It might not be in your game plan to be stronger, go faster or paddle for longer. Which is fine. After all, standup paddleboarding is meant to be a fun pastime, not a boot camp. But we keep being asked for advice from SUPers who’ve been in the game for a while, and who want to push on and reach that next level.
So, you believe in better. Better what? You need to decide exactly what your targets are. What do you want to improve and why? Having a plan is the bare minimum, and you need to set yourself challenges and targets that drive you on. Are you considering your first race, and if so, are you wanting to increase your stamina across distance? Or are you looking to step up in waves? And it’s really important to be 100% honest with yourself at this stage. It’s no good suggesting improvements or goals if deep down you’re actually happy where you’re currently at. Make sure you have the drive and ambition to improve before you actually set off down this path.
Once you’ve identified your improvement priorities and new goals, it’s time to assess how to get there and plan your route. For most people, the key components to work on are fitness and technique. And despite its easy entry level, SUP does require a certain grasp of technique, especially if you want to bust down next level doors. And the good news is that the requisite paddle skills and board handling can all be taught – at least the theory can be. So the best advice is to hit up your nearest accredited SUP school or instructor, and qualified instructors will be on hand to help. If you hit up the ASI (assocation of surf instructors) or BSUPA (British Standup Paddle Association) websites, you’ll find a long list of instructors and schools.
You can of course try to do it your own way. There are many different online tutorials delivered by luminaries of SUP. However, you need to take care when choosing what to watch. SUP is a new sport, and techniques and technology is evolving rapidly. Whilst for some things the old ways are the best ways, this is not always the case. Some of the tutorials can be outdated with older equipment being used, and with techniques that aren’t appropriate for new technology. And it’s worth remembering one of the truisms of teaching Anything you learn in the comfort of your own home is quickly forgotten unless it is put into practice. So anything you learn from your laptop should always be offset by ‘in the flesh’ sessions, preferably with a coach. That said those tit-bits of info picked up from the internet, from other paddlers and from instructors are all invaluable. Some might not suit you, some might be perfect for you, and you might be indifferent to others. But you need to put them into practice to find out. So be like a sponge and soak up all those tips and tricks from others.
One of the biggest areas for improvement is rider fitness. Paddling more will help, but only when combined with better technique. Simply spending more time on the water with bad technique and/or low end equipment – especially paddles – will do more harm than good. The saying is that a bad workman always blames their tools. It’s true that a good paddler can do wonders with a bad paddle, and a bad paddler can struggle with a good paddle. But choosing the right paddle will make good paddle technique easy. Just the right amount of dihedral, flex and balanced weight make the paddler’s job a lot easier. And prevents long term acute injury that’s the almost inevitable outcome of bad technique and bad equipment. And there’s no greater impediment to improvement than injury.
To get close to podium level, a degree of cross training is probably a necessity. We’re not suggesting everyone hit the weights but some gym work can pay dividends, as can mixing up your sport. Or you can take advantage of the increasing number of outdoor and green gyms that are springing up around the country. If you’re anything like us, you’ll much prefer outdoor exercise than sweating with the masses in a big warehouse. One of the biggest areas to spotlight is legs. You’ll be surprised how much strain is placed on your legs during prolonged SUP sessions. Anything that can help develop more efficient leg muscles, particularly thighs, is therefore a good thing. Biking and running are two such disciplines that will positively benefit your SUP. And to mix it up, why not try freerunning or parcours at the many extreme trampoline parks that are appearing in leisure centres and industrial units right now; have fun while training!
It’s worth repeating what whatever your performance improvement strategy entails, getting help from experts at the outset, even if only for one or two sessions is really important. If you don’t, you run the risk of the wrong kind of ‘training’ leading to injury. Take things slowly, with a little advice, and we’re sure you’ll see improvements soon.