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Race Clinic Review: Performance Paddling with Anthony Vela and Candice Appleby

Performance Paddling Race Clinic

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True to its name, Performance Paddling delivers.

Candice hands out goody bags as students complete the sign in procedures.
Candice hands out goody bags as students complete the sign in procedures.
Matt Chebatoris

One by one the students arrived at Pro SUP Shop in Marina del Rey, California for the SUP racing clinic on a morning marked by clear blue skies and anxious smiles eager to learn. “I’m thrilled to be in the presence of such greatness,” said Jennifer Minchin, a Los Angeles native who attended the two-day Performance Paddling clinic with Anthony Vela and Candice Appleby. After completing the necessary check in paperwork and receiving their goody bags, the class assembled at a nearby picnic pavilion for introductions and clinic overview. The group was a healthy mix of intermediate paddlers, both men and women, all looking to take away new paddling tips and tactics from two of the sports best in order to elevate their racing skills to the next level. Each student was asked how long they have been paddling and why they chose to attend the clinic. Megan Humphrey, a mother of three who had trekked all the way from Traverse City, Michigan after enduring a grueling airline journey which saw her routed through New Jersey, said she is regularly a top finisher in the open division races back home. “I want to be competitive in the elite races,” said Megan with steely eyed determination. Others were looking forward to entering their first race after spending time learning to balance and maneuver on their boards. “I got into SUP for the fitness and health benefits,” said Nick, a former water polo player from Tustin, California who is planning on entering the Hal Rosoff Classic in Newport Beach in early February.

Drawing from his background as a Los Angeles County ocean lifeguard, Anthony Vela kicked off the classroom instruction with a discussion on the Safety, Education, Responsibility and Training (SERT) all paddlers should know prior to making their way to the water. He spoke about the importance of knowing your surroundings and using the proper safety equipment and briefly mentioned some of the professional water safety certifications available to the paddling community. One of the areas which stood out, however, was when he talked about the level of communication that “should” occur between competitors before and during a race. Beginning at the start line, competitors should be talking with one another, he said. Introduce yourself to whomever you are paddling next to and ask them which side they paddle on first. If necessary, switch positions so you are not each digging in and battling for the same patch of water when the starting horn goes off, explained Anthony.

Wrapping up the morning’s classroom session, the group transitioned to the soft sand nearby where a SUP, sans fin, was sitting on top of two Indo Board inflatable cushions. Both members of the elite Team Quickblade, Anthony and Candice adhere to four time Olympian Jim Terrell’s school of thought when it comes to paddling technique. The four phases of the stroke: Catch, Power, Exit and Recovery were demonstrated as Candice expertly balanced on top of the board. The Indo Board cushions effectively replicated on the water conditions as the students lined up for their one-on-one sessions on the board and received feedback on their stroke before entering the water. The students were both surprised and impressed by the level of instability created by the cushions. While everyone had different strengths and weaknesses, the most commonly cited correction was the need to maintain a vertical paddle shaft during the catch phase of their strokes.

After a quick break, the students mustered back to the beach as Candice led the group in a sequence of simple warm up exercises specifically chosen to prepare the budding racers for their session on the water. In addition to loosening up your body it’s important to get your heart rate pumping at a higher pace, she explained, as the group side shuffled across the soft sand. Upon completion of the warm ups, everyone jumped on their boards and paddled out to a brightly colored FCS buoy which had been strategically placed in the flat water off the beach.

Once everyone was gathered at the buoy, the pair led the students through a series of drills each tailored for their attributes at training different phases of the stroke. A favorite was the pop and glide which emphasized an exaggerated recovery allowing sufficient time for everyone to focus on form. As Candice called out “hit”, the students maintained perfect power triangles as they dug their paddles into the water for a clean catch and glided over the water and then froze in the ready position as if they were a legion of Roman Centurions advancing in formation. The drills progressed in difficulty to the most important skill after learning to balancing and paddle straight – how to turn.

