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Errors Associated with the Exit

In previous issues, we’ve looked at errors associated with the catch and the pull.  In this post we’re going to look at errors associated with the exit, which is the phase of the stroke which follows the pull or the “loading” phase of the stroke.  The exit, or “unloading” (we’ll use these terms interchangeably) phase is extremely important.  If done well, it creates a burst of acceleration off the back of the stroke which helps you carry more speed between strokes, making you go faster and making the next catch easier.  If done poorly, not only is the opportunity to create that acceleration lost, but it can actually slow your board down. 

To look at the exit we’ll continue to use the format we’ve established previously:

  • What is the issue?
  • How do you identify this problem in your stroke?
  • How do you identify this problem in others or on video?
  • How to correct the issue.

Most errors associated with the exit involve one or more of the following:

  1. Failure to immediately begin to “unload” after completing the loading phase.
  2. Failure to use the big muscles of the hips and legs to unload and instead using the postural muscles of the low back.
  3. Too much loss of blade angle before beginning the exit.
  4. Waiting till the blade is out of the water before beginning to reload the hips forward in the exit.
  5. Failure to complete reloading the hips forward in order to push the board past the paddle and find the correct body position for the next catch right out of the exit.

We’ll take a look at each of errors separately.

Failure to immediately begin to “unload” after completing the loading phase.

What it is: During the “loading” phase of the catch and the pull, paddlers are using the biggest muscles available to work against the water gathered and held on the paddle blade by simultaneously rotating and driving back with the hips and using upper body weight by bending at the waist.  At the same time, they are bending their legs at the knees to get the blade deeper in the water and use the water column to maximize connection.  Eventually, a point is reached where the paddler can’t “load” anymore and these movements stop.  The hips stop driving back, the legs stop bending and the paddler stops bending at the waist.  Essentially, the paddler has finished “loading” the paddle and now, if they are going to continue to use big muscles preferentially over small muscles, they should immediately begin to “unload” the paddle by starting their exit.  This consists of reloading the hips forward under the upper body by pulling the hips to the paddle, straightening the legs to their original amount of bend as they do.  This in turn helps the paddler unbend at the waist and appear to stand up straighter.  

The problem is that many paddlers are late unloading after completing the loading phase. There is a lag between the end of the loading and the start of the unloading during which the blade continues to travel along the board (or more accurately, the board past the paddle) without any of the big muscles associated with proper unloading being involved.  Blade angle is rapidly lost. The paddler stays in the position they reach at the end of the loading phase as if they are stuck there, with only their arms moving the paddle. Eventually the paddler will start to “come up”, usually leading with their head and shoulders through the work of muscles in the low back, which are designed more for maintaining good posture than doing this sort of work. This represents a “soft spot” in the stroke which generates very little power.  

This is one of the most common mistakes in SUP paddling.  Most paddlers have some degree of lag between loading and unloading.  Obviously, one should attempt to minimize this lag to ensure that big muscles are doing the work through the entire stroke without interruption.   

Identifying this problem in your stroke:   If you’re paddling with your head down, perhaps looking at the blade as it moves through the water, your GPS mounted on the deck of your board, or your feet, there is a good chance that you’re going to be late unloading.  Paddling with your head down like this tends to make your head follow your paddle, and if your head is following your paddle as it passes through vertical and approaches your feet, you won’t be coming up or unloading in time and your exit will be late.  Check to see where you are looking in the second half of your stroke.  If you find you aren’t looking between the nose of your board and a point beyond the nose of your board, then it is worth getting some video taken for you to see if you are actually late unloading.  

If you are looking up rather than down but notice that your top hand passes well below your chin as you are pulling your stroke and keeps getting lower before the blade comes out of the water, then you are very likely late unloading as well.  In some cases, paddlers will see their top hand get as low as waist level or even knee level.  If you notice this when you are paddling it is imperative that you collect some video as soon as possible.  You very likely are making the mistake of having a lag between finishing loading and beginning to unload.  This greatly compromises the effectiveness of the exit.  You’ll want to know the extent of the issue in your paddling and begin to take corrective steps as soon as possible. 

