Words: Tez Plavenieks
Pics: Nick Kingston
If there’s one thing SUP has done it’s open minds to alternative on water disciplines. Whether you’ve come at stand up having had no prior experience or if you’ve crossed from an already established watery practice, you can bet you’ve developed an eagerness to explore possibilities further.
For me, I’ve been keeping an eye on prone paddling. These past few seasons more and more I’ve been yearning to have a proper stab at lying down. Coming from a traditional surfing and swimming background lying down to stroke makes a lot of sense. Plus, getting no younger, and sometimes feeling the strains of stand up, I’d been reading about and seeing comments from those already involved with how proning can be less wearing on joints. Have no fear, I’m not about to chuck in my paddle yet. But I do think mixing things up is a way to increase fulfilment in the water as well as give certain muscles and movements respite. In fact, anybody who knows me well will appreciate my willingness to choose my tools for the job – or rather practice what weather conditions dictate on the day.
I’d dabbled (tentatively) with prone paddling a few seasons back. Whilst I enjoyed the few sessions I scored lying down because I was using a SUP, which has too much width, I wasn’t exactly enamoured or getting the most out of it. Yet I knew that with the right sled I’d be enjoying it more. When a friend told me he’d just got hold of a Bark prone board (Joe Bark being one of the world’s most respected shapers of prone toys) I was intrigued. Offering to loan me the ‘Yellow Javelin’, as I’ve nicknamed it, I couldn’t resist.
Yellow Javelin is a very apt name for the Bark board as it’s super narrow at only 18”. Some fellow water goers told me how their standard surfboards are wider! Also, having done a bit of research it turns out the 14” YJ is an early flat water design, so therefore quite technical if afloat with swell, chop and current in the mix. Charlie Danby, who the board belongs to, also confirmed as much.
First sessions proved this to be the case. With only a slight wind swell rolling the Yellow Javelin was a listing beast to control if side on to the flotsam. Even lying down – a perceived more stable paddling position – wasn’t exactly easy during those first few goes.
I’d genned up on prone paddling a little before hitting the water and discovered a whole bunch of things needing consideration. Paddling position and how to hold my head for instance. That said, it took a little time before I dialled things in – at least lying down. Getting to my knees was still proving tricky.
After an hour or so I eventually got there and found that stroking from the board’s sweet spot was super efficient. In fact, paddling with just my hands I was as efficient as standing with a SUP blade in hand. The Bark’s 14” of length, combined with narrow width, and knife like design sees the Yellow Javelin get some decent zoom on. It cuts through the water, releasing from the tail effectively.
Comments from the beach gallery reflected this. It was noted how smooth the 14” paddled when everything slotted into place. It was also noted just how unstable the Bark was when not in the sweet spot!
Having gotten the hang of proning next steps were to get to my knees. This also took a little time but eventually I got there. And actually having had a few more goes I was switching between prone and knee paddling without too many dunkings. Some kind of distance suddenly became achievable and I’ve since covered a fair bit of brine since those initial forays.
So having managed to get comfortable at prone paddling and knees stroking I was keen to see how the Yellow Javelin would be if I wanted to get to my feet. After all, I like pushing myself and seeing what you can achieve. So would an 18” wide board, with a rolled displacement hull, be fit for standing tall?
First go and I slammed into the water with a big splash. Doggedly I hopped back aboard and dug a few strokes in before popping to my feet ala surfing style. And…Hey presto I got to my feet and enjoyed a few seconds of gliding free. There was certainly a lot of wobble going on but the 14” Bark was actually fairly stable, relative to its performance orientated design.
So logical next steps were to paddle it in SUP form. After all, having discovered I could stand without a paddle meant I should be able to stand with. And yep, it works. I’m not going to lie, anyone (kids and smaller stature individuals aside) trying to sweep a sub 21” board – especially one like this – with have their work cut out. Even more so if on tidal water. Regular brace strokes and high concentration was needed to stay upright. It became quite tiring after a while. Yet it was still super fun testing my mettle further and seeing what could be achieved.
All in my first proper experiences aboard a bona fide prone paddle board were extremely positive. So much so that I’m hooked and have had a few more sessions atop the Bark 14” Yellow Javelin. One morning in particular stands out where the sun beat down and waters were glassy calm. I wasn’t in particular deep brine, the seabed staring up at me from beneath glinting liquid. Being so close to water meant I felt particularly in touch with my environment. At one point there were jumping fish breaking the surface and I thanked my lucky stars for being able to experience this moment.
If you’re a stand up paddle boarder looking to try something different and wanting a new challenge then prone paddle boarding is a good option. You could start off on your SUP, although be aware the width of stand up boards don’t make for efficient paddling. If you can get a go on a proney then I’d recommend it. There’s an increasing number of proners in the UK and I can see the attraction. Who knows, you may too!
Big thanks to Charlie Danby for loaning me his Bark 14” prone board without which this article wouldn’t have been possible.