I’ve had several inquiries about land paddling since the lockdown of 2020 began, so I thought a quick primer might be in order.
I discovered land paddling several years ago, not long after I started stand up paddling and at the time, I thought it would a great off-season way to stay in shape. A couple of things went wrong with that plan. First, I fell in love with it as a board sport all its own and second, I started paddling in the water year-round. But, the last time I was faced with wanting – no needing – to paddle but not having access to water was five years ago when I was stuck in Sun City, Arizona, caring for my parents. Land paddling became a nightly ritual that saved my sanity and was at times the best part of my day.
I’ve come back to land paddling now as a way to deal with my lack of water access in the face of the novel Coronavirus and and a pandemic the likes of which none of us have ever experienced. Some of us, whether by choice out of an abundance of caution, or by government directives, are cut off from water. I am. And land paddling is saving my sanity. Once again.
What is Land Paddling?
Land Paddling or Street Paddling involves a skateboard – usually a longboard skateboard or a giant skateboard (see Hamboards and Kahuna Creations) and a pole with a handle at the top end, much like a sup paddle, and a rubber stopper on the end. Instead of pushing with the foot, the skateboard is pushed/propelled with the paddle, in a motion similar to sup paddling.
Part A. Skating, like all sports can be risky, especially if you’ve never tried it. Start in a level area and work up to the hills. Be confident in your ability to turn the board and stop. Start with short sessions. You will fall. Roll, don’t brace with your hands/arms outstretched. Learn to jump off the board with both feet. Don’t ever leave one foot on the board. That’s how I tore my MCL.
Part B. During this time, your decision to try a sport that could lead to injury is YOUR decision. You make the calls as to whether it is appropriate at this time, understanding the risk of injury and what this might mean. It’s also your call as to whether skating in your area is appropriate given any stay at home orders. Right now, it is for me because I can do it right out my front door and because my neighborhood conditions are conducive to it. It might not be for others who would need to drive someplace to do it. Your call.
What you need to start
- A skateboard: I’d recommend something over 40 inches to start. The longer and wider, the more stable. However, the longer boards may not turn as easily and they are heavier, especially the oversized ones.
- Land Paddle: There are several on the market but I recommend the Kahuna Big Stick. Get the adjustable one to start, especially if multiple family members might be giving this a go.
- Helmet: A skate style helmet or one rated for both skating and biking.
- Protective gear: Knee pads, elbow pads and wrist guards, especially if you have never skated before. I like the G-form brand of pads, but any set will do.
- Thick-soled shoes: Vans, SeaVees, etc. Look for a flat sole. Avoid running shoes, flip-flops, etc.
The Right Board
The large land paddle board made by Kahuna and Hamboards are great fun, but they can be expensive and they take up a lot of space and are heavy.
I would recommend a drop deck longboard over 41 inches long to start. The drop deck lowers your center of gravity and provides good stability. They are easier to learn how to turn.
Brands to check out
- Jucker Hawaii
- Sector Nine
Eventually, you might want a board that carves really well. Carving feels the most like surfing or even snowboarding. Getting that carving feel – smooth back and forth S-like turns that are super flowy is largely a function of the type of trucks (the mechanical bit that makes the board and wheels turn) on the board. “Street surfers” are generally shorter boards that are designed for carving and pumping. Pumping is a technique that gets the board moving by using your whole body, not just your feet. Think of what a short board surfer looks like on a wave. Don’t try to do big hills on these.
Depending on the board you choose, and even then, land paddling stance more resembles surf stance or skateboard stance. Paddling the board with feet parallel -even on the oversized boards is at times awkward and unstable, especially when paddling uphill or working up speed. Practice standing on the board, putting pressure on the toe side edge of the board then heel side, getting used to the feel of it. Inside the house on thick carpet or outside in the grass is a great place to do that.
After practicing your stance and getting a good feel for what it feels like standing like on the board, head to the pavement. But go slowly. Here’s a suggested progression:
Start in a relatively flat location.
Keep your knees softly bent. Relax. Do not lock your knees. Remember, lowering your center of gravity by bending knees deeper will give you more stability, just like sup surfing.
Practice mounting the board. Getting on, standing, getting off. Use the land paddle to help steady you.
Practice shifting you weight onto the toes then back to the heels. Watch how the wheels shift and change direction as you do.
Gently start to paddle. Be careful not to place the “blade” too far in front of the front wheels nor too close to the side. Use small strokes at first, then work on lengthening the stroke. Don’t worry about your form. It will be different than what you are used to in the water.
To stop, stop paddling and let the board come to a gentle stop. You can drag the paddle as well, but do so gently. Too hard a paddle stop can launch you off the board.
Practice moving in a straight line. When you are comfortable with that, try going a little faster.
When you are comfortable with more speed, then slow it back down and work on turns. A front side turn means you will shift weight onto your toes and turn to the right (if you regular footed – to the left if you are goofy.) Shifting weight to the heels means you will turn in the opposite direction. On your back side. Use your paddle to brace as you make a turn, similar to the way you would on the sup board.
Then put it all together. When you feel confident then go for longer sessions and work in some gentle inclines. On hills, avoid going straight down the hill. Traverse the hill back and forth, like you would skiing or snowboarding. By gently turning the nose of the board back up hill, you can slow your speed down. That’s how you begin to learn to carve!
Where Should I Land Paddle?
Keeping in mind any local restrictions (Covid-19 or not) look for flattish spots. Greenways can be great, large unused parking lots, your neighborhood streets, etc. Be mindful of other folks walking, riding and of course, cars. Until you are comfortable, it’s a good idea to practice where there is more space. Crowded, narrow greenways can be tricky at first.
Watch for debris on the ground. Gum balls from gum trees and other natural debris can send you head over heels in a heart beat if you roll over them just so.
Avoid land paddling/skating in the rain or after the rain when it’s still wet, as water can mess up the bearings in the wheels.
Smoother pavement is the most fun. Cracks in pavement are the least fun.
Stay relaxed. That wobble feeling you might notice the first time you head down a hill is not likely your board about to come apart, it’s your unrelaxed, stiff legs. (Though some types of trucks like those designed for surfers skateboards do wobble over certain speeds, as they are meant more for flats, not hills.)
A decent board that will last long, give you the most pleasure and will make it easier to learn on starts at about $150. Sure, you can find a board for less but it may not come fully assembled, the hardware may not last and you may not enjoy the ride nearly as much.
Questions? Comments? Other suggestions? Drop ‘em in the comments below!