Identifying this problem in others or in yourself when looking at video:  This issue is readily visible on video.  Look for the point in the stroke where the paddler finishes loading.  This is easy to find as it is the point where the paddler’s hips stop driving back, legs stop bending, and the paddler stops bending at the waist.  This is the lowest or “deepest” point the paddler achieves in the stroke.  

When assessing whether the hips have stopped moving back, use the back of the paddler’s butt and their heels as points of reference.  If the back of the butt isn’t moving in relation the heels, the hips have finished their contribution to the loading phase.  Use the angle of the legs at the knees to assess whether the paddler has finished bending his/her legs.  Through the pull, you’ll see this angle decreasing as the legs bend more.  When the angle stops decreasing, the contribution of the legs to the loading phase has finished.  Lastly, look at the angle of the paddler’s back relative to horizontal.  When the back reaches its “flattest” point and ceases to get any flatter, the paddler has finished loading upper body weight onto the blade in the loading phase.  You’ll want to advance the video frame-by-frame through this “end of the loading” part of the stroke to see precisely where the end of the loading occurs.  

Once you have ascertained where the paddler has finished loading, look to see where their hands are, what the paddle angle is, and where the paddle is along the board (and relative to the paddler’s feet).  Now, continue to advance the video frame-by-frame.  You’re looking to see how quickly the paddler begins to unload.  Unloading involves starting to move the hips forward under the body as they pull their hips towards the paddle while beginning to unbend their legs as they do so.  The legs aren’t going to fully straighten, but you should see that angle at the knee starts increasing again.  Look to see where head and shoulders start to come up, as the hips move under the paddler’s body.  These unloading movements should happen immediately upon completion of the loading described above.  .

A problem arises when the paddler is late unloading.  In this case, you’ll see a lag between the end of the loading movements and the beginning of the unloading movements described above.  The only movement you’ll see during this lag will be from the hands, with the top hand getting considerably lower and the bottom hand moving backward, closer to or even past the feet.  You’ll note that the paddle will be traveling along the board, losing angle as it goes. 

Keep advancing the video frame-by-frame, until you see the unloading begin.  Look to see how far the paddle has moved along the board and how much blade angle has been lost. This is a measure of how bad the issue is and represents the magnitude of the “soft spot” in the stroke. Look to see how much the hands have moved in order to move the paddle, without any of the big power producing muscles being involved.  Again, the degree of this movement indicates the degree of the problem.  .

Video 1 details everything to look for in identifying this problem.

Video 1

Correcting the issue: The key to correcting this issue is to recognize when you’re about to finish loading and immediately begin to prepare to unload.  You’ll need to be mentally preparing to unload before you’ve actually finished the loading in order to minimize the lag between the two.  Keeping your head up and thinking about keeping your top hand in front of your face helps to keep you from getting “stuck” in the position you finish your loading in.  

Ideally, the first unloading motion should come from your hips, rather than your low back.  With consistent pressure directed down the paddle shaft from the top hand, use the water loaded on the blade to pull your hips forward, under your upper body, towards the paddle.  You’ll need to try to feel the water loaded on the blade in a chain that starts with a tug in your bottom hand, then moves up your bottom arm, and finally down your paddling side lats to your hips.  Use this tug to pull your hips forward.  This is fully described in video 2, 3 and 4.  

Video 2

Video 3

Video 4

As your hips move forward your legs will begin to straighten to their original bend.  You can use your legs to push, almost as if you were doing a segment of a squat.  As your paddle is approaching your feet, this leg push and continued forward hip motion helps you to “push yourself past the paddle”.  

This forward hip motion is confusing to many paddlers. Unlike most sport motions, where you “follow through” with the hips after the main force producing movement, paddling, being a cyclical motion, requires you to reload your hips forward for the next stroke.  There is great power to be gained in the second half, or unloading phase of the stroke, through this reloading forward of the hips but it is hard for many paddlers to master this change of direction of hip movement that occurs half way through the stroke at the point where the paddle blade is approximately vertical.  

