SUP Technique Errors and Fixes  – Section 1: The Catch Part 1: Air Catching

As promised we’re launching a series of posts addressing technique issues commonly seen in the SUP stroke – what they are, how they affect your performance, how you know if you or someone else you’re helping/coaching needs to address these issues, and what you can do to correct them.  This week we’ll start by talking about the Catch and looking at the first one of three issues associated with the catch: Air Catching.

Background: What is the catch?

We can define the catch as the process of gathering water on the face of the paddle blade at the front of the stroke, holding it there and starting to work against it.  Ideally this should occur rapidly and dynamically, with the “gathering” part and the “working against the water” part happening almost simultaneously. 

Power is simply force expressed as a function of time, so if we’re going to have a powerful catch it isn’t enough to just gather lots of water on the blade.  To accelerate optimally, we’ve got to begin to work against that water explosively and dynamically without letting any slip off the blade.  This work against the water gathered on the blade (from this point forward we’ll call this “pulling”) needs to be incredibly finely timed.  If we start to pull too soon, we likely won’t gather enough water to hold on our blade and work against.  If we start to pull too slowly we won’t get the acceleration we should and may even be slowing our board down instead of increasing its speed.  However, we need to make sure we have water gathered on our blade before we start to think about pulling.  If we try to “pull” before we’ve finished “gathering “we can get ourselves in trouble.

Let’s look at the first of three of the most common mistakes associated with the catch and discuss some fixes.

1.  Air catching

What it is:  We say that someone is “air catching” if their point of maximal forward reach with the blade tip is in the air and not in the water.  The blade tip ends up moving backward from this point of maximal reach in the air before it contacts the water and reach attained by the paddle tip in the air is quickly lost before the tip comes anywhere near contacting the water.  This means positive blade angle is also lost before the tip contacts the water.  The time spent getting all that reach in the air Is wasted and the effective reach (reach where the blade is in contact with the water) is much less than it should be.  This results in an ineffective catch which provides little impulse to move the board forward.

Identifying this problem in your stroke:  If you’re seeing a splash consistently coming off your paddle as your blade tip enters the water you’re probably air catching. This splash will be directed towards you and often ends up on top or your feet.   It’s also likely that you’ll be feeling your catch isn’t powerful enough and that you just aren’t grabbing enough water.  You’ll feel your board isn’t accelerating as fast as it should be early in the stroke.  If you paddle with others who paddle well, these deficiencies should be easier to discern as they’ll move their board much further each stroke than you do.

Identifying this problem in others or in yourself when looking at video:  The biggest indicator of air catching is that your blade reaches farther forward in the air than where it actually contacts the water.  You’ll see the blade traveling backwards (towards you) before it contacts the water.  This may cause it to kick up a pretty sizeable splash that will likely wet the deck or the standing area of your board (and your feet).  Figures 1 and 2 show a fairly mild example of an air catch.  You’ll note in figure 1 the blade tip reaches farther in the air than the point at which it first contacts the water in figure 2.  As this is a relatively mild case it is not kicking up as much of a splash as a more severe case might.   Lastly, since the blade is moving back before it contacts the water, it is going to continue moving back once it finally contacts the water but before it’s fully buried.  You’re almost certain to see a great deal of blade travel from the point where the blade tip contacts the water to where it is finally buried, which represents lost opportunity to establish effective connection with a positive blade angle, use big muscles and body weight, and maximize the acceleration of your board. 

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Figure 1

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Figure 2

Correcting the issue: To correct an air catch it is imperative to get the blade tip to contact the water at the point of maximum reach rather than having that point of maximal reach be in the air ahead of where the tip contacts the water.  Here are a few things that help make this easier:

  • Don’t over-reach in the set up (in the air):  If you’re stretching out of your skin to reach with the blade in the air, well off the surface of the water, it is a near certainty that you’re going to air catch.  Instead, have a comfortable rotation/reach in the set up and then think about continuing to extend forward with your bottom hand and shoulder as you drop to meet the water with your blade at the catch.  Figure 3 shows a comfortable reach in the set up and figure 4 shows continued reach to the catch.  In this example the blade is essentially reaching right to the moment it contacts the water, completely eliminating the possibility of an air catch.
  • Think “reach to catch” rather than “pull to catch”:  This is basically another way of saying what was just described in the last bullet.  If you’re thinking of “reaching” into the catch your paddle will almost certainly contact the water at the point of maximal reach.  In fact, it may even be moving forward slightly even as it contacts and enters the water, ensuring that you get your blade buried quickly. Figure 3 and 4 illustrate the “reaching to catch” principle, as very clearly the paddler has continued to reach until the moment the blade is contacting the water.   On the other hand, if you’re “pulling” to the catch you’ll be moving your blade backwards towards your body before the tip even begins to contact the water.  This trend will continue even after the tip hits the water, causing the blade to be moving backwards in the water when it should be moving deeper into the water and gathering water on the blade.  This, of course, will result in the blade taking too long to get buried and is a lost opportunity to get body weight on the paddle with positive blade angle.
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Figure 3

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Figure 4

Next up on the Paddle Monster paddle-training platform for Basic and All Access Members Only:

  • Week of September 15th: Part 2: Taking too long to bury the blade
  • Week of September 22nd: Part 3: Sitting in the chair

Join Basic HERE

Join All Access HERE

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