Having just finished the Molokai 2 Oahu in 4:24:44, Dave Kalama’s credentials in the water world are unquestionable. He’s a big fish in a big pond, a real deal. Signing up for his clinic at The Carolina Paddleboard Company, I wasn’t looking for a silver bullet to get faster, I wanted the magic beans that would help me paddle injury free after recent shoulder and elbow pain; and I have to admit, maybe pick up some speed. The clinic was limited to only a few paddlers and Dave was going to work on stroke mechanics. I cannot re-teach WHAT Dave Kalama showed us, but I can share HOW he taught.
Sticks and Brooms
Relegated to staying inside due to lightening, all I saw as I entered the room were bamboo sticks and old-fashioned wooden brooms. What the heck? I’d heard something about him smacking you with a stick if you didn’t listen, but really? We sat down and Dave had us introduce ourselves. There was Joe and Julie and John and Jason. There was Ben and there was Haywood. With so many “J’s”, I adopted a new name, “Bambi.” Might have something to do with the deer in the headlights look on my face being in the same room with DAVE KALAMA (omg, omg, omg, it’s DAVE KALAMA!) Or not…but I kind of like having an alter-ego named Bambi. Dave encouraged us to ask questions at any time about anything even if it wasn’t about what he was trying to explain. I held back so I wouldn’t sabotage our time with chitter chatter like “Dave, what is your favorite color?” Note, we did find out what is the FASTEST color! (Not telling.)
Some of the key points that I got from this table talk and Dave’s demonstrations were; technique before power, hinging at the hips without a bow in your back, planting your paddle with as much body weight possible, planting deeply before applying any pull, a quiet blade entry, rotation and how much distance this gains, not pulling past your hips, and most importantly; going slow to go fast. He gave us each a broom and said it was time to practice short-term feedback to help us make long-term changes in our paddle strokes.
North-South, not East-West
I’ve heard and tried to practice different techniques for using my hips and my core. What I didn’t realize is that my hip movement was all East-West (side to side) not North to South hinging. With the broom, Dave had us rotate out, hinge at the hips and plant our body weight before we ever thought about the pull. The broom bristles squished if we did it correctly. With the broom “still engaged” pulling wasn’t just pulling, it was moving your hips to the paddle by thrusting your hips forward. North-South hip hinging, not East-West girly hips. Who knew a broom would be a great training tool! Now onto the water.
On the water, we were promptly handed a bamboo stick to put under our heels and across our boards. Why? To check to see how far back we were pulling, as anything past your hips is counterproductive. I thought I pulled out when I should, but in reality, I hit that stick so many times it was cockeyed. Dave reminded us all, GO SLOW, relax, and focus. Once again, who knew a simple stick would be a great training tool! With lightening eminent, we were relegated back to the dock.
The great thing about the small clinic size, Dave was hands on with each one of us (and yes I’m smiling when I write this.) Off the side of a floating dock, Dave had us turn our paddles upside down and practice a clean, no splash entry with the handle entering the water. He wanted us to stroke with rhythm and flow, not in an all jerky pissed off I did it wrong way manner. He showed us that the upper arm is somewhat relaxed like in a boxing soft jab; power, but relaxed. The bottom pulling arm goes in a somewhat “choo-choo” or “chugga-chugga woo- woo” motion. Technique before power. BREATHE he reminded us time and again. This was once again something new, paddling with your paddle upside down, but it made sense. All of us at different times had his undivided attention. And he touched us. 🙂
We went inside a bit wet and damp from the rain and wrapped up. We asked a few questions about his training. He bikes and runs soft sand for cross-training. He thinks simple in his nutrition and hydration (like for M2O), taking watered down Gatorade, plain water, gels and electrolytes. He has used different technologies for training, like gps and heart monitors; but said sometimes you just have to ask yourself, “am I working hard?” Dave signed our brooms and pictures were taken. He was onto a fundraiser for Pipeline to a Cure and flying out the next day.
The more I paddle, the more I want to get better. Better for me is efficiency. Efficiency is longevity and also “free” speed. This clinic was well worth its cost and I’ve taken several. They’ve all had crappy weather and this was no exception. I’ve learned more from “dock talk” and hands-on drills off the water, than when I have to worry about wind, waves and boat wake. Dave’s small instructor to student ratio was perfect. The broom and stick drills were immediate feedback. I was hesitant to take this clinic, thinking “OMG, its DAVE KALAMA” and my skills were too minimal. So glad I didn’t hold myself back. Dave’s ability to relate to each one of us as individuals with a handful of improvements rather than trying to cram a life’s worth of knowledge into four hours was all my brain could absorb (or at least I hope.) He’s not just a talented paddler, but a good coach and instructor. For me, clinics and lessons are the best investment I can make in myself.
And Dave, if you read this, Bambi says you did good dude!