BEST ADVICE EVER from Johnny Puakea: You Need to Paddle Alone

Why Take A Clinic?

I am a firm believer in the biking quote, “it’s not about the machine, it’s about the engine.” With paddling that means, if my stroke is inefficient, it doesn’t matter what kind of board or paddle I have; I’ll tire faster, be slower and succumb to injuries. With recent shoulder surgery and being well past the age of 20 something, I’ve tried to invest in my “engine” before gear. That means stroke clinics and one-on-one training sessions; lots of them. As I grow in abilities or baby a hurt, my mechanics can be improved on, or I comprehend more. I don’t have any illusion about being a go-faster podium girl, but I do want to stay paddling for a very, very, VERY, long time. Injury free.

Johnny PuakeaAt each clinic or coaching session, I’ve received at least one golden nugget of advice that was worth taking away and practicing. That includes what I got from a recent one-on-one John Puakea outrigger lesson and group stroke clinic at Carolina Paddleboard Company. The outrigger was new to me, and a test in getting outside of my comfort zone in a new water craft. I’d also heard OC is a bit kinder on shoulders so I figured I’d give it a try. Mr. Puakea is Danny Ching’s and Annabel Andersen’s coach. He’s got no joke props, which can be intimidating, but all I wanted to do was learn, right?

Johnny Puakea to me “You Need to Paddle Alone”

There’s a reason my Mullet blogposts are under the column heading “And Another Thing”. I talk too much and segway into new thoughts and topics all the time. I’m not high maintenance but my brain is, it never shuts off. Why am I even bringing “that” up? Because during my OC time with John Puakea, he said clearly “you need to paddle alone, you talk too much and your stroke goes to crap while you’re talking”. That really wasn’t exactly what he said, he was much kinder and gentler, but that was the message. And he was right. Best advice I have ever received! If I want to focus on being better, I need to focus on being better. There is a time and place for social paddles, but if I want to get better, then I need to focus. No headphones and no chitchatting with my buddies. Damn!

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Most of us at the clinic were “beyond the age of spring chickens”, and were experienced paddlers. Does that mean our stroke was perfect, or we had nothing to learn? Heck No! The first thing John Puakea did was video tape each one of us following a short warm up. FIRST THING.

We reviewed the videos as a group. Talk about a tearjerker and some “ah ha” moments at the same time. We watched the videos forward and back, slow and fast, under the discerning eye of Mr. Puakea. We learned from watching the good and the not so good of what we did and the same for each other. I saw what I’d been feeling, that I don’t plant my blade or get a good catch before I pull. Now I’ve got a drill for that and I practiced it on my two solo paddles this week.

All of us looked like we were “taking coffee breaks” when we were changing sides. Uh oh. The videotaping is something you can do at home for free with your buds, but reviewing those results with the likes of Mr. Puakea…priceless. We each took away some drills specific to areas we can improve on. Even old dogs can learn some new tricks if we try.

Lessons I Hold Onto

I’m not going to ever think I can re-teach what I’ve been shown at a clinic or coaching session. But I can encourage you to invest in yourself by signing up for a clinic hosted by your local shop or at a race site, free or at cost. And not just once. As you spend more time on the water, your goals change, your skills change, your body changes. It’s a good thing. And it’s fun. Learning is fun. That said, what golden nuggets have stuck with me most?

Larry Cain: Reach, Reach, REACH

Dave Kalama: Breath… Rhythm and Flow

Jenny Kalmbach: Grip with your bottom hand to pull, do some race sprints as a warm-up

Dan Gavere: Fast cadence, get forward on your board, don’t hesitate

April Zilg: Almonds with your top hand and rotate like you’re flashing the boys on the passing boat

Kate Lewis: Active paddle, keep an active paddle

John Puakea: Set the blade deep, hesitate, then pull long. Relax. Paddle alone.

Truly though, the best advice EVER was from John Puakea… to stop talking so much and focus.

What was the best advice you ever received at a clinic?

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