Stroke technique is what paddleboarding is all about whether you’re racing, running rivers, downwinding, touring or just cruising around your favorite waterway. We can break down the paddleboard stroke into three general phases: the catch phase, the power phase, and the release and recovery phase. For this post we will be going over the catch phase.
The catch is when the paddler puts the blade of the paddle into the water. It’s basically all about getting a clean and early entry. By getting a clean entry we mean avoid bringing an excessive amount of air bubbles down into the water and no splashing. The catch phase sets up the success for the other parts of the stroke. If you mess up the catch, there is no way the rest of the stroke is going to work as it should.
Paddleboard guru Dave Kalama says the most common mistake he sees people making with their stroke is not getting the blade all the way down into the water. He says, you paid for the whole paddle, you might as well use the whole paddle.
In order to get a clean and full catch we need to bury the entire blade in the water before we begin the initiating the power phase (forward stroke). If we begin to bring our blade back before the blade is completely submerged, we will be splashing water and bringing air down into the water with it. This will create excess turbulence that may make the blade flutter and it will reduce the power of the stroke.
Fortunately, there is a technique for getting a good, clean and full catch. First, reach out with arms extended straight (no bend in the elbows). Then shift your weight forward onto the front part of the feet with just a very slight bend in your knees and ankles. This is help you drive the blade all the way down into the water by using your body weight.
Extending your lower arm out straight will help reach more toward the nose and assist in getting your weight to shift forward. It will also force you to bury the blade way out in front where it needs to be before you begin the forward stroke. You want to maximize the length of your stroke starting up front.
As you do this, bend forward using your hips- this is what Dave Kalama calls hinging. But do not stick your butt out like you’re getting ready to sit down. Instead, keep your back straight and aligned, and lean forward as if you were reaching over a counter to grab something.
As an added measure, you can also visualize pushing down on the top of the handle. This will give you the sense that you are falling on the blade. But don’t worry about falling on your face because as you begin your forward stroke your weight will shift back underneath you and return your center of balance.
Once you can execute a clean, deep catch you will immediately feel the difference. Your stroke will feel smoother, less fluttery and quieter as you go through the power phase. You will also feel an increase in power and you’ll be able to paddle faster with less effort as you create a steady rhythm. Focusing on the catch phase of your paddling technique is the first step in building a strong foundation for the other parts of your stroke.