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Advanced Drafting: Passing from the Tail Wash

In the July issue of The Catch, we looked at drafting (SUP Drafting 101:  What it is, Why it Helps, How to do it.  )

In this issue we’re looking at how to move around on the wash, specifically how to pass the person you are riding from their tail wash.  Obviously, if you are a racer this is a vital skill.  While simply staying on the wash is a foundational skill, being able to pull off the wash and pass someone can make the difference between winning and losing.  So, let’s look at passing from the tail wash more closely.

Before you consider passing

If you’re riding someone on the tail wash and are considering passing them, it’s wise to first make sure you’ve got the energy in the tank necessary to successfully attempt it.

If you’ve had to catch up to the paddler you’ve been riding you need to make you’ve had adequate rest on their wash and are sufficiently recovered before attempting the move. Ask yourself if you’re capable of an all-out sprint of at least 45 seconds duration. If you’re not and need a little more rest, I strongly recommend staying on the wash a little longer before attempting your move.

Once you’re confident that you are sufficiently rested and you’ve gathered yourself for an all-out, as-fast as-you-can-go effort, you can consider passing the paddler you’ve been riding. You’ve got a couple of options in terms of how to do it.  You can try to complete the pass in one single stage attack or in a two-stage attack with a rest on the side wash in between each stage. Let’s consider the single-stage attack first.  

The Single-Stage Attack

Before launching your attack, you first need to figure out what side you’re going to paddle on. You’re going to want to try to complete the first part of the attack, which involves going up and over a wave, paddling entirely on one side. Changing sides in this part of the attack runs you the risk of slowing down at the most crucial moment and jeopardizing the attack’s success.

Most paddlers have a side they consider to be their stronger side.  It’s either more powerful, easier to control the board on, or a combination of both. I cannot stress enough the importance of launching your attack, if possible, while paddling on your stronger side.

Make sure you are in the sweet spot where your board is running downhill maximally. This is the spot on the wash where you have maximal speed with minimal effort. Change sides when the paddler you’re riding changes sides and gather yourself for your attack, waiting for the exact moment to strike.

If your stronger side is the right, you’ll want to pass on the right of the leading board and launch your attack the moment the moment the paddler in front of you changes sides from right to left.   If your stronger side is the left, you’ll want to pass on the right and launch your attack the moment the paddler you’re riding switches from right to left.  Choosing to pass on the side that you’re paddling on eliminates the risk of your paddle getting tangled up in the board, or paddle, of the person you’re trying to pass.  

When the paddler you’re riding changes sides, pull out slightly to the side you’re passing on and explode into your attack, using the speed of the wave you’re drafting on and your own dynamic sprint strokes to strike quickly and aggressively. This should be an all-out, as-fast-as-you-can-possibly-go sprint.

You’ve got to go over a wave at this part of the attack to move from the tail to the side so not only do your strokes need to be fast, they need to be deep, powerful and dynamic. You’ve literally got to lift your board over the wave. The quicker you can do this the less draining it will be, the more energy you’ll save for the rest of the attack and the less time the person you’re passing will have to respond.

Try to stay close to the board you’re passing. You’ll obviously want enough room between their board and yours so you have lots of room for their paddle and to keep from getting sucked into their board, but you want to avoid getting shot out to the side and increasing the distance you have to travel in your pass. If you get too far from the board you’re passing, there’s a chance the pass will take too long and you’ll tire out.

You’ll likely have to use your steering without changing sides skills to avoid getting sucked into their board at this point in the attack as you move from the tail wash to the side wash.  However, getting sucked into their board is less likely if you get over the wave and onto the side wash quickly.  

Once you’re over the wave and onto the side wash it gets easier, but there is still work to do. The more quickly you’re able to get over the wave, the more time you’ll have to sprint on the other side of it before running out of gas and needing to slow down.  This allows you an extended period to make your move.

By this time the person you’re passing knows you’re coming. The element of surprise is over. It is critically important to continue to press your attack at this point. You can’t let off. You have to commit to your move. Again, the less energy you spent getting over the wave in the initial part of the attack, the more energy you’ll have to carry your attack home here.

