So I’ve written narrative summaries of each day at the Epic Surfski Center in Tarifa Spain, but what exactly did I learn?
The Forward Stroke
My forward stroke is pretty much based on a sprint paddler’s stroke, but with a few mistakes and imperfections thrown in. But at Tarifa, Boyan was teaching what I think of as the “Oscar technique” – lower hands, lower elbows, and most surprisingly, no torso twist – the hips, shoulders and paddle remain mostly parallel throughout the stroke and almost all your twist comes from leg drive rather than torso twist. I’ve been trying to keep my elbows lower this year as a defense against shoulder problems, so that’s not an adjustment. Lower hands make sense in the surf, but I feel they’re probably not optimal on the flat, so I should probably be flexible about that and use the lower hands when appropriate. And I’m not sure I want to eliminate the role of torso twisting entirely.
One thing that showed up in the video tapes, and I’m not sure why I’ve never noticed it before, is that I’m not really getting my catch in at the beginning, and I’m raising my hand over my head in order to get the angle right on the paddle. I’m probably not explaining that right because I’m not sure I understand what is supposed to happen. Boyan briefly mentioned the proper way to do the catch, but we never did any exercises or drills for the catch. I need to do some research, because I really think this is something I need to fix.
Waves are why I came to Tarifa. I had hopes of experiencing long downwind runs on very large waves on very long wave lengths, the sort of thing you see and drool over on the videos from ocean paddlers. Well, the conditions never quite reached that level – instead we got situations that I’ve seen on Lake Ontario, although possibly more consistent and definitely nicer weather. This year I’ve had a huge break through in confidence and skill and I’ve handled some big stuff with my Epic V10Sport. I’m not scared of falling out, and I don’t get all twitchy and panicky when sideways to the waves. But what I went to Tarifa to learn was how to get the best ride out of the waves, and especially to get some skill and experience when you’ve got multiple overlapping waves coming from multiple directions. And that’s what I got.
The basic change in tactics I learned is to not stop paddling when you find yourself stalled out on top of a wave with the water filling up the cockpit, and not waiting to start your sprint to catch the wave when you feel the stern start to lift. Instead you try to get to your “base speed” as soon as you can, including when you’re riding a wave and it’s starting to die. Then you start your sprint while you’re actually “hull up” pointing up the backside of the wave ahead of you. Once you get on the wave coming up behind you, you use the one just ahead of you to see both where the wave is going so you can turn with it, and also to judge when the one behind you is going to start to lose power. The other related tactic is how to find the next wave – you scan the area just ahead of the boat, watching the waves in an arc on either side if the nose of the boat. Several people refer to that arc as “a quadrant”, but my pedantic engineer nature doesn’t like that name because it’s rarely 90 degrees. Mostly it seemed we were looking about 30 degrees on each side, but you would adjust that to favor one side or the other if there was a predominant wave from one side or you were trying to get to a destination that isn’t quite in the direction of the prevailing waves.
I think I did pretty well with these skills. Sometimes I managed to link – I’d get on one wave, use that speed to catch the next one, and then use that speed to catch the next. And then on the third wave I’d end up stalled out on a wave with the cockpit filling up with water. But it’s a start. It felt especially good when the waves were going in different directions and you’d be basically doing s-turns down the waves. Now that I’ve got the feel, I feel like it’s only a matter of practice, practice, practice.