There are essentially five basic turns in SUP, explained Anthony. The most common is a back paddle; however, it is the least effective stroke for a racing scenario. As he demonstrated the intricacies of changing your shaft angle and weight of your feet, Candice positioned herself on a nearby dock. With a Go Pro camera at the ready, Candice called over paddlers for one on one video sessions. Each paddler made four passes along side of the dock as she recorded them for subsequent stroke analysis. The technical skills portion continued, progressing to pivot turns and the hybrid cross bow pivot turn.

“Confidence comes from preparation, not winning races,” said Anthony at the beginning of Day II. The second day of the clinic mirrored the first by beginning in the classroom. Candice led a discussion on proper nutrition and hydration before, during and after a race. She covered the basics, and for participants with a background in competitive athletics it’s likely nothing new will be imparted. This should not be viewed as a criticism, simply a characterization of the fact that they are knowledgeable professional athletes speaking from their own background and experience. Following the nutrition talk was a session on the value of setting realistic goals. “Doing bad in a race isn’t the end of the world unless you make it the end of the world,” said Anthony.

The pep talk on goals transitioned nicely into heartfelt discussion on the mental preparation before a race. Feeling a bit of acronym envy, Candice coined the name “PAD”, short for Preparation, Accountability and Determination. Like most sports, there is a sizeable mental component to SUP racing. While preparing for the surf competition at the Duke’s Oceanfest in 2008 – an event which she won, becoming the first woman to beat the men’s field in a professional SUP event – Candice taped a copy of the scoring tabulations for the event to the inside of her medicine cabinet with her desired scores highlighted. “I love inspirational quotes,” Candice gushed. “I do visualization all the time. I have a montage of images [about potential race conditions] going through my head.”

The next classroom session centered on physical training and the Performance Paddling duo are strong believers in the value of cross training with other pursuits to develop skills which compliment SUP racing. “I like to be active right up to race day,” said Anthony. He regularly practices yoga and skateboarding in addition to surfing. These activities are a “great way to keep your love and passion for SUP,” he said. Interval training was also stressed for its attributes of simulating racing conditions. The class then had the opportunity to view the video stroke analysis recorded on Day I as a group. Most paddlers had never actually seen what they looked like while paddling and the session was one of the most valuable takeaways from the two day clinic. After a short Indo Board session in which Anthony demonstrated the utility of this great dry land balance training tool everyone repeated the warm ups learned the previous day up and took to the water.

Anthony and Candice joined the group on the water and led them through a review of the drills taught earlier in the clinic before ramping up the excitement – race start simulations. Nothing replicates the actual conditions at the start of a race like lining up a group of paddlers and going all out for a buoy a mere 20 meters away. As the pair from Performance Paddling looked on, boards clanged and smiles grew wide regardless of who came in first, second or third. Start thinking about how you are going to make the turn before you get to the buoy, they explained. After the thrill of the mock races, the group relaxed and engaged in a freestyle session for one final chance to practice their new skills with the instructors before returning to the beach.

Anthony and Candice have each been at the pinnacle of ocean sports during their professional careers. Their love and enthusiasm for the water radiated brightly as they imparted their wealth of knowledge and experiences throughout the two day clinic. Make no mistake; these are not just two athletes looking to make a few extra bucks by putting on a clinic. They both displayed the polished demeanor of professional coaches – observing the performance of their “team” and tactfully offering corrections and recommendations for improvement. The fact that students have the opportunity to learn from not one, but two highly knowledgeable professionals is exceptional. Imagine the depth of experience you would have with two photographers covering an event instead of just one. This gives you an idea of the quality of the product delivered at their clinics. More than just a stroke clinic, Performance Paddling delivers race ready preparation. If you had to chose just one SUP clinic to invest in, it is difficult to imagine a better choice than Performance Paddling.

For additional information about the programs offered by Performance Paddling see Performancepaddling.com.