One of the most effective approaches to learning to properly unload immediately after the loading has been completed is to first learn the timing and sequencing of the movement on land.  Working on land provides advantages in terms of stability and in also in terms of feeling connection.  Video 5 shows the land drill used to learn this motion.  Once you can consistently perform this motion properly on land it becomes easier to do on the water.  

Video 5

Failure to use the big muscles of the hips and the legs to unload and instead using the weak postural muscles of the low back.

What it is:  Assuming one actually begins to unload immediately after the loading phase has been completed, it is imperative that the movement be driven from the hips.  As the hips move forward, the legs follow, beginning to straighten to their original bend.  

Unfortunately, many paddlers don’t use their hips in the unloading motion, instead doing all the work with the low back.  This means that instead of using the most heavily muscled joint in the human body, capable of producing lots of power, they are instead using the small, comparatively weak muscles of the low back which are intended for posture, not production of power.  This not only results in a considerably weaker exit but also puts the low back under strain and at risk of injury.  

Identifying this problem in your stroke:  If you feel your low back fatigues rapidly when paddling, there is a good chance you are using it, rather than the muscles of your hips and legs to unload or exit.  If you’ve been plagued by low back soreness or stiffness after paddling it is a pretty sure sign that you are relying on low back muscles to do the work in the exit that should be done by the bigger, more powerful muscles of the hip joint.  

In both cases it is a very good idea to collect some video of yourself paddling for analysis.  This can help you confirm whether or not this is an issue for you.  The sooner you can assess this, the sooner you can begin to consolidate corrected movements, resulting in increased power and more sustainable speed and reducing the risk of low back injury.  

Identifying this problem in others or in yourself when looking at video:  It is best to view video of the exit either in slow motion or, better yet, frame-by-frame.  This can not only help determine whether there is a lag between the completion of loading and the start of the unloading, but also where the first unloading movements come from.  

If you notice that the paddler begins to come up with their head and shoulders without their hips beginning to move forward, the movement is coming from the muscles of the low back.  This is a problem that can occur in varying degrees.  A minor problem will see the paddler initiate the unloading motion from the low back before engaging the hips.  When looking at video, you’ll note some blade travel and loss of favourable blade angle before the hips begin to move forward with the blade still buried.

A much more serious issue is seen when the hips do not move and all the “coming up” with the upper body comes from the muscles of the low back.  In this case you’ll note that the blade travel along the board and resultant loss of blade angle is much greater before the hips begin to move.  This is seen in video 6.  In some extreme cases, the blade will actually be out of the water before the hips begin to noticeably move forward.  In this case, there is zero power coming from the hips and legs and any opportunity to use big, power producing muscles is completely lost.  

Video 6

Correcting the issue:  Again, the key to correctly engaging the hips at the exit rather than the low back comes from anticipating the start of the unloading while still completing the loading and then using the connection with the water held on the blade to pull the hips under the upper body and towards the paddle.  This was outlined thoroughly in video 2, 3 and4 

The exit land drill that was described in video 5 is extremely useful for correcting this issue.  Again, starting corrective work on land really helps one separate correct movement from incorrect movement and learn the proper motion.  This makes finding the right motion on the water much easier.  

Additionally, using some resistance (like a bungee wrapped around the board, for example) to slow the board down allows the paddler a little more time to identify when loading is finished and when to begin unloading.  This not only makes eliminating the gap between the completion of the loading and the beginning of the unloading easier, but it allows one to more easily identify whether the unloading movement is coming from the hips or the low back.  In effect, this resistance added to the board makes things feel a bit more like it feels when doing the land drill.  This allows the paddler to more easily perform on the water the movements they’ve perfected on land. 

Paddlers who have felt low back pain generally see the pain improve or disappear entirely once they have made this correction to their stroke.  

Too much loss of blade angle before beginning the exit

What it is:  Loss of blade angle was discussed in our examination of issues related to the pull .  So, blade angle may appear to be very negative at the exit as a result of mistakes in the pull.  However, excessive loss of blade angle at the exit is commonly associated with failure to begin the exit early enough, or to immediately begin to unload after completing the loading.  As we have seen, If the paddler is late beginning to exit, the paddle angle will become increasingly negative before the exit movements begin.  

