The Paddle Academy: Grom Uprise
The longevity and progression of any sport isn't defined by what's happening now, but what's next. And if what's happening in Dana Point is anything to go by, the future of SUP is as bright as the sunrise at Doheny State Beach.
Five years ago, former college rower and competitive outrigger canoe racer Mike Eisert realized that for SUP to continue developing, someone needed to develop a systematic, formalized grassroots program.
"Look at watersports like canoeing and kayaking, or land-based activities such as basketball and soccer–they all have excellent youth systems and centers of excellence," Eisert said.
Someone needed to step up and create such a program for standup paddling and Eisert figured that with all he'd learned as a lifelong waterman, it may as well be him.
The Paddle Academy had humble beginnings, with just a few kids coming to the harbor after school to learn the basics in relatively calm, flat conditions. But Eisert soon recognized that while the setting made it easy to teach beginners, it was a little too sanitized and didn't provide the same kind of experiences as an actual race. So when the opportunity arose to relocate the group to Doheny, Eisert seized it.
The impact was immediately apparent.
"Instead of just puttering around in the harbor, the kids started to get comfortable coming in and out of the surf, going into headwinds and doing downwinders where we start at Doheny and finish in San Clemente or begin in Laguna and end at Doheny," Eisert said. "The conditions are constantly changing and once they've got the safety side down, we feel like the variability keeps things fresh and prepares them for a lifetime of fun in the ocean."
Not to mention, the location gives Eisert's talented crop of youngsters a leg up at the Pacific Paddle Games each October.
"We spend six to eight weeks just prepping for the technical race at PPG and I think that shows in how quickly our kids are progressing," Eisert said. "A prime example is Jade Howson, who not only competed in pro junior girls category as a 14-year-old [finishing second overall] but also made the final of the women's elite race, led for the first three buoys and came away with an incredible fifth place finish. Racing in the same conditions as the pros makes it easier for all of our athletes to picture emulating their heroes in a few years."
Performance is just one aspect that Eisert and his fellow coaches are focusing on. Perhaps even more importantly, they're teaching sustainable and efficient technique from the get go. This ensures their young prospects are not just placing in racing, but putting into place habits that will set them up for long-term success. This past summer, Eisert brought in movement and mobility expert Dr. Kelly Starrett to teach proper positioning from the feet up.
"If you're not standing correctly on your board and your body isn't moving how it's supposed to, you might get away with it for a while, but eventually those poor mechanics are going to lead to a chronic injury," Eisert said. "That's why we're going to spend the next couple of months breaking down how we move and making sure our feet, hips and everything else are synched up."
Another key component of Eisert's holistic approach is making sure that his pupils are using appropriately-sized equipment.
"When we started five years ago, I was begging paddle and board manufacturers to start making junior-sized equipment because kids were getting hurt on boards that had way too much volume and paddles that were too thick and heavy," Eisert said.
Fast forward to late 2016 and you see 10 ounce paddles and low volume boards that are much better fits for junior paddlers.
The final component emphasized daily at the Paddle Academy doesn't concern the body, but character. Eisert insists that while his paddlers should be mentally and physically tough in competition, they should also be gracious, no matter what the result.
One of the ways that he and his fellow coaches help teach such persistence is by fostering an enduring sense of community. More than 100 people associated with The Paddle Academy made the drive from Southern California to the 2016 Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge in August. The club also holds regular family events like barbecues on the beach and group surf sessions.
"We want our kids to be the best watermen and women they can become, but ultimately it's about community and everyone having fun," Eisert said. "That's what makes this sport so special."
Recap of the 4th Annual SUPFiesta, which showcases the future stars of our sport.
Get to know a future star, 14-year-old paddler Lexi Alston.