My training partner, Bill Brophy, just bought a used 14’ Bark Surftech prone paddleboard from Cousin Mullet. Bill is a life-long open water swimmer, ultra-runner and triathlete, who’s recovering from back surgery. Since he and his wife have water access; I encouraged him (nagged to death) to try prone paddling as a way of rehabbing outside, rather than in a nasty old gym. We trained together for years and I wanted him back on the water; figuring if at first he couldn’t SUP, he could “at least” prone.
How Hard Can It Be?
Seems everyone, including me, is interested in prone paddling. I’ve been paying attention to articles and videos and posts that come out for a while now. I watch how they do it in races. It looks so easy! Just lie down and move your arms, right? Same stroke as a swim stroke, right? Bill’s already swimming two miles open water against a strong tide; he should be able to do a good 5-6 mile run right off, right? I’m strong; I lift weights, I standup paddle, I do yard work; I should be able to do 3-4 miles, right? I figured one of us can immediately start training for an ultra-distance event like the Cape Cod Challenge or Chattajack with no worries, right? Uhhhhh, not!
OMGoodness, It’s Not So Easy!
Today was our first real experimentation with prone paddling. I took my 12’6” Bark Competitor standup and Bill brought his new used prone board. We were going to trade off and on. Maybe not the best day to try something new! It’s blowing North and it’s Memorial Day weekend. Rough water and the first boat day of the season for tourists! Hah! Yeah, this will be fun?
We give it a go. I watch Bill take some deep breaths as he holds the board and tries to climb on…and rolls right off the other side. As he comes up for air, I enthusiastically tell him how to do it “right”; hold it, do a push off, and leap on (haha, cause I’ve read about this and know so much!) He follows my seasoned advice…and once again rolls right off the other side. Let me tell you, if looks could kill, I’d be a pile of salt. He finally gets his belly onto the board and starts his best swimming turtle stroke and moves ahead. He on his prone board, me on my standup, we get about a quarter of a mile and he stops paddling. I don’t know if he wants to talk, is looking at the scenery, or what, and question “why are you stopping?” There’s that look again. “It’s hard, shut up.” We start again, come out of the canal, and hit rough north wind water. I can’t focus on him; I need to think about me. When I can, I turn my board and we almost collide. He was right behind me and he’s quite a sight with sea grass across his Tilley hat. He “dismounts” on the sandbar and takes a few breaths after the head-on water assault he just went through. All told, we go about 3 miles with stops and starts and decide to trade; he says he’s all done, he’s feeling it in his shoulders. Bill claims Cousin Mullet sold him a “tippy” one and he’ll have to talk to her. I think his ego is bit bruised as 2 different canal dwellers told him to stop paddling “the lady way” and get up on his feet! Hahahaha! They turned into piles of salt!
My turn. I’m smaller and really don’t have a problem with a ”push the board and bounce-on” kind of starting maneuver. I really don’t feel wobbly or tippy….until…..until…..I try to go up on my knees and immediately roll right off with a loud ungraceful SPLASH. Yeah, let’s just stay the lying down way. I’m able to get back on pretty well in a plop on, sea lion like manner. I start going again, one arm and then the other arm. I think about swimming; I try to focus on pulling back with my forearms under the board vs. pushing down. I positioned myself fairly far forward so that I didn’t have to lift my head high and impinge my neck. I look maybe 10 feet in front, vs. trying to scan the horizon as I do with standup. Every once in a while, I put my feet on the outside of the board and feel the stability that adds, but get the creeps with the thought of looking like a tasty seal from the bottom up. I try to “engage my lats” like in swimming. I try moving my feet in the air like I see others do, but I can’t figure that out and feel silly. I try the two arm “Australian lifeguard” stroke (but no knees) and feel it deep in my triceps. I am amazed at how quickly I can feel my heart rate climb with either stroke. At first it’s easy, then it’s like you’re doing bicep curls with a light weight, but you’re not stopping; it’s HARD and its making me breathe hard. I try to slow my pace and it’s still hard.
I didn’t go as far as Bill, maybe just a mile and a half. Our entire workout of alternating SUP and prone, was not more than an hour and a half and all of me was sore. When I finished and rolled off the prone board, I was surprised to feel a deep ache in my abdominal muscles, my biceps, my triceps and my lats. I felt like I’d been to the weight room. Bill said he could feel his “traps”. I’m not sure where those are, but mine were sore too.
The Fun Part and New Respect
The fun part for me was this is something new. It was cool to be right IN the water and feel it with your hands (until I’d grab a handful of something yucky.) When I was paddling, I felt fast with water coming right over the bow at eye level. I thought having to balance with my core was fun. I thought trying to turn by leaning and lifting one rail out of the water was fun and envisioned the day I’ll be pummeling down a giant wave in the ocean leaning into the barrel (ha-ha that will never happen.) Bill said he had no fun. He’s lying. He’s not asking for a refund or trying to sell the board. He is sending me links to prone YouTube videos and shoulder exercises.
So, I’ve gained a new respect for all the prone paddlers I see during a race. I see why training for a 5k race would be a big deal thing. I see this as part of another way to enjoy getting out on the water. Having a standup board and a prone board is like having more than one pair of shoes, you can choose each day which pair to wear. I cannot right now imagine doing an ultra distance event on a prone board. I’m thoroughly impressed with those that do. Same with knee paddling, I’m not sure that will ever be in my future.
So, prone paddling is a lot harder than it looks and harder than we thought it would be, but it WAS fun. I may just have to get me one (hint, hint, Carolina Paddleboard Company) so I can keep up with Bill. These old folk will take it lying down.