Many of the technical parts in a good stroke come from canoe paddling because canoe paddling and canoe strokes have been practiced and refined for hundred, perhaps thousands of years. Extending your arm all the way forward, twisting the upper torso towards the extended arm, bending at the waist slightly to extend all the way forward, extending the shoulder itself forward to get absolutely every inch of reach you possibly can. All of these are vital to maximizing your potential, and any good canoe paddling coach will pound them into your practice. But there is one thing you won’t hear from canoe paddling coaches because its unique to Standup Paddling. Using your hips.
Hip movement is an overlooked but critical element of thrusting forward. I like to tell people to envision pulling yourself to the paddle as opposed to pulling the paddle to you. The main reasons for this is because when you envision pulling yourself to the paddle, you will naturally try to pull your whole body to the paddle. By default that means pulling your hips( or your center of mass) up to the paddle, whereas when you try to pull the paddle to you, you will automatically drop the hips back and anchor them there so that you can pull the paddle to you, just as you would pull a rope in a “tug of war”. What’s the difference between the two? Pulling your body to the paddle creates forward momentum, pulling the paddle to you doesn’t.
As always, you need to exaggerate the movement to feel it’s effect, and then add it to your conscious practice. As you do that it will pattern into muscle memory and become part of your stroke. To integrate the hips thrust them forward while you are pulling on the paddle, so that as the shoulders and torso pull back the hips thrust forward and meet in an upright body position. You will feel the board thrust forward as the movement draws your feet under your hips and you straighten. Just thrusting the hips into the stroke at any random moment won’t do much. It has to be synchronized with the pull of the paddle, so that your maximum point of hip thrust corresponds with your maximum amount of pull on the paddle. That hip thrust can easily account for an extra inch or two of forward movement per stroke. Again, as an individual action it doesn’t account for to much, but when added up over thousands of strokes it can begin to make a significant difference.
In pure flatwater paddling or long distances you won’t use this stroke element constantly, it uses your large central muscles which burn a lot of energy. But if you practice the movement so you can engage it smoothly over the length of a sprint it can help you catch bumps for down wind. In sprint races it can be your ace in the hole, that lets you break away from the pack, or pass your rival before the finish.
Best of luck with integrating this into your stroke. I know these fine tuning elements can be hard to master through a written description. I’ve had a lot of success in teaching these refinements at Kalama Kamps and individual training sessions. It’s really interesting to see how much faster people can paddle when they pull together all these bits–even in a single day of instruction. If you visit Maui remember I am available for one on one coaching when my schedule allows. The winter big wave season makes that a little more difficult to coordinate, but if you’re interested just contact me through the “Contact Dave” tab at the top of the page or just fill in the Contact Dave form in the sidebar.