealer close by get a look. It's worth it.

chris said...

Oh, and btw, your stroke looks pretty decent. Your list of things to improve is right on. You may want to add a piece of tape or a sticker on your board that marks where your catch is. Then add another marker just a little further and aim for that mark during training to improve your catch reach. Also, move that bottom hand down a little. Ad tape to the paddle shaft as well to make sure you are gabbing the shaft in the right spot every time. And lastly, stack your shoulders and twist in the hips away from your paddle side at the catch. Hope that helps. Paddle stroke is like a golf swing.... Many aspects, work on one at a time and commit to muscle memory. Then work on the next aspect. Also, YouTube Larry Cain's paddle stroke Drills.