This increasingly negative blade angle results in an increasingly ineffective exit.  This is partly because the more negative the blade angle the less mechanically efficient the paddle becomes, and partly because this considerable loss of blade angle is the result of poor body positioning and movement, making it more difficult to engage the hips and resulting in reliance on weaker muscles in the exit by the paddler.  

Identifying this problem in your stroke:  Again, if your top hand is well below the level of your face before you start your exit, you’ll very likely have an issue with loss of blade angle.  The lower the top hand gets at the exit, the more negative the blade angle tends to be.  

If you glance down to see where the blade is relative to your body when you’re just beginning your exit and see that it is at or past your feet, you also are very likely to have an issue with loss of blade angle.  In both cases, it is a good idea to collect some video to assess things more closely.  

Identifying this problem in others or in yourself when looking at video:  Ideally the blade angle should be just a little on the negative side of vertical when the exit begins.  This ensures the blade is in a mechanically advantageous position for pulling your hips forward towards the paddle.  In every case, the blade should be considerably in front of your feet as the exit begins.  

Again, it is a good idea to look at video in slow motion or advance it frame-by-frame in order to tell precisely where the unloading associated with the exit begins.  When you spot where the unloading is beginning, look at the paddle angle.  If the angle of the paddle shaft is considerably past vertical and into the negative range, there is a problem.  You’ll note that the top hand in this case is likely well below the level of the face and the blade is at or even past the feet.  This illustrated in figure 1.  

Figure 1

Correcting the issue:  The first place to start when correcting too much loss of blade angle is to make sure that you aren’t losing excessive blade angle in the pull.  This was discussed in our look at technique errors and fixes associated with the pull .  It is worth reviewing this to see if errors you are making in the pull are undermining your exit.  Make the corrections suggested for premature loss of blade angle and see if your exit improves.  If this does not improve the exit, then correcting excessive loss of blade angle in the exit involves the same strategies as we’ve seen so far for correcting the lag between loading and unloading, and for correcting the failure to use the hips to drive the exit and instead using the small muscles of the low back.

In either case, you should again be using your top hand as a reference point, trying to begin your unloading as soon as it reaches the level of your face.   Then, try to keep your top hand high, in front of your face, while still maintaining good top hand pressure directed down the paddle shaft through the entire unloading process.  This will help you use the water gathered on your blade to pull your hips towards the paddle, reducing the loss of blade angle in the process.   If you can keep your top hand high and feel your hips begin to move under you and towards the paddle, you’ll be executing a good and timely exit with an effective blade angle.  

Video 7 describes how a high top hand position when starting to reload the hips forward ensures the exit is performed with an effective blade angle.  

Video 7

Waiting till the blade is out of the water before beginning to reload the hips forward in the exit

What it is:  A considerable amount of body mass moves back and forth along your board in the stroke.  It moves from front to back as your hips drive back through the pull or loading and from back to front as they reload forward under your body in the exit or unloading.  This movement of body mass does not negatively impact the movement of the board through the water, in fact, it propels the board through the water if this movement is connected to the water through the buried paddle blade.  

During the pull, the force of the hips driving back is linked directly to the water held on the paddle blade by the paddling side arm and back, which serve as a chain of “connectors”.  During the unloading or exit, we use the water held on our blade to pull our hips towards the paddle and then push ourselves past it. In both cases, this movement of body mass results in considerable forward movement of our board.  

However, if the paddle blade is not in the water, there is no connection for our muscles or this movement of body mass to work against.  If you stand on your board, perfectly still, in flat water with your hips out behind you and your blade out of the water and then suddenly move your hips forward so that you are essentially standing up straight, you’ll actually notice that the board jerks backwards slightly.  This sudden movement of body mass forward without the blade anchored in the water actually creates an impulse that moves the board backward slightly. 

So, it is imperative that the movement of large amounts of body mass, like that associated with the hips, be connected to the water.  If these movements are connected through a buried paddle, they move the board forward.  If the movements are not connected because the blade is already out of the water, any sudden change in direction of the movement, like the hips beginning to reload forward in the exit, actually moves the board in the opposite direction (in this case backwards).  

