Lost at Sea

Paddleboard Lessons Without Actually Getting Lost

Lost at Sea - Paddleboarding Lessons Without Actually Getting Lost

by Kyle Daniels


I’m sure you’ve often thought to yourself, “you know, I’ve always wanted to paddle to that island over there.”  Or maybe, you’ve watched your neighbor load her paddleboard on top of her car every Saturday morning for the last couple years and have always wanted to understand what it was that motivated her.  Okay, even if the first two reasons aren’t why you’re reading this, maybe you just want to try a new sport or improve on what you already do.  Regardless, after reading this series, you should be on your way to feeling better, performing better, and hopefully enjoying yourself on a paddleboard more than ever.  If you think I’m talking about the sport with the hot girl standing on a board with a long canoe paddle - sorry, that’s SUP (Stand Up Paddling).  I’m not opposed to you enjoying that type of paddling, but what we’re focused on here is the traditional paddleboard - plain and simple “Paddleboarding.”.  The goal of this series is to not only introduce you to the sport and several techniques used to move you and your paddleboard through the water in different ocean conditions, but to challenge you to be a more efficient paddler and ultimately have a great time working out on the water.


Part I: Boards, Attire, and Other Comfort Gear

When I first started paddling, there weren’t many races, and finding a board was quite a task.  Luckily, a good friend was willing to loan me her 1986 Waterman molded stock board to train on.  When it came time to buy a board of my own, there were only a couple options.  Several of the paddlers at the time shaped their own boards - if I chose that option I probably never would have even paddled one race.  So, I first called the legendary Dale Velzy.  I can still remember my voice cracking as he picked up the phone and I squeaked out a “Hello, Mr. Velzy?”  Unfortunately, Dale was pretty much down to shaping collector balsa boards at the time and wasn’t making paddleboards anymore.  Next, Jack Linke - no luck.  Finally, I found Craig Lockwood who started making boards again and he got me set up on one of his newly designed Waterman hand shaped stock boards.  After Craig, I worked with master craftsman, Jeff Stoner, who set me up on 3 different boards that helped get me across the channel faster than the other guys.  Eventually, the stars aligned and I had the good fortune of working with the human shaping machine himself, Joe Bark.  Joe not only had a board ready, but he actually gave me three different ones to try and see which one I liked best - one was the magic board that led me to Catalina Classic victories in 2006 and 2007 as well as the 2008 US Championships.  Joe set me up with both stock and unlimited boards, and we had a lot of fun trying new designs and testing new theories.  Okay, back to the point; you now have the fortune of being able to find many types of boards, both used and new, and in several designs and lengths.  Let’s talk about your options.



If you’re reading this and you haven’t already purchased a board, hopefully this will help point you in the right direction.  Stock Paddleboards  I’m a big fan of stock boards.  Stock boards are traditionally 12 feet in length, and around 20 pounds.  There’s not a lot of foam on these boards to tweak the designs all that much, so they are almost like the one-design sailing classes.  From the late 1980s until about 2005, the Waterman design stock board was pretty much the standard in distance stock boards.  Just about every stock board in that era resembled a Waterman, with a few exceptions, namely Dennis Pang’s boards out of Hawaii which were built for downwind conditions, and the Australian surf racing boards, which were built for 1000 meter surf sprints popular in Australia and New Zealand.  Around 2005 Joe Bark really started experimenting with stock designs and basically mashed the nose of a surf racing sprint board with the back half of a Waterman style stock board, but with more tail volume.  This designed has been known as the CT ever since (CT - it stands for College Tuition, because we liked the design so much we told Joe it would pay for his 4 kids’ college tuition bills).


Advantages

Disadvantages

Easy to maneuver

Slower than 14’ or Unlimited boards

Designed for all conditions

Not great for big dudes

Easier for surf entries/exits

Less glide

Relatively inexpensive


Easy to store/travel



Mostly because of their smaller size and needing less materials and time to build, tock boards are your most affordable option.  Used boards can be found for as little as $500-800, and custom boards can cost up to $2500.  Joe Bark has worked with Surftech to make some awesome molded stock boards that have a reputation for being as fast, if not faster than the custom boards.  Rumor has it that there are a few copy cats getting ready to knock of the CT in mass production. If you’re serious about this or any sport, do yourself a favor, buy the best equipment you can afford - it will last longer both because of the quality of craftsmanship and the design excellence.  If you’re just getting started though, I recommend buying a used board.  Ask to try it out to make sure it’s the right size for you and start looking well before summer as it can be tough to find a decent board once the water warms up.  Once you have put a season under your belt, you’ll be ready to get a custom board built specifically for you size and body type.


14 Footer In the late 90’s shapers started making a hybrid board called a 14 footer.  Way way back when paddleboards were all made out of wood, the 14 footer was actually the stock board of the day.  The early Catalina Classic originally included a 14’ stock class, but it eventually became a 12’/20 lb class.  The newly resurrected 14’ board combines some of the design features of an unlimited board with the shorter length of a stock board.  These are great all around boards if you are looking to get out on the water and aren’t too concerned with racing; although, there is a local contingent of dedicated 14’ racers at several SoCal Paddleboard races.  Surftech first came out with a 14’ model in the early 2000’s and you can still occasionally find a used one around, but odds are you may have more luck ordering a new one, just expect to pay a bit more.


