Want Paddling Advice? Ask Sam George

Punching through the surf. Photo courtesy Australia Waterman
Punching through the surf. Photo courtesy Australia Waterman

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: I’ve been paddling for about year in flat water and have just now begun to venture into the surf. Trouble is, when I paddle out through the waves even the smallest bit of whitewater either knocks me down or I lose my balance trying to ride over it. I’ll never learn to surf if I can’t get out. Any suggestions?
Gary, Pacific Palisades, CA
A: First of all, don’t be discouraged—getting out through the surf is one of the trickiest things about standup paddling. As a beginner stick to small waves, which will be less intimidating and make it easier to get the following combination of moves down. 1: Paddle vigorously toward the broken wave, building momentum. Too many novice paddlers just stand there hoping they’ll float up and over like a rubber duck. No chance. 2: Point the nose straight at the wave and assume your surf stance just before paddling into the whitewater. 3: Ordinarily the rule in all surf sport is “Bend at the knees, not at the waist” but this is one exception. As you hit the whitewater and the nose of your board comes up, hinge forward at the waist. At the same time plant your paddle blade on the back side of the whitewater and pull yourself over. This stroke is all-important—pulling against the paddle not only affords you balance but the pressure against your leading foot will drive the nose of the board down before it kicks up and you ignominiously flop off the back. 4: Quickly regain composure and repeat as necessary, mere flotsam no longer.

Q: I paddle with my husband a lot and he always tells me to bend my knees at each stroke. But in all the pictures and videos I see nobody seems to be taking advantage of his words of wisdom. Should I?
Libby, Middletown, RI
A: Anyone who paddles with his wife a lot is probably a pretty good guy, but good or not, in this case hubby is wrong. The power of your stoke comes not by pulling the paddle toward the body, but by hinging forward at the waist, planting the paddle blade, then pushing down, straightening and bringing your hips forward. Done properly you are essentially pulling the board toward the paddle blade, not vice versa. Outrigger paddlers achieve this technique by bracing a leg against the seat in front. Freestanding paddlers, however, must brace off slightly bent, but static, knees to utilize the requisite—and more powerful—hip and thigh muscles. Bending at the knees during the stroke breaks this chain of engagement, taking advantage of only relatively puny arm and shoulder muscles. Again, good guy, bad advice.

Q: How do you keep roof rack straps from ‘humming’ on the freeway, or at any speed higher than 50 miles an hour, for that matter? I thought I was pretty clever figuring out how to strap my board down on my own, but then I feel like a complete kook the whole way to the beach.
Robb, Valley Village, CA
A: The answer may be simple, but it has a twist—literally. Simply give the strap a single twist, preferably where it bends over the rail of your board, before tightening. The aerodynamics involved are extremely complicated and exactly why a single twist keeps the whole strap from vibrating is a bit of a mystery. But trust me—give it a try and you’ll never have to endure another rooftop didgeridoo concert again.

Send your questions for “Ask Sam” to letters@supthemag.com or in the comments below.

More wisdom from Sam here.