Continue your sprint, staying on your stronger side until you’ve got your nose comfortably in front of the person you’re passing. Only then should you consider changing sides and when you do you need to be prepared to hammer, to either open up your lead or solidify your position.

If the person you’re passing is good you won’t have dropped them. They’ll slide onto your side wash or at the very least your tail wash. But now that you are in front you are in control.   You need to understand that if they’re riding you the struggle is far from over, but being in front you are in a position of control now.  They’ll have to pass you to regain control and if they’ve been leading for a while prior to your pass they may not have the energy to successfully do so.  This is a great position to be in late in a race when the sprint to the finish is approaching.  

What to do if your attempt to pass fails

If you’ve set up your attack properly and can’t get over the first wave to get to the side waah then you’ve got to abort your attack and at all costs get back on the tail wash. The last thing you want to paddle uphill trying to get over the wave for an extended period and have your attempt to pass ending up compromising the position you’ve secured while on the on the tail wash by draining you of energy or causing you to lose your position in the draft train.

If you’ve managed to get over the wave and onto the side wash but have used too much energy and don’t think you have enough left to carry your attempt to pass to completion, then abort your single stage attack and at all costs settle onto the side wash. Here you can rest, recharge and gather yourself for another attempt to complete your pass from this position. 

The thing that usually separates knowing what to do from actually being able to do it is practice. Get out there with a training partner and play with drafting and passing. Get used to the explosive effort required. Youll start to see one of the reasons why weve done a lot of 15 second sprints at the beginning of our training sessions.

If you dont have a training partner to practice with watch the Drafting 101 video, particularly the sections related to passing, till you can see it in your sleep. At least youll feel more familiar with where you find yourself and what you should be trying to do when youre presented with an opportunity to pass in a race. Just remember to explode into your move as hard as you can go and commit to it till youve pressed it home.

The Two-Stage Attack

Everything we’ve discussed to this point about preparing for a single-stage attack applies to a two-stage attack. You’ve got to be sufficiently rested to launch your attack and get over that first wave and onto the side wash. Since you’re not actually trying to complete the pass all at once and move directly into the lead, you don’t need to gather quite as much energy as you might for a single-stage attack.  Essentially, you’re not really trying to take the lead initially, you’re just moving from one spot on the wash to another.  That said, don’t kid yourself and think you can launch an attack if you’re not fully ready. You need to explode into your attack and drive it home until you’ve found a comfortable ride on the side wash.  You want to make the move as quickly as possible so it minimizes the time you’re paddling uphill and not riding wash and therefore minimizing the amount of energy you spend.  If you aren’t able to drive your attack home quickly because you weren’t sufficiently rested before starting, all you’re doing is wasting energy, and wasting energy is going to have a negative effect on any future passes you attempt to make.

As with a single-stage attack, you first need to figure out what side you’re going to paddle on. You need to get up and over the first side wave paddling entirely on one side. Changing sides in this part of the attack runs the risk of slowing down at the most crucial moment and jeopardizing the attacks success, so I strongly suggest you launch your attack while paddling on your stronger side.

If I know from the start of my pass that I am going to do a two-stage attack, I actually like to attack on the opposite side from a single-stage attack.  I say this because I find it easier to ride side wash with my paddle between my board and the board that I’m riding on.  I just feel I have a little more control and it is easier to steer and avoid being sucked into the lead board if I am paddling between the two boards.  We’re all a little different and we all have slightly different skills sets, or at least skill strengths and weaknesses.  So really the best way to determine which side to pass on is to experiment with both in practice.  You’ll pretty quickly find your preference for both single and two-stage attacks.  

As with the single-stage attack, make sure you are drafting in the sweet spot where your board is running downhill maximally. This is the spot on the wash where you have maximal speed with minimal effort. Change sides when the paddler you’re riding changes sides and gather yourself for your attack, waiting for the exact moment to strike when you change to your stronger side.  Pass on your preferred passing side, launching your attack emphatically without hesitation

Stage 1

Pull out slightly to the side you’re passing on and explode into your attack, using the speed of the wave you’re drafting on and your own dynamic sprint strokes to strike quickly and aggressively. Just as with the single-stage attack, this should be an all-out, as-fast-as-you-can-possibly-go sprint. Since you’re going over a wave at this part of the attack, your strokes need to be fast, deep, powerful and dynamic. You’ve literally got to lift your board over the wave. The quicker you can do this the less draining it will be and the more energy you’ll save.