Obviously, this backwards impulse doesn’t actually stop the board and move it backward as there is already a ton of momentum in the forward direction.  However, it does slightly brake the forward movement of the board at a time when you should be accelerating the board off the exit and attempting to maximize the speed you carry between strokes.  Thus, instead of making your board go faster, this mistake at the exit actually slows you down.   

Identifying this problem in your stroke:  If you notice that your top hand is getting really low towards the end of the stroke and you’re pulling the blade way past your feet before starting to unload, you’re very likely going to be late enough moving your hips forward to begin the unloading that your blade will already be out of the water by the time you do so.  If this is the case, the change of direction in your hips from backwards in the pull to forwards at the exit will create an impulse that has a braking effect on your board since the blade is not buried and supported in the water.  It is therefore essential that you collect video for analysis to see the extent of this problem.  

Identifying this problem in others or in yourself when looking at video:  Like the other errors we’ve looked at so far, this error is most easily seen by viewing the video in slow motion or frame-by-frame.  It should be quite easy to pick out this error if it is present. 

In this instance you are looking to see whether the blade is fully buried, partially buried or completely out of the water as the paddler’s hip movement begins to change direction from backwards to forwards as they begin to unload at the exit. 

If the blade is buried, the problem is simply starting the exit late with unfavorable blade angle.  We’ve already looked at fixes for this.  If the blade is partially buried, the paddler is not only beginning to unload with an unfavorable blade angle, but connection will be minimized by the fact that only part of the blade is in the water.  If the blade is entirely out of the water, the paddler is getting zero benefit from the exit in terms of moving the board forward and is, in fact, slowing the board down by creating a braking effect.

This problem may exist whether your blade exits in front of the paddler’s feet, at the feet or behind the feet.  So, don’t be fooled by a blade that appears to exit early.  This problem often occurs in those that are consciously pulling the paddle out early, thinking this prevents dragging the paddle behind them.  In this case, they are pulling the paddle out without first beginning to reload the hips forward and have a poor exit even though they are getting the paddle out early.  So, to identify this problem it is imperative to look beyond just the paddle or the hips and consider the movement of the two in relation to each other. 

Correcting the issue:  If you identify this issue there are two approaches to fixing it.  

The first approach is for those who are clearly pulling the blade too far behind them.  In this case, they are getting “stuck” in the “end of loading” position and are still continuing to try to work against the water with ever increasing negative blade angle.  Eventually, the blade will start to come out of the water on its own and they’ll begin to unload, starting to move their hips forward in the process.  

Clearly, in this case, correcting the issue involves starting the unloading motion earlier so that the change in direction of the hip movement, from backward to forward, begins while the blade is still buried.  Corrections for each of the issues we’ve already discussed all apply here and should help fix the problem.

The second approach is for those that appear to exit “early”, taking the blade out of the water before it has reached an excessively negative angle, but without first beginning to reload the hips forward.  

In this case, correcting the issue involves actually leaving the blade in the water a little longer and waiting until the hips have had a chance to begin to reload forward before pulling the paddle out.  In this case, the paddler should immediately feel a better “push” off the exit, characterized by a surging feeling of the board as it accelerates off the exit.  

This correction can result in the paddler who pulls the paddle out at their feet suddenly seeing it travel further back past their feet before exiting.  If this allows the hips to be engaged against a fully loaded paddle it is not a problem, in fact, it is a good thing.  The paddler should be encouraged to continue working on this movement, even if the blade stays in the water a little longer.  Video this is illustrated in video 8.

Video 8

Once the paddler has consolidated the movement of the hips beginning to reload forward before the blade begins to come out of the water, they can then begin to work on getting the blade out earlier by starting the entire movement sooner.  

Failure to complete reloading hips forward to push the board past the paddle and find correct body position for the catch right out of the exit.

What it is:  The unloading motion of the exit begins as soon as the loading movements have been completed.  At this point the paddle blade has just passed through vertical and is still well in front of the paddler’s feet, and the paddlers top hand is in front of their face.  The unloading involves using the connection of the blade in the water to pull the hips forward under the upper body and towards the paddle.  At this point, the paddler is still pulling him/herself to the paddle. 

