Surf Session Coach/Instructor Feedback — an Example

Someone recently asked me about the feedback I provide to students as part of a private instruction session, so I thought I’d share some observations made after a surf session.  The names have been removed to protect the innocent:

Overall:
I saw a significant improvement in your respective comfort levels, both in how you “addressed” the water, and in your body/boat alignment.  Some of that can likely be attributed to just getting comfortable in a new environment, but I saw more natural reactions to the waves and wind toward the end of the day.

A great example of this for me, and hopefully you’ll recall as well, is the ease in pivoting the boat after coming in on a wave, so you’re quickly facing back out.  At the start of the day, that was typically a series of sweep strokes, not too far on edge, and without a smooth transition from side to side.  By the end of the session you were both generally exiting the whitewater already starting to turn out to sea again, and using more aggressive low brace turns and reverse sweeps to get the bow around.  I saw you both (A in particular), also take off back out without worrying about getting exactly 90-degrees to the wave, knowing you could still punch through and brace (kind of a “forward stroke brace” where you just plant the paddle and let the stern swing around) on the ocean side and let the waves do some of the work for you.

A, by the end of the day you were taking on bigger waves and having great success with them.  Good job on quickly transitioning from a stern rudder to a bracing maneuver and “falling” into the wave for maximum support — you were able to see how the aggressive bracing can keep you stable, even when the boat is bouncing all over the place side surfing.

Both of you had great bracing and edging into the waves.  B, you progressed well from the first time we paddled along the shore, to later, when you were closer to the breaking waves and doing more side surfing.

A few opportunities to focus on for your next time in the surf.
A — wave timing — as you get more practice reading the waves, you’ll know when to take off so you don’t build up too much speed ahead of the wave.   It’s a balance of getting a little momentum going, then picking up the pace/effort when you feel your stern start to lift, then slowing down/stopping and transitioning to a rudder as the wave starts to move the boat.  Next time we’ll start getting into more advanced positioning on the wave, including keeping the stern free in spilling waves for more turning ability/control.

The one other suggestion is to really focus on keeping a blade in the water, or going to an aggressive setup position when punching through the waves.  Try to resist the temptation to raise both arms and blades up in the air/out of the water.

B — the same for you with reading the waves and taking off, but on building up enough speed.  The “quick burst” acceleration is an area where you’ll see some good returns.

For both of you — if you can, work on awareness farther away from the boat — what is the next wave going to do, and the one after that.  We’ll focus more on this during our next session.  The goal (and A touched on this a bit when we talked on the beach) is to develop natural reactions to what’s happening in the water right around the boat, so you can watch for the 2nd or 3rd wave headed your way (or hazard in the water, etc.)

Homework:
B —
Startup speed — A good drill is to go from a stop, looking back over your shoulder, to quickly getting up to speed in 6-7 strokes.  I didn’t mention this on Sunday, but really focus on driving forward with your feet and using a shorter stroke — the blade will exit the water sooner than you think — and a deep catch.  If that doesn’t make sense, I’ll get some film of me demonstrating on flat water.

Off-side braces — Practice those more than the onside, and also the offside roll.

Rolling — practice capsizing in different positions, not just a setup position, and rolling up on either side.  Even start with your eyes closed and have A or someone capsize you (carefully) and feel where your body, boat and blade are — get oriented underwater and roll up.  We want to develop the natural awareness, so that when you get tumbled, it doesn’t matter, you can get oriented and roll up.

Finally — very fast re-enter and roll practice.

A —
Watch some surfing videos (real stand up surfing) on YouTube or Surfline.com and notice how the surfers go straight down the wave and then do a bottom turn to get directionally oriented.  Then notice how on really large waves, they take off and quickly start going in the direction they want to head, without going all the way to the bottom of the wave.  That’s us — in sea kayaks, as the waves get bigger, we have to start riding the wave already turned, but not broaching.  We can’t bottom turn well – it kills our speed and we get windowshaded, unless we’re really going fast.

Also, if you get in the surf again, experiment with leaning forward vs leaning backwards as you slide down the face of the wave.  I think in the Valley boat, you’ll find leaning backwards will help keep you from pearling, but in the NDK, leaning forward will help build up speed where the hull shape will lift it.  Assuming the waves aren’t too big :-).

You might also try the cowboy scramble on the Valley boat.

Finally, very fast rescue practice.  Come in at odd angles, etc. and see how fast you can get each other back in the boat.

Both of you — try more swimming with your gear and paddle :-)