By Dave Kalama
– March 15, 2011
As my coaching efforts increase, so does the necessity to be creative with my explanations of what I’m trying to convey. You can only say “Reach, Dammit, Reach” so many times before your student only hears “blah, blah, blah”. So I came up with a simple paddle exercise and a drill that does all the explaining for me, exhibits why reaching is so much more efficient, and helps you build a good reach into your stroke. I named it the Kalama 50/50 because that’s how we’re going to analyze your stroke. Not the most memorable name ever, but hey, at least fifty doesn’t begin with a K.
This exercise is for any kind of paddling, and it’s effective whether you try it in an OC-1, a SUP or even something low performance like a rotomolded kayak.
Use a more traditional Hawaiian style stroke for this exercise. A Tahitian stroke already emphasizes the front part of the stroke so it won’t show reach efficiency as clearly. This is a two part drill to show the effects of reaching versus paddling past your half way point of the stroke. What you are going to do is break the stroke into two parts, the front half and the back half. Then, once your mind wraps around the reality that reach is more important than power, we can work on the second part, making you faster and much, much more efficient.
First, a little prep. Sit in your OC, kayak, or stand on your board in your trimmed position and reach as far as you can. Loosen your grip on the paddle, stack your upper shoulder to the keep the paddle vertical. Push your lower shoulder forward as far as you can and let your upper shoulder move back to balance the movement. Let your top hand come a bit over your head. Strain forward a bit, reaching as far as you can. Mark the spot where the blade would touch your boat or board with contrasting tape so you can see it easily. Get back on the board or boat and try to get past the tape. Move the tape to whatever new spot you come up with. When you have as good a reach as you can do with moderate strain that’s your target. As you learn to use muscle stretch to increase your reach you’ll go well past it, but that’s for another time.
Now stroke a few times with your traditional stroke and see where you’re pulling out the paddle. In a canoe it’s probably somewhere around your waist, on a SUP it might be somewhere around your toes. If it’s past your waist or toes that’s fine, we want your natural stroke. People who paddle well past their feet are the most surprised by how little power that develops. Mark that paddle exit point with contrasting tape.
Now take your tape measure and find the midpoint between the two tape strips. Put a third strip there.
First I want you to just paddle the back half of your stroke for a few hundred feet. Put the paddle in at the mid mark and pull back as far as you want and as hard as you want. Just make sure that when you do the second half of the drill, you exert the same effort. Make a mental note of the speed and acceleration you generate. Now I want you to do only the front half of the stroke for a few hundred feet. Reach as far forward as you can and only pull back to the middle tape mark. Now make a mental note of the speed and acceleration, if you are able to use a GPS in the monitoring of the experiment, even better, but it’s such a big difference that you really won’t need it. I’ll let the results speak for themselves.
If you want more, you can read the second half of the article here