Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Learning to Fly

Do you ever see athletes in action and admire the grace and fluidity of their movements?  They make it look so easy that we often forget the hundreds and hundreds of hours that they spend working to train their bodies and minds.  Movements that are seemingly effortless really have taken considerable amounts of effort to become effortless.

When I started paddling in 2007, I wanted to surf ocean waves.  I watched Jeff and others.  I admired the beauty and grace of their movements - how they danced on the waves. Of course being an analytical thinker, I studied their movements.  I analyzed  the specific components of how they surfed - wave selection, where they caught the wave, strokes that they took to get onto the wave, and how they maneuvered on the wave.  It helped that I had my own personal coach as well.  Buy him a tasty beverage after a surf session, and he would answer my endless questions.

I was sidelined with a non-paddling injury for much of 2008 and again subjected to watching and learning.  In 2009, I focused on dialing in my boating skills - strokes, bracing, rolling, controlled launching and landing in the surf, and rock gardening.

In 2010, I started to surf kayak.  From rock gardening and controlled surf zone drills, I developed a reliable roll in dynamic water and an understanding of the pulse of the ocean and the surf zone.  A Mini-Mako that had been in our stable became my steed for the surf zone.  It was my first waves with the Mini-Mako that I felt the speed and elation of flying down a wave (admittedly it was probably a 3' wave).

While I had some magical experiences with the Mini-Mako, it was surfing the Necky Jive that gave me the confidence to drop in on steeper waves, to learn control of my shore side edge, and to rudder on my shore side.  The Jive really does auto plane on to a wave, but then it is the surf pilot who makes it dance there.

Fast forward to 2013, I am starting to dance on the wave.  I continue to enjoy the challenge of the puzzle of figuring out our local shore breaks and am gaining the confidence to drop in on our local reef breaks which can extol penalties in pain and broken boats for mistakes.  I don't want the adrenaline rush of surfing big waves.  I want to dance on the wave - climbing and dropping, cutting back and flirting with the foam pile, floating off the top of it, and racing down the line to make the next section.  I continue to develop my skills in the Jive, but we decided it was time for me to move into an high performance surf kayak.

October 2013, a Valley Rush 2 joined our fleet.

 Day one - I was thankful that I didn't swim.  I spent a lot of time upside down and missed more rolls in one session than in a couple of years of boating.  The reality that this is a big step hits me, and I have the choice to give the boat over to Jeff or to buckle down and learn to paddle it.

Day two - a few outfitting changes and I am comfortably rolling it.  Now determination has set in.  I am going to learn to surf this boat.  I set up a training schedule for myself.

Day three - I am starting to fly down the face of waves.  Despite tripping over my edges, the elation of flying down a wave boosts my spirits and gives me the confidence that I can learn to do this.  I am starting to have fun.  Day four - I am flying down the wave and almost outrunning it then starting to make the boat move around.  The Rush 2 is so responsive - there is a reason why it is the boat of choice of many of the best surf kayakers in the world.

Day five - I finally feel like I am surfing.  I have miles to go but I would venture to say on this particular day I caught better waves and had more dynamic maneuvers on the wave than the board surfers that I was out with (again one has to realize that it was a 2-3 foot day with the occasional 4 footer).

Day six - I can't wait - maybe this morning . . .

I share my progression for those who think that learning to surf is something that can be achieved in a class or in a first year of boating.  Some individuals of course learn faster or slower than others depending upon a lot of factors.  I am not a school of hard knocks type of person, and my livelihood requires that I remain injury free so I tend to take things slow and minimize risks.  Also as a teacher, I understand the importance of developing a foundation of fundamental skills for injury prevention and higher skill development.  The analogy that one has to learn to crawl before walking and learn to walk before running is very true.  Research shows that skipping those steps in development often leads to difficulty with other skills down the road.

I encourage those that are learning to surf kayak to develop a solid core of fundamental skills, learn control in the surf, learn the etiquette (or don't go out where others are), practice in a location where the waves and surf vibe are friendly, and find a good coach (I am so fortunate to have Jeff).

As I teach kayaking and surf kayaking, I share my learning progression for students to know where I am coming from.  Both Jeff and I not only continue to hone our personal surfing skills but also our teaching skills.  I can empathize with the student who is tentative about putting in a shore side rudder because it wasn't long ago I was tentative about those shore side strokes.

And here I am now a little tentative about a new boat but learning to fly.

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