However, once the paddle blade has approached the paddler’s feet, the paddler can no longer pull him/herself to the paddle.  Unfortunately, many paddlers will stop moving their hips forward at this point or will pull the blade out of the water, thinking all the work has been done.  Unfortunately, if a paddler does either, they are leaving speed on the table.  What’s missing, in both of these cases, is completion of the exit by the paddler continuing to move their hips forward with the blade in the water in order to push him/herself past the paddle. 

Not only does completing the exit in this fashion result in more acceleration off the exit that allows the board to carry more speed between strokes, but it puts the paddler’s body in the exact position it needs to be in for the next catch.  The paddler is essentially paddling out of one stroke directly into the correct body position for the next catch.  All they need to do is extend their arms and get the rotation required.  The lower body is already in the perfect position to start the next stroke.  Clearly, there is a lot that is lost by failing to complete reloading the hips forward at the exit.  

Identifying this problem in your stroke:  If you are experiencing low back pain while paddling there is a good chance that you are leaving your butt out behind you after exiting.  Your failure to complete the exit motion by reloading your hips forward under your body to the position they should be in for the next catch has left your butt sticking out behind you enough to put pressure on the postural muscles of the lower back, particularly the erector spinae muscles.  

The erector spinae muscles are the muscles that run vertically up your back on either side of your spine.  If you stand with your butt sticking out behind you rather than tucked under your body in the position of a neutral spine and then place your hand over these muscles, you’ll feel them engaged like two steel rods as they attempt to support the weight of your upper body.  Now, tuck your butt under your body so that you are in a neutral spine position and feel the difference in these muscles.  They’ll be much more relaxed in comparison. This was thoroughly described in “Paddling Faster and Avoiding Back Pain

When paddling, if you are leaving your butt out behind you as you finish your stroke, you aren’t bringing your hips forward under your body.  If you’re not doing this, you won’t be able to “push yourself past the paddle” at the exit.  And, at the same time, you’ll be putting a tremendous amount of strain on muscles that are comparatively fragile and both fatigue and injure easily.  

If you feel any low back pain due to paddling, especially pain that appears to be associated with the exit or the recovery phase of the stroke, it is extremely likely that you have a problem with this issue.  You should collect some video to analyze and determine the extent of the issue.  

Ideally, you should feel a forward surge of acceleration in your board just before you take the blade from the water.  A board that feels sort of flat or lifeless at this part of the stroke is another indication that there may be a problem with this issue.  Again, it is worth collecting some video to examine whether there is room to improve in this part of the stroke.  

Identifying this problem in others or in yourself when looking at video:  As with other issues associated with the exit, it is a good idea to look at any video in slow motion or frame-by-frame in order to ascertain with certainty the link between body movements and the paddle.  

If the video you’re assessing shows the paddler completing a timely unloading motion in which they are clearly pulling their hips under their upper body and towards the paddle, look to see whether this forward movement of the hips continues right through the blade exiting the water.  If it does, there’s not much to worry about.  However, if the hips stop moving forward as the blade exits the water and the paddler’s butt appears to be sticking out behind them to some degree, rather than being tucked directly under their upper body in a neutral position, there is a problem.  The paddler is missing an opportunity to “push him/herself past the paddle”, losing potential acceleration and putting their low back under unnecessary strain.  You will probably see the hips start to move forward again during the recovery as the paddler reaches forward, as they aren’t in position for the next catch off their exit and have to complete some extra hip movement to get ready for the next catch.  

Instead, what you should be seeing is a continuous forward movement of the hips from the beginning of a timely unloading right through until the blade exits the water.  You should be able to identify the paddler start the motion by using the water held on the blade to pull their hips forward.  Once the paddle blade has reached the feet and it is therefore not possible for the paddler to pull his/her hips to the paddle any more, they should be squeezing their glutes and pushing their hips forward towards the paddle.  The paddler’s blade and hips continue to move towards each other until the hips cannot more any further forward or until the blade and hips begin to pass each other as they move in opposite directions, then almost immediately the paddler lifts the blade out of the water.  In fact, it is the blade and hips coming together that is the paddler’s cue to lift the blade out.  