Advantages

Disadvantages

More glide than a stock board

Slower than 14’ or Unlimited boards

Designed for all conditions

Not always recognized as a class in races

Easier for surf entries/exits

Harder to find for sale

Relatively inexpensive


Easy to store/travel



Unlimited  These are the Formula One race cars of the paddleboard fleet.  As the name indicates, anything goes with these types of boards.  Most are around 18 feet in length and can vary in width, but they tend to be on the narrow side - around 20 inches.  The unlimited board has been around since the advent of paddleboard racing, starting with Tom Blake’s kook box design and evolving to today’s carbon fiber boards equipped with rudders and adorned with GPS units and specially designed waterbottle cages.  These boards are primarily designed for racing.  Anyone who has tried to get one of these things through a beach break knows that their best use is in open water.  Because of the length, an unlimited board seems more stable than a stock board, but once the wind begins to blow and the conditions start getting bumpy, these boards can be a real (female dog) trying to stay on and control.  If you have a larger build and eventually plan on doing some distance racing, you may want to start out on an unlimited board.  Unless you are a Clydesdale, I typically recommend everyone starts off on a stock board because once you paddle an unlimited you’ll never want to go back to the stock.  Why?  Once you get a handle on controlling an unlimited, you’ll find that you can travel faster and with fewer strokes than on any other paddleboard.  If your goal is to race the Catalina Classic or Molokai, the unlimited will get you to the finish line faster on 9 out of 10 days.  However, if you are planning on doing a lot of downwind paddling or racing Molokai (we’ll cover this in greater detail in a later installment), you should strongly consider using a stock or a specially designed downwind unlimited board for these conditions.


Advantages

Disadvantages

More glide for each stroke

Expensive

Faster cruising speed

Hard to store and transport

Great for larger builds

Requires more maintenance (rudder system)

Designed for open water

Difficult to control in rough conditions

More comfortable than a stock board

Not suitable for shorebreak


Because of the popularity of these boards for racing, they are relatively easy to find used as racers are always seeking to find the latest and greatest new board.  A used board in decent condition will usually cost around $1200-1800.  You can find a lightly used newer model closer to $2000; and a custom board can cost up to $3500 with full carbon fiber and all the latest advances.


Staying Comfortable

Once you have your board, it’s time to dial in the rest of your gear.  I like to paddle in something comfortable, but not something so baggy that it’s going to be dragging in the water.  I recently saw a picture from the finish line of my first Catalina Classic and noticed my trunks hanging over the rail of the board - did I just drag my trunks 32 miles through the water?  Fortunately, there are all kinds of new trunks, swimsuits, and compression bottoms that work great for your paddle workouts.  In the winter, on cold windy days, or if you live in a colder climate, you may consider wearing a lighter weight wetsuit to keep your core warm; but keep in mind, you’ll warm up pretty quickly once you start moving.  For the top, I would try a few options.  My attire varied anywhere from a spandex tank-top rash guard to a lightweight Patagonia Capilene or breathable surf shirt.  On colder days I would go with a thicker long-sleeve rashguard or even a 2mm neoprene wetsuit top.  Don’t forget a good hat with a dark underside to help shield the sun and the spray - especially when you’re going to be on the water for a while.


Thanks to my European ancestry, I don’t go outside very often without some decent sunscreen.  In the early days of my paddling and surfing I would lather on the zinc oxide to give my skin a physical coat of protection.  Fortunately, companies like Vertra came along and actually made a sunscreen stick that you can trust to keep you protected for hours on the water without completely washing off.  Eye protection has come along way as well.  Any surfer that has been in the water a few years knows that the sun beating down on you will also reflect of the water to get you going and coming.  Combine that with lying down a board for hours at a time and getting constantly sprayed with salt water and you’ll be ready for a decent pair of polarized glasses to save your eyes.  There are many options out there.  Like sunscreen, the best ones on the market are the ones that you use regularly, so get something you like.


Last, you may want to consider some hardware to make your training more enjoyable.  Most boards come with a good deck pad, but if yours doesn’t, add one immediately.  There is only one guy in the modern era of paddling that I can think of that used good old surf wax instead of a deck pad - George Ramos (RIP).  I wouldn’t consider leaving the beach without a water bottle on my board for anything less than 40 minutes.  If not for thirst, it’s nice to have something to wash the salt water out of your mouth every now and then.  Most boards have a spot to attach a water bottle cage and if you really start going for distance, CoastalEddie.com has several options to trick out your hydration system, as well as chin rests and other board accessories.  The other item I would consider adding to your gear bag is a GPS watch.  You can use a regular GPS and mount it directly on your board, but the new watches are pretty slick and get the job done.  I haven’t really used one for navigation, although it probably would have saved me several hours spent trying to find land in the fog (but then I wouldn’t have as cool of stories), but a GPS watch will allow you to track your training progress and analyze your pace after a workout.  I like to strap the watch on to my tiller handle or on my water bottle cage and see how true my course was, or see if the currents played a factor in my workout.  As your workouts get more advanced, downloading your workout details after a sprint workout will tell you how your pace held up on repeats.


So you should pretty much be set.  You have your board, your gear to stay comfortable, now you’re ready to hit the water.


Up next: Part II - Prone Paddling Fundamentals


Resources:

Joe Bark

Eaton Surf

NCP

Surftech

Coastal Eddie

Vertra



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