Pro Tips: Paddle Efficiency with Quickblade’s Jim Terrell

Three Tips To Quicken Your Clip from a Master of the Paddle

When SUP exploded in popularity, equipment was lagging far behind ergonomics. Just about everyone was using clunky wooden or aluminum paddles; they felt more like an ax than a tool for propelling yourself across the water.

Enter Jim Terrell, a "mad scientist" hell bent on revolutionizing SUP equipment. Terrell started designing paddles with his boat-building father when he could barely see over his dad's workbench. Throughout the years, Terrell's used his own paddles—and even outfitted his competitors—while competing in four Olympiads and multiple world championships in sprint canoe.

Terrell and his wife, Elizabeth, founded Quickblade in 1990. In the process of creating and testing some of the most revolutionary paddle designs in SUP, Terrell became an expert on paddling technique. SUP mag's Brody Welte from PaddleFit took a few minutes with Terrell to dig into his 20+ years of paddling expertise for this week's edition of Pro Tips: Improving Paddle Efficiency. –Phil White

1)     Switch Sides More Efficiently

Switching sides inefficiently can cost between three inches to a foot in glide per changeover – which can add up to a lot over the course of a downwinder. During Terrell's flatwater canoeing career, stroke rates were often around 60 per minute, which meant that technique was critical. "Look at someone like Travis Grant or Jay Wild who came from other paddling disciplines,” Terrell says.”You'll be amazed at how effectively they change sides."

Spending a few minutes on changeover drills several times a week will improve performance for any paddler. Terrell suggests tossing the paddle when changing sides and sliding your bottom hand up to become the top hand on the other side. The top hand should come to the pulling position as it becomes the bottom hand on the other side, so you're already rotated and ready for the next stroke. This way your strokes will be the same on each side and you'll maintain your cadence. Practice on the water or with a bench on dry land by changing sides every five strokes, then every four, three, two and one.


2)     Fix Your Technique Issues

When Terrell conducts paddling clinics, he films his attendees and then asks them "What do you think you're doing wrong?" Most of the time, the paddler can identify their biggest issue. Addressing that issue is another matter. "You need to have someone who's experienced assessing what you're doing right and how you can improve," Terrell says. This can mean asking a coach or a friend who's more advanced to review footage, or sending the video to someone like Terrell's old canoeing rival, Larry Cain to get their take. If you paddle with a partner and you both have GoPros, you can record each other in action.

One of the most common technique issues Terrell sees is under- or over-reaching. "People try to stick the blade in front of their board without having a stable power base,” Terrell says. “Or, if they think they've found a sweet spot, they lose efficiency every time they take one of these tiny, one- or two-foot strokes." Echoing Dave Kalama's "reach, damn it, reach" motto, Terrell corrects such errors by teaching the importance of rotation and asking paddlers to extend slightly beyond the range they'd use in training or competition. "If you have full capacity, it's good to exaggerate reach a little in practice," he says. "Then the paddler will be more effective when they dial it back to the optimal reach."

3)     Self-Assess and Analyze

"We do what we're good at," Terrell says. Often times, that truth works against us. For Terrell, short interval exercises were preferred in his Olympic training because he enjoyed exercising his exceptional speed. When it came to longer, lower-intensity paddles, he'd go too hard and burn himself out by going beyond his threshold.

Terrell's advice on self-evaluation: If you're strong, work on endurance. Run, row, cross-country ski or cycle. Hone your cardio so you can apply that power on the water. If you're fit but not so strong, focus on bulking up. Capitalize on your endurance by increasing your power. Above all, be honest about your weaknesses and set goals to make them strengths.

More advice to improve your skill set.

Another look at paddle technique.