Try to stay close to the board you’re passing. You’ll obviously want enough room between their board and yours so you have lots of room for your paddle and theirs, but you want to avoid getting shot out to the side and increasing the distance you have to travel to get on the side wash. If you get too far from the board you’re passing, you’ll have to get on the side wash further from the lead board and slide along that wave towards the lead board. This takes more time and energy and leaves you vulnerable to getting shot off to the side, away from the lead board, and completely losing the wash in the process.

Once you’re over the wave you should feel like you’re running downhill. This tells you you’re on the side wave. You need to maintain position on this wave and relax, resting for the second stage of your attack.

To stay comfortably on the side wash you need to be able to steer your board well. You’ll need to foot steer by leaning your board and will at times need to paddle under the board or away from it with your paddle. You’ll also need to draw the nose of your board with your paddle at times, either to keep from getting sucked into the board making the wave you’re riding or to keep from getting shot off the wash to the outside.

Riding side wash is a little trickier than tail wash. It is a cleaner wave to ride, but it is much more difficult to maintain position on it. It takes some practice, but once you’re good at it, it makes a two-stage attack a very effective way to pass someone.

Stage 2

When you move from the tail wash to the side wash it changes the dynamic of passing a little bit. It makes the lead paddler a lot more aware of you and the threat you pose. This is especially true just after you’ve completed your move to the side wash. It pays for you to take a few minutes to not only rest on the side wash before attempting to complete your pass in stage two of the attack, but also to allow the lead paddler to let their guard down a little. Let them settle down a bit and get back into the rhythm they had when you were drafting on their tail wash. Let them believe you’re content to stay where you are.

Once you’ve rested a little and have gathered yourself for the next stage of the attack you’ll have also given the rider on the lead board a little time to feel more confident that you’re not an imminent threat to pass. This is the time to launch stage two.

Make sure you’re on your stronger side, which for in this case means my paddle is between my board and the board I’m riding. You also need to make sure that you don’t launch your attack when the paddler you’re riding is paddling on the opposite side to you, with their paddle between the two boards as well. The last thing you want is for your paddles to get tangled, as it will ruin your attack and could potentially cause you to even fall off the wash entirely.

Even though you know you’re ready to launch your attack, wait patiently for your moment to strike, which should be when the paddler you’re riding changes sides so they are paddling on the side away from you. You want to strike explosively and emphatically at the very moment they begin their side change. Almost every paddler leaves some tell take clue that they are about to change sides.  It’s worth looking for it while you’re drafting so that you can use it to your advantage here.  Since almost every paddler experiences a momentary drop in speed when they change sides, you’ll want to try to take advantage of that.

As you explode into your attack accelerate your board as quickly as possible. Again, think of using fast, powerful, explosive strokes rather than just a fast stroke rate. You want everything on these strokes because if you hold anything back there’s a chance you might not successfully complete your pass. You want to leave nothing to chance.

You need to commit to your attack for at least 45 seconds but should be prepared to go even longer. You need to get the nose of your board past the nose of the board you’re passing, the sooner the better. Once you’ve crept ahead you’ve got the upper hand but you’ve got to fully complete your attack. You can’t let up until the person you’re passing does and concedes the lead to you. You need to wait for them to back off and fall onto your side wash. At this point you’re in control.

Once you have the lead you’ve got maintain it. It’s not suddenly going to be easy. In the next issue of The Catch we’ll look at how to maintain the lead after completing your pass. Until then, if you’ve got a training partner, get out on the water and start practicing passing from the tail wash. Experiment with passing on both sides and paddling on either side for your pass until you know which works best for you. The more you do this in training, the better prepared you’ll be to do it when it matters in a race.

Happy paddling!

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