Ask Sam: Wax On, Paddle Position, Totem Poles

The Laird, sans deck pad. Photo: Benjamin Thouard
The Laird, sans deck pad. Photo: Benjamin Thouard

Ask Sam: Wax On, Paddle Position, Totem Poles

Sam George knows paddling. That knowledge was procured the old fashioned way. By doing it: From grinding away at surf contests to utilizing kayaking to find remote surf breaks to becoming one of the early practitioners of standup. And now the former SURFER magazine editor and senior editor at SUP magazine is bringing that experience to you.

So if you’re out there longing for paddling advice, just Ask Sam. Anything. He’ll put his seasoning as a paddler to work for you. Ask in the comments or send emails to letters@supthemag.com.

Q: Why are standup paddle blades bent the way they are? When I was just starting out I had lots of people telling me to turn my paddle around, but they really couldn’t tell me why. They just said it worked better that way. So why? —Shelly

A: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to tell beginning standup paddlers, “Turn your paddle around!” And if I have enough time (and they’re open to suggestion) I tell them why. The angled, or bent, paddle blade is originally of Tahitian design. Tahitian six-man canoe paddlers found that with the angled blade laying more flat during the “catch” the paddle could be pressed down into the water and not just pulled against, as with a vertical blade. By pressing down in unison the Tahitians could actually create lift, which resulted in less wetted surface and so greater speed. The same holds true for the adapted standup paddle. As explained to me by Todd Bradley, one of Hawaii’s greatest all-around paddlers, the proper stroke actually involves pressing down on the blade, not just pulling it back toward your feet. Try it next time and you’ll never mix up your paddle direction again.

Q: I’ve watched footage and seen photos of guys like Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama and it appears that they don’t use deck pads. What’s up with that? — Gary

A:
I presented that very question to Laird out in the water one day and he delivered a three-part answer. Imagine the Big Man’s voice stating emphatically that 1) Pads add weight (approximately one pound on a ten-foot board) 2) Pads add even more weight if you cover the whole deck (Laird likes to move around and can’t stay off the nose) and 3) Pads absorb pressure as you lean into a turn, robbing you of just that much power. Laird uses a textured spray-on deck coating and as soon as I tried a pad-less board I immediately switched to good ol’ wax. Not as comfortable and convenient as a pad, but better performance.

Q:
I came late to surfing and found out that unlike so many other things in life, the older you get the lower you are on the totem pole. I’m tired of being a bottom feeder. Should I take up standup paddling? — Joseph

A: No, you shouldn’t. Not for that reason. Taking up a paddle should make you feel like a super hero. But just like the Superman or Batman you should only use your awesome power for good, not for revenge, as would Lex Luthor or The Joker. If you do take up the paddle leave those conventional surfers alone, find breaks populated by friendly, fellow SUP tribesmen and women or better yet, look for some new, in-between-the-cracks spot where you can catch your very own waves, flying your cape proudly.

Ask Sam George.