First, be honest with yourself about your swimming ability. Weak swimmers should wear a life jacket ‘cause you might fall in. Never leave your board. If you lose the paddle you can paddle the board with your hands. This is much easier than swimming. If you let go of the board, the wind can blow it away faster than you can swim. Stay attached to it with the ankle leash. Always paddle upwind first. It’s much more difficult than down wind. Don’t get caught a long distance downwind ‘cause you might not have the stamina to make it back.
The first time you stand, you might find the board tippy from side to side. Stand facing straight forward with a wide parallel stance. If you need to reposition your feet, do tiny half-inch steps or hops. Bend your knees, relax and stay loose in the hips, like you’re ready to hula. Your paddle is your friend. You can push the blade forward or backward to keep from falling, and even lean on it or pull up on it momentarily to find your balance. Keep your paddle in the water as much as possible and never let go of it.
Stand in the middle of the board. Too far forward will sink the nose. Too far back will drag the tail and slow you down. You generally want to maintain a wide centered parallel stance for long-distance paddling on flat water because it’s more stable and gives you easier, even paddle transitions from side to side. But when the surface is choppy or you’re in waves, you’ll want to adopt a more fore and aft stance with your dominant foot forward just as in surfing. Attach your safety leash to the rearward foot.
Reach forward with your blade up by the nose of the board, close to the board and with the whole shaft above the rail, top hand directly above the bottom hand. Stroke backwards. Visualize pulling the board forward in the water. Don’t try to extend the stroke too far past your legs - that angles the blade too much and pulls the edge of the board down. Your blade is angled forward for two reasons – to make the blade more stable in the water (as you’ll see if you try to stroke with the blade backwards) and to improve the release of the blade as you pull it up. Stroking too far back defeats that smooth release. Switch sides when the board veers off course. Skilled paddlers can track straight for 12-20 paddles before switching.
At first you keep your feet still so you aren’t tipping the board. As your balance improves you can move around the board more. In flat water you need to initiate this learning by forcing yourself to move your feet around. Shift from centered to fore and aft stance. Move your back foot more towards the tail then back centered again. In chop your learning will be automatic – when you master sideways chop you’re bound to be moving about on the board.
Turning and Spinning
Initially you’ll be turning the board slowly by stroking away from the board or paddling backwards but these are the slow ways around – fine for flat water but too slow for surfing. The faster way is to put weight on the back of the board and stroke with the paddle to pivot the board. Once you’re in a fore and aft position you can start practicing this by just putting weight on your back leg. This works even better if you take a step backwards. You need to lean on the paddle a bit to optimize these moves. Once you can spin the board 360 you’re ready to surf!
Written by Pono Bill and edited by Randall Barna.
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