I was told today that surf ski guys set their wings short for rough water and longer for the flats? If this is correct, can someone explain the logic?
For upwind I tend to set it shorter
than for flat conditions; for downwing I make it a bit longer than for flat. Have not really thought about why, but it seems to work better for me this way. I can theorize that is because of the waves coming against me I need a shorter blade as they are higher/closer to me, where downwind I’m higher above the water riding on the top of waves. On flat I can have a higher hand position (so longer paddle shaft could work) compared to rough (where for stability I might keep my paddle/hands lower)…
I’ve read that some set their paddles shorter for aggressive surfing, to maintain higher cadence, but I’m not sure that’s practical for any length of time, because it means they are working way too hard to stay on the waves - the whole point of “surfing” with a surfski is to work less hard … A couple of well timed powerful strokes to get you on the wave to me is better than a flurry of hecktic paddling with less power in each stroke…
high vs low angle stroke
I think the longer vs shorter might have more to do with those "powerful strokes" being usually done with high angle strokes. Hence the shorter paddle works out better.
My WW paddle is 194, while my touring paddle is 215! Granted, the WW paddle has a larger surface and I wouldn't be able to drive it at 215 length. But if I want to paddle all out on my touring paddle, I'd prefer to use a higher angle stroke and would have liked to have it at 205 instead of 215.
Can't say rough vs flat water is that clear of a difference though...
higher turnover in rough and upwind
Longer for more power for catching runs going downwind. In chop you time your stroke with the face of the chop so a short paddle also makes that easier. Kind of like switch to big gear for downhill and small for uphill. Oscar is known for shortening his paddle for the last upwind section of Molokai. The angle of the stroke doesn’t vary all that much except in severe cross wind it’ll be a little lower to reduce the chance of getting flipped and in a sprint a little higher.
Choppy water is the reason for shortening the wing, and really the only reason being it keeps me from dunking my hand. If the rise and fall of the boat us unpredictable I tend to miss the plant and dunk my hands.
But also, in my mind a slightly longer paddle feels like it is generating more leverage and speed. So on long flat paddles I justify a longer paddle by relaxing a bit and shorten up my reach.
Most Wings are Shorter Today
Because the cockpit is deeper. In the past, when seats were higher, the paddle lengths were longer. For most paddlers, it wouldn’t make a difference, so paddle with what’s comfortable length for you. Unless you’re racing downwind and every ride counts. So in order to not miss a ride trying to connect with other waves, you got to pick up the cadence in order to catapult ahead of the competition. A shorter paddle allows me to boost my cadence from 60 spm to 80+ real fast.
20 years ago, my favorite wing was a push button 2nd generation Flyte Mini Propeller paddle, which I’d set at 216cm for ocean racing and later adjust it longer to 222cm for the one mile flat water sprint to the finish line. Today, my stroke has changed and I now prefer my Onno large wing, set at 198cm, instead of my 210cm Epic, Fenn and Bennett mid-wing blades, as I paddle my deep seat Icon surfski.
Quite a Variation
So you have used wings varying from 198 to 222. Can you maintain good stroke geometry at these extreme differences in length? If you can ‘catapult’ ahead with a short length, why not use shorter in flat water sprints also?
Yes You Can
But it will take practice in order for your brain to send the right signals to all your paddling muscles, so you’ll feel comfortable again paddling with various paddles and finding the “sweet spot” for each.
Yes, the dye was cast for shorter paddles,almost 20 years ago, when U.S. Olympic paddler, Mike Harbold returned to Hawaii, after Barcelona, and out-surfed all his old surfski companions using his short K-1 flat water wing.
Watch this latest Rambo video to see what open ocean surfing is all about (the race starts at the 05:00 minute mark if you want to skip ahead):
ps: when you’re young, you can handle a longer paddle, but a shorter paddle helps delay the fatigue factor for us older paddlers.