We are starting to include more personal stories of prone paddlers. Today please welcome Josue Delucca with his account of trying and getting hooked on prone paddling! He hails from Puerto Rico!
I love the water, I’m a physical therapist, and love to be on the water, be it paddle/surf/sail.
Paddling is an activity tha knows no boundaries. If it’s windy, choppy, flat, wavy, night or day, at any time, one can go paddling. The type of craft one uses complements the experience and one’s physical capacities, and if chosen well, the flow is unique. I love all paddle craft, but not all paddle craft are ideal for every situation.
After several years of open water swimming, surfing prone, paddling seated and then standing I felt I’ve had the best of it all. Among the best experiences I have had were paddling surfskis, mostly downwind, for several years until sciatica dumped me from the bucket, but not from the pleasure of the glide.
Then came paddling standing up, and after a short stint at downwinders, it quickly went the surfing way where the fun /effort ratio favored me. Even though downwinders were fun on the stand up board, my shoulders would resent it and I still missed the glide of my 19” wide surfski down the swell.
I had an old collection of shoulder injuries that started flaring up on the longer downwind runs, not to mention paddling up or side wind, which meant pain. Surfing was painless, and besides, sup has it’s own advantages on the small surf I prefer.
So, I still wanted to paddle downwind, and had a predicament. On one hand, I wanted a paddling activity that would allow me to go downwind on a narrow hull, enjoying the mesmerizing glide, without exacerbating my sciatica by being seated or irritating my shoulders paddling standing up. On the other hand, I also loved swimming, as a relaxing cross training activity. An apparently impossible combination. Swim downwind? Ha.
All pieces starting falling into their place on the puzzle when I laid my eyes on a prone paddle board and saw the paddler’s action on it. Two options for propulsion, prone and knees. Very interesting.
A friend showed me a prone paddleboard she had bought and offered it for me to demo. And another friend, long time prone paddler, also started to talk me into demoing one. I quickly went searching for videos and more info on these boards on the web.
So, I got to my demo day, on a very flat lagoon with a light breeze. My friend brought her carbon stock board, shaped for her size and weight. I immediately saw a short surfski. And upon lifting it from the ground, my smiles went ear to ear. So light and sleek. Bingo! Walking from shore to water, I started recreating images of me paddling one of these downwind. Yes!
First reality check happened upon laying on the board. Shakiness. Well, I had paddled surfskis, and I knew what shaking meant. After practice it would fade away. Well, prone, even after having paddled for several months now, the shakiness on knee paddling has been more challenging to tame.
Since I swam regularly, I thought I could go for a quick out and back 2 km demo session. After all, this board was sleek and fast and it would make the distance easy to cover. Well, reality check #2 quickly showed itself. After less than a minute paddling, my upper back and neck were screaming and my pulse was racing. I told myself to relax and power down. I made the first kilometer with several stops to rest, dismounted and took several minutes to stretch and wind down. Did I say it was downwind? Paddling back, I could muster 10 strokes at most, before needing to stop and rest, many times. This is intense!
Third reality check, the expected “try to get on the knees.” None of my 3 tries produced more than 10 strokes of knee paddling, all added up, with a lot of swimming and remounting in between, plus cramps on the arches of my feet. Back to laying down, stroke 10 times, stop, repeat. At least, I could go upwind without much effort.
Upon dismounting back to where I started, my fourth reality check came up. I felt as if I had strings pulling me from above, onto an almost ballet dancer straightness. This was good. My legs where throbbing, which felt great. My neck was stiff, my upper back stiffer, my triceps useless, all things to be dealt with. Other muscles had things to say as well, not nice, but encouraging.
I was convinced. This modality had potential. The board was sleek, fast and had the mesmerizing glide on the flats. I swam, paddled and felt great. I wanted to demo again!
The intimate relationship with the small wind bumps on the lagoon felt cool when going downwind. I felt like they were whispering to my ears, prompting me to paddle harder to catch and ease to glide. Coming upwind was nice, finally. I kept some kind of glide, and it felt less exposed to the wind than standing up or sitting down. Side wind, even with some gusts, I was able to keep my direction steering with my hands. I wouldn’t dare try to tip the board on its side to steer it for fear of falling off and having to struggle back up, I was so tired coming back.
But overall, the experience was A+.
Now, I had to sit down and devise a method to condition my body for a second demo in a few weeks. If this one went well, I would definitely buy a prone paddle board.
Being a physical therapist, I have a nagging mania of watching movement, analyze it, and design therapeutic exercise to solve issues. So, back to prone paddle boarding videos and my annotations regarding my muscles’ expressions the day of the demo, and, even more, the day after.
I came up with several exercises to stretch and strengthen some key areas, using simple moves from Pilates and Yoga poses. I had to develop core endurance to keep my torso up while stroking with my hands. I had to eliminate tightness on the anterior neck, pectoral and hip area and create strength all the way from my heels up to my posterior neck. The front of the body would allow the back of the body to perform. All while stroking with one arm and balancing with the alternate leg, repeatedly. Easy, no. But very challenging.
For knee paddling, I had to work with my feet first, which had weakened and flat arches. No amount of balance on the board would help me deal with a cramped foot. So I added a few exercises to try to convince my flat feet into becoming somewhat pointed when kneeling.
Practicing these exercises for a few weeks gave me confidence to do a second demo. The original stock carbon board I had used the first time was not available. But another non carbon stock board was, and I used it. This time, even though the board was heavier and wider, I was able to paddle longer and take more strokes before resting. Kneeling, I had more success, less cramping. I even went into the open ocean and caught some bumps, without much wind on the back. Very promising!
I was convinced. I demoed a couple more boards and ended up with a secondhand 14’. I have been progressing slowly and carefully on my distance/speed. Stretching is a constant after paddling and the original exercises designed for the second demo have been revised and the routine improved.
At the beginning, after a kilometer downwind in open waters, I was spent. To help solve this issue, I found a small inlet where the ocean swells flow inside with the help of the wind, sometimes. I do intervals here, working on my knee paddling and speed to catch the bumps. I wear a leash all the time. After a few months of this, I have tolerated up to 8 kilometers downwind in open waters. Knee paddling is still not perfect, a bit shaky, but productive. I can catch bumps on my knees, glide and have no cramps on my feet.
Lastly, my old sciatica is no more an issue, my shoulders are quiet and my swimming, even though it is not happening as frequently as before prone paddle boarding, holds up.
· Seeking the best craft for one’s goals and conditions is a long but fun road.
· Prone paddle boarding is very rewarding, a unique blend of disciplines, but not easy.
· Progression is slow, the curve steep, and the fun is always there, learning bits and pieces on every session.
· One needs to condition the body before prone paddling, and maintain it in between sessions.
· Relaxation while on the board, breathing, and body awareness is crucial.
Life is good! Lay down on it!