The Inland Paddler: The Learner’s Mind

Surfing on MAUI

It’s been an eternity since I was in school. But I still remember with great, great fondness almost all of my teachers – especially the good ones, and unfortunately a few of the bad ones, too.

Natalie Panfili was the best journalism instructor ever. My sophomore year in high school, she convinced me that I needed to write and NOT be a marine biologist. She is the one who tried her hardest to ween me away from passive voice. Or Alan Raymond, my high school English teacher who taught me the value of good, critical thinking and discourse. And Ken Devol, the revered journalism professor who literally wrote THE textbook on First Amendment law. They were the kind of teachers who made you want to work hard because you did not want to let them down. I still have Dr. Devol’s textbook on my bookshelf. Each of them taught me lessons that have stuck with and guided me all these years and continue to do so, even if some of those lessons weren’t exactly the ones they thought they were teaching. (I won’t talk about the chauvinist high school newspaper advisor who was hired after Ms. Panfili moved away who dealt me a very big real world lesson in how to deal with unfairness. I must’ve intimidated him, bless his heart.)

All of them instilled in me a desire to always keep learning. To improve. To be better. No matter what we do, or how good we think we are – there is always room to learn more.

This is so apparent with paddling, especially standup. The sport is so new. Ideas and theories and practices are still developing and changing. For instance, when I first started paddling, I was taught to take the blade out of the water before it passed my hip. Now, the thinking is that’s not necessarily the best thing to do if you want to get the most glide out of your stroke.

We are understanding more and more about what technique best guards against injury – something that is more important to me as I age and consequently don’t heal as fast as I used to.

Then there are all the different disciplines and what we can glean from trying something new. Learn to paddle an outrigger because it will likely help your sup stroke. Learn to prone because it will help with balance.

You get the picture.

The point is, we can always learn more. We should be reading the blogs, watching the YouTube videos, taking the clinics and talking to both our peers and the pro paddlers who so graciously make themselves available to us because of their love of the sport.

Soak it all in

One of the great things about paddling is that willingness among the pros and the joe’s to share. Dan Gavere, Danny Ching, Larry Cain, Annabel Anderson, Zane Schweitzer, among others, all do clinics at events like the Carolina Cup that are, for the most part, reasonably priced. Often times, these folks will keep in touch with students and answer questions that pop up long after the lesson is over.

Where else does this happen? What other sports superstar would ask you to send him a video after you’ve practiced his drills at home, with a promise of sending back comments and suggestions?

You too can have your own SUP Sensei

I have amassed a good collection of teachers.  Some I have spent more real face time with than others, some who are local to me, some, who after following their blogs for some time have become dear, dear friends. Every time I step on the board, it’s like they are right there with me, in some fashion.

The kind and patient Dave Kalama – from whom I learned to go slow to go fast and who helped me reconnect with the water after a very difficult family time.

Clinic with Kalama


Dan Gavere – my first instructor who’s advice about planting the paddle and keeping the shaft vertical made a huge difference in my first Carolina Cup race.

Larry Cain – I have yet to have a class with the Canadian Olympic powerhouse, though I am hoping to change that soon. I’ve followed his blog and training tips online and we’ve chatted at Chattajack and elsewhere. His words of encouragement helped get me out on the water in my first OC race at last year’s Surf to Sound when conditions were intimidating. And, he likes my dog, so there’s that.

Jason Colclough-I have learned more about the physics of paddling and board and paddle design from this man, who I call the Pied Piper of Paddleboarding. Just a chat with him in his shop is like a master class.

John Beausang- Another infinitely patient one who is always willing to take me out so I can challenge myself and who is never short on encouragement and support. When I paddle with him, we see things. Big things.

Katie Elzer-Peters – Katie, Katie, Katie. I have never had so much fun laughing and learning on the water than in the many SUP “Advenchas” we have shared. We might have almost died once or twice or like nine times but they were fun, “teachable moments.”


April Zilg – April’s energy is infectious. And she is wise beyond her years. I am so fortunate to have this talented pro almost in my backyard. Her instruction is humorous, accessible and yet she can be tough as nails when she needs to be.

Here’s an example of a recent Facebook message:

“Yo. So. How is YOUR training going? I need to know some stats. Mileage? HR? Time on the water? I don’t want your Olukai story to be ‘I tried my best but didn’t finish’ I want it to be MORE DRAMATIC than that. It should read ‘It was hard as s*** to train. Then it was hard as s*** to race. And I BLEEPING did it.’ At least that’s how its gonna read on my watch!!!!!! heart emoticon”

Yeah, you definitely want April in your corner!

Zane Schweitzer– Zane is another one who is wise beyond his years. You won’t meet a more likable, knowledgeable, fun and inspiring pro paddler anywhere in the lineup. He has real gift of knowing how to connect with people. And he can connect with just about anyone, whether it’s the middle aged wannabe surfer or a starstruck grom.

Surfing on Maui

Shawneen Schweitzer – spend just a few seconds with Zane’s mom and it’s quickly apparent where he gets it from. Kind, encouraging, welcoming, generous. And she gives back so much to the SUP community.

Joel Yang – my bruddah from another mother. My gear go-to guy. He and his family are special. Not only is he a walking sup gear encyclopedia, but when I failed miserably at snowboarding, he was right there with stokified advice and encouragement.

Jeremy Riggs – Jedi Master. Soft-spoken yet a wealth of knowledge. I spent a week on Maui working with him and came away not only with a great coach, but a wonderful friend.

Suzie Cooney – I’d been reading Suzie’s blog post for years, so naturally when I met her for the first time I felt like I’d known her all my life. Gracious, authentic, funny, always smiling, always stoking you up. Solid instruction. My day surfing with her on Maui was magical. And through her patient teaching, I came away with so much more confidence on the wave. And like my other Jedi master, I am so glad to be able to call her friend. And yeah, she likes my dog and my cats. So, there’s that.

There are the people I see on Falls Lake almost every time I go out – like Roman, and Matt, or who live just down the road from me who know what it’s like to paddle our flat water – like Rod and Ben, and Eric. I can shoot these guys a message any time with questions and get solid answers.

Of course there is the Facebook collective, the 100/100 – a virtual brain trust and knowledge base that is just a keystroke away. If I have a question about anything, there is someone there who has got the answer and is willing to help.

There is a mix here, of pros and “regular folk.” And I guess the point I am trying to make is that we have a unique opportunity in SUP to avail ourselves of some really fantastic resources, whether it’s through classes and clinics or through the people we meet in our communities.

And we should be doing that. All the time.

So, as the 2016 season rapidly approaches, and you start making your sup plans, I really hope you’ll consider a class or clinic or two. Or maybe a session with a local pro. Doesn’t matter who is teaching it, just take it. Join a local paddle group, or better yet start one. Pass on what you learn.

Share the stoke and paddle it forward, y’all.