You’ll note that when a paddler fails to complete this forward hip motion their lower body is not in position for the next catch when the blade exits the water.  However, when a paddler completes reloading their hips forward at the exit their body is almost immediately in position for the next catch.  This is extremely useful, particularly when sprinting as springing right into the next catch not only ensures the exit is extremely dynamic but that the recovery is much faster as well. 

Video 9 fully describes the issue of failing to complete the reloading motion of the hips under the body.  

Video 9

Correcting the issue:  Obviously, it is essential to have corrected the other errors we’ve looked at before this one can be corrected.  If you’re not pulling your hips under your body and towards the paddle immediately after completing loading, for example, there are much bigger things to correct than this issue.  However, this error is commonly the last piece of the puzzle of a perfect exit.  

To correct this issue, you’ll want to think about continuing to push your hips moving forward after you have pulled your hips to the paddle.  When you’ve completed this movement, your paddle blade will be by your feet.  You can’t really continue to pull yourself to the paddle when you’re already at your paddle, so you’ll need another strategy to keep your hips moving forward to push yourself past the paddle.  

Think about maintaining consistent pressure directed down the paddle shaft with the top hand.  This keeps the blade secure in the water and will allow you to feel the water loaded on it so you can push against it.  As soon as you feel it is difficult to pull your hips to the paddle because the paddle is too close to your body, think about contracting your glutes (the big muscles in your butt) and pushing your hips further forward till they are far enough underneath your upper body to achieve a neutral spine.  This neutral spine position requires that your hips be in line with your head, just as they’d be if you were standing up straight with good posture.  They won’t be underneath your head in this instance, because you’ll be leaning forward from your feet with good ankle flexion, but if you were to stand up straight from the ankles they would be.  

Another way to approach fixing the issue is to think about pushing your hips forward by squeezing your glutes until your hips meet, or pass, the paddle which is moving backwards towards you, then lifting he blade out of the water with both your top and bottom hands.  In canoe, which mechanically is very similar to SUP, I used to think about pushing my hips forward right through the paddle. This resulted in a very forceful and dynamic exit.   

Try to complete as much of this forward movement of hips to the paddle before lifting the blade from the water in order to get a maximal push off the exit.  You should feel the board surge forward as a result of this motion with the nose climbing to its highest point in the stroke as a result of the acceleration.  

As you exit the blade from the water you should feel like you’ve “stood up into the paddle” and are leaning forward, right from the feet.  All you need to do to get to the next catch is get the blade forward through the recovery by using movements that are as direct as possible, keeping your hips forward as you do so.  This gets you to your next catch very quickly with minimal loss of speed and in ideal position to get the blade buried quickly and lots of body weight immediately on it.  

Videos 10 and 11 show different examples of paddlers completing the reloading forward of the hips to get an effective “push” off the exit and “standing up into the paddle” to get into proper position for the next catch right off the exit.  

Video 10

Video 11

The exit is a crucial part of the stroke.  Failure to execute it properly is not only a lost opportunity to generate lots of acceleration that helps you maximize the speed your board can carry between strokes, but can also slow you down by creating an impulse that actually brakes the forward run of your board.  On the other hand, an effective exit not only makes you go faster by allowing you to carry more speed between strokes, but it makes the next catch easier as, if the board slows down less through the recovery there is less work to do to get it back to max speed in the next stroke.  

Errors of the exit/unloading phase of the stroke, if understood, are easy to identify in video, particularly if it is viewed in slow motion or frame-by-frame.  They are also fairly easy to correct if you learn the sequencing of the movement on land first and then begin working on corrections on the water.  

Here’s hoping the information presented here helps you better understand the exit and assess how effectively you execute yours.  Here’s also hoping the tips provided here help you correct any errors you’re able to identify.  

Happy paddling!

1 Comment

  • Pitr S.
    Posted July 15, 2023 at 7:57 am

    Thank you very much for the great explanation. I am working hard to improve my technique, yesterday I tried some of the moves you recommended and my time immediately improved 😍 I’m going to use it in a sprint in a few days and I can’t wait for the results. Many thanks.

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