By Corran Addison
In this series I’m going to be covering a lot of different skills, from some really basic ones, to some really hard ones. Should I start at the beginning with simple things like stance, strokes or balance skills? Or something to get your blood rushing to get you excited about progressing with whitewater SUP? Something that’s really a more advanced skill, then down the road we can back off, start from the beginning and work forward. Consider this like the preview to a good film – straight into the action even if we are a little ahead of ourselves.
So today we’re going to look at punching large holes. You know, the kind that as you’re barreling down towards it you think to yourself “I’m f#@ked!” and the first instinct is to bail off the board.
There are really two kinds of ‘holes’ out there you’d need to punch. The most obvious is the ledge drop, where the ledge could be anything from 12 inches to… well, a waterfall. Since this enters a really wishy-washy area of whether it’s a hole punch or a waterfall run, lets stick today with something more impressive looking: BIG BLOODY HOLES.
First off, I’d suggest testing this out on something that’s closer to a breaking wave than a hole. No sense getting your clock cleaned as you learn the skill. Something that has a relatively flat entry into the hole, and the hole itself is more of a foam pile stacked on top of racing water, rather than a drop where you begin your journey by driving down into some nasty pit.
I realize we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, since we have not even addressed what a ‘Side Stance’, ‘Kung Fu Stance’ and ‘Surfer Stance’ is in this series, but bear with me here – this is a preview remember. We’re learning to run here – and we’ll deal with crawling later. For clarities sake, lets dispense with a sideways stance as something you’d never use in a rapid anyway. So your ‘stock’ stance (Kung Fu) is relatively wide side to side, with the toes of your back foot just slightly behind the heel of your front foot, and a surfer stance is basically standing on the centreline of the board, front foot about board centre, and back foot somewhere near the tail.
You can’t paddle efficiently in a surfer stance, so as you approach the hole in question, be in a bent knee, comfortable Kung Fu stance. Not overly wide or ‘staggered’ – comfort for effective paddling. The key is to look at how the current is creating the hole. Is the hole slightly off camber? Is it not perfectly perpendicular to the general river direction? Because we can’t brace diagonally into waves like a kayak and tend to get knocked off the board when getting side slapped, the number one way of stacking the odds in your favour is to always hit every wave, current and hole dead on. This means a lot more zig zagging of the board in rapids, but it’ll pay off.
So you look for a part of the hole that you can hit squarely from where you are, that has the most predictable water flowing into it (no ledgy drop offs or other oddities). Get some speed going into it (but you don’t need to race into it). About one paddle stroke before hitting the hole, step across to the centreline with your front foot, and step back to the centreline with your back foot as far back as is comfortable.
In theory you can’t be too wide for the moment of impact, but the wider you are the harder it is to get back into a paddling position once you’re through. If you have a boof buddy (a foam hook for the front foot), that moment you step across to the centre line with your front foot is when you’d hook it under the boof buddy. This works like a ‘kayaks thigh brace’ but for your foot, allowing you to brace and stay connected to the board no matter how abrupt the impact.
A split second before the nose of your board connects the hole, sweep the nose up with a powerful stroke, while at the same time bending the front knee to allow the board to climb upwards, while pushing down with the back foot. If you have a boof buddy you’d actually pull the nose up with your front foot rather than just flexing your knee upwards.
Now this is the tricky part…
While you are seemingly applying all this pressure to the back of the board to lift the nose, and your back foot has all the weight on it, your body is in fact well over your front leg. If you lean back, you’re just going to go over the back on impact when the stern grabs. So it’s important to have a ‘front foot favoured’ position over the board, with your hips positioned squarely over the front foot, all the while actually applying pressure to the back foot. Sounds contorted, but it’s not.
The reason for this is the instant that the nose impacts the hole and rises, you immediately want to transfer all your weight back to the front foot pushing the nose back down. The whole time you will have ‘rubber knees’ (bent and flexible) which will give you balance, allow you to adjust side to side movement if the board gets kicked out, and keep you over the front foot. It’s almost as if you were springing off the back leg onto the front leg like jumping a hurdle as the board passes over the wave.
With a boof buddy the board can stand almost vertically as you pass over the wave without falling off it. Without the foot brace it’s theoretically possible but much harder, and the ‘spring’ back onto the front foot timing is critical.
DO NOT be in a bracing position with the paddle. A vertical, active paddle that’s pulling you forward, up and over the hole is key (we will address this in another issue). The more your paddle is just bracing, the less chance you have of making it over, despite the false sense of increased security or stability. A vertical, powered up paddle is what you need, but be ready at any time to go into an on-side or off-side brace should the board get kicked out.
Try not to brace. Try always to use footwork and hip movement for balance so your paddle is always available for powering or steering the board. The more often its in a ‘dormant’ bracing position, the less often it’s available for actually guiding you down the river.
Got it? Good!