One of the most important skills I practice for WWSUP is foot work. Not just where to put them and when, but the more fundamental skill of moving around the board intuitively. For instance, the brain decides that we’re going to carve around the shoulder of a hydraulic and head off to the right to avoid a bigger hole just downstream. Ideally the body automatically responds by switching from an offset stance to right-aligned stance. In that moment you are also paying attention to blade placement, the board’s edges, and where your body weight is and where it needs to shift next. That’s a LOT to deal with in the moment.
This article part of the series, Project Ww’SUP.
Enter a simple exercise to develop your confidence and intuition stepping around the board and allowing you to focus on the many other factors working to knock you into the churning water.
Round the World
This exercise is extremely simple which is one of the reasons I like it so much. Practicing it as a meditation on a calm bit of water will build the muscle memory that will carry you confidently into class III whitewater. It’s not real exciting but it will help train you to physically understand and trust the board, the paddle, and ultimately yourself.
Stand in the center of the board, right-aligned stance (both feet on the centerline, toes pointed right) with arms extended straight out holding the paddle perpendicular to the board in a light sculling motion. Grip hand should be about shoulder-height.
Side-step left toward the bow keeping the paddle sculling for balance. The paddle should stay in the water slicing throughout this maneuver.
At the furthest point forward where you feel safe, sweep the paddle around the nose and begin working your way back down the board.
Sweep again around the stern and return to start.
Advanced modifications to this quiet exercise:
Keep your body oriented toward a stationary point and turn the boat/board under you.
Close your eyes.
Put a little slow modern dance into your footwork – give it some elegant style.
Submerge the bow and/or stern to spin the ends.
Practice in an eddy and use the eddy line to assist with board rotation.
Trust me – spend 10 or 15 minutes as often as you can doing this and your confidence in rapids will grow steadily even if it’s just warming up for a regular whitewater run. Your whitewater canoe and kayak friends take time out regularly for “roll practice”. Maybe show up at your local club’s next roll practice with your SUP and practice fundamentals like this exercise.
[A video demonstrating this exercise is in development – in the meantime here’s a little video of my own footwork on a local class II run]