The Inland Paddler: Reconnecting with the Prone Zone
Rediscovering the Magic of Prone Paddling
Three years or so ago I started paddling prone, after being inspired by people like Julia Nicholls, Katie Elzer-Peters, Danielle Goldston,Chandler Bold and John Beausang. I remember the first few times I tried to paddle my prone board in Jordan Lake, getting absolutely knackered trying to do intervals on it, and falling off at just about every transition from prone to knee paddling and back again. I was so bad at that, Cynthia Aquilar – after taking her clinic at the Chucktown Showdown – wanted to make sure that if I was going to race, I wore a leash.
I raced prone once. The 3.5-mile Harbor Island course at the Surf to Sound. Which was the weekend immediately following Chattajack. That was probably the stupidest race decision I have ever made. The tide and currents were against me the whole way. I was dead last. The only saving grace about that day was that even though I brought up the rear in my race, I was right behind Larry Cain at the finish line. The gantry was shared by both the short race and the longer, elite Surf to Sound course. Larry won that, naturally. The photo is hilarious.
I vowed never to race prone again.
But, I still paddle my Bark Commander.
I say that I use it for cross training. And that’s true, I do. But it’s more than that.
This winter, I found myself longing for its simplicity. For the unique connection it gives me to the water. There is just something about paddling without any additional implements to propel yourself forward, using just your two hands.
But as a weather weenie, I could not make myself put on the thicknesses of neoprene that it would take to safely paddle prone in our cold water. Somehow, that would ruin it, by adding a layer of complication that just shouldn’t be a part of prone paddling. Well, that’s my excuse and I am sticking to it.
Fast forward to this year’s Carolina Cup – where I ended up tearing an intercostal muscle – that’s one of the muscles between the ribs. I was out of the water for several weeks while that healed. During that time, my enthusiasm for training admittedly waned. So, getting back into the routine of it has been difficult at best. I turned to the Commander.
I needed a different position to ease back into the rhythm of training, but also I needed something to spark my enthusiasm for paddling the same flatwater lake. I needed something to make it more interesting.
The prone board was the perfect choice.
As I have resumed my training, I have been paddling it almost, but not quite exclusively. And I have been surprised at how much…easier…it seems to be. I do not have the balance issues that I have had in the past. I can easily go from prone to knees and back, even during interval sessions. And it was pretty much immediate. There was no “warming up” to paddling prone this summer as there has been in the past. And I am faster, too. Not much, mind you, but I can see improvement and Garmin bears it out.
Why? Well, I am going to credit it to paddling a wide variety of craft, from narrowing SUP boards, to improving my SUP surfing skills, to paddling outrigger, where tuning into that connection of body (via hips) and boat is extremely important. And then the land-based strength and body and balance work I have been doing. It’s all connected.
And I love that immediate, intimate connection with the water. The way the fingers and palms feel when they plunge into the liquid and initiate movement. The way they become one with the forces of nature. I love the way you get “hosed” when you are paddling in head-on chop. I love seeing the lake and its residents from lake level. Yesterday during my Paddle Monster interval session, a bald eagle skimmed the water just a little bit above me before it took to higher skies in search of a dinner target. I even love it when I stop to rest and let my feet dangle in the water and the little fishies nibble on my toes.
I really want to take it back into the salt water too. Maybe even into the ocean to catch some runners.
This winter, I was in the ocean surfing more than I ever thought I would care to be, donning neoprene to make it happen and being surprised at how …warm…I was. So now, I’m thinking maybe some prone sessions year-round might actually be doable.
And who knows, maybe there will be another race or two on the Commander next year.
Maybe. Just maybe.