The ‘Cliff Notes’ from a racing trip of a lifetime!
Austin recently spent nearly two months in South Africa training & racing with some of the best paddlers in the world. He was able end the trip with an impressive result of finishing ninth overall in the Cape Point Challenge, considered by many in the sport to be the most grueling single day surfski race on the international circuit. Enjoy his reflections on his amazing trip!
Things I have learned about Surfski in Fish Hoek, by Austin Kieffer
• Cut in front of people’s line of sight
It’s totally a dirty trick, but if possible cut in front of someone when surfing. I’m not talking about cutting them off or anything, nothing that douche-y, but crossing their line of sight a wave ahead is a surprising rhythm ruiner. Jasper did it a few times to me when doing training intervals and I was shocked at how I totally lost my rhythm and awareness of the waves.
• Always cheat at the start!
– There are no gentlemen in Surfski racing and if you see an opportunity to get ahead, take it! This is most notable in the start, where you always want to be just in front and sprint off the line one second early.
– I’m a little submissive naturally and training by myself hasn’t allowed me the practice to stay just a beat ahead of the competition, but Japser keeps telling me in racing and in practice that if I’m not pushing the pace I’m just going to get left behind.
• Be trained and practiced enough to start hard.
– I need to work on my starts. Racing with the SA guys starts fast and guaranteed within the first two minutes there is going to be a “second start” where they take off again.
– The key for me is to incorporate that fast start into my training. Almost all of my training before this has been threshold stuff, but I need the high-end speed to not get dropped right off the start.
• Race as much as possible.
– The athletes in SA are lucky. They race twice a week. I’m not talking about their workouts, which are all competitive; I’m talking about time trials. Line up, 45min-75min all out race simulation, with a race start.
– You need more than one week to recover from a huge block of training.
– Even if you are doing almost nothing that week. Heavy training should be finished at least two weeks before a big race (better if three) and heavy pre-race training should never be more than you have done in weeks prior during that training year/cycle.
• Never give up. Charge hard always.
– Mentally bank on people blowing out. It rarely happens, but you will never be able to capitalize on it if you have backed off the pace in defeat. Even if you are dropped off the lead pack.
– Never give ground expecting to make it up later.
– Even if you are feeling horrible, ground lost is almost impossible to gain back, especially in downwind conditions. Gut it out stick together with someone you want to beat. If you lose them you will lose drafting/pacing opportunities and even if they blow distance is hard to reclaim if you are both paddling.
• Kill yourself in the start of a downwind section
– Get the first possible wave and gain your surfing speed/momentum
– Don’t think of the first wave you catch as the time to catch your breath after a hard upwind/race start. The first few minutes on the waves can really dictate your pacing for the downwind and also a lead gained here is very difficult to make up.
– Scramble for that first wave and really work for about 1km to set a fast surfing pace. Then settle into your rhythm and let the waves do the work.
– I often see the first wave as a chance to rest, but you always want to lead in the surf so rest after about 1km
• Never lead a race.
– Even if you are feeling great, never take the lead. Stay with the leader, let them pull you or mark them. Only take the lead if you are confident you can make a break/ drop the competition. Any extra energy spent pulling a competitor is energy they will use to beat you.
• Don’t just surf at one speed
– Make sure to train at different downwind speeds.
– For a practice during a workout, work as little as possible and really feel the waves and let the ocean do the work for you. This can be good to learn when to push and capitalize when going hard
– For practice during another workout, paddle at long distance race pace. Race like you were in a 3-hour surfing race. By that I mean work hard, make sure you capitalize on every opportunity, but have the mentality of conserving as much energy as possible
– During another downwind workout, kill yourself on the downwind. Borderline on idiocy. Not necessary up and over waves, but if going over a small hump means a better wave, go over that damn hump. Rest on a wave only long enough to see the next opening. This is a big one that I had never practiced. I had always seen surfing as a skill/using the water paddling. Talking with the Jasper Macoke, he said that when going for a good time on the Millers Run he his gasping for breath and paddling way harder than he would on flat water.
• The key to downwind racing is to start fast (as already mention – but it’s important!). Start like you were doing a 3km downwind and then see if you can start holding that pace with more rhythm and waves pushing you for the remainder of your downwind.
– Think about having three speeds for downwind racing (psycho fast sprint, fast, gliding) I think training at all these different speeds will help you learn more than just having one downwind speed.
– For ground swell particularly, wait till your nose is pointed down before you start gunning it. I started out by always charging the back of waves and getting in the trough, knowing another big one was behind me. As a result, however, I always got some speed, but lost the big wave. I also discovered that I was wasting a huge amount of energy charging the back of waves. Instead, wait for the moment when the ski tips forward (you are on the face of the one behind) then put in an explosive spurt and I was surprised by how fast I surged forward and how that momentum allowed me to stay with the big wave longer.
– Paddle in a sprint and rest fashion when surfing. Avoid steady paddling!
– I have been really surprised to discover that steady paddling, even hard ‘getting after it’ paddling equates to slow surfing – don’t get caught in this rut!
– My best surfing has always come when I SPRINT then absolutely do nothing (paddles down) and surf. The faster I sprint/ the faster I surf, but if I don’t use the surf to rest (aka sprint the whole time) I am inevitably slow. It’s a fine line, got to have gas in the tank & know when to use it.
– Sprint as soon as I see an opening, as early as possible, and stop as soon as possible.
– Look for openings vigilantly, and as soon as you see one hit the gas full throttle, immediately, and then stop at the first opportunity. Often this means stopping a little before you think you need to. Don’t sprint all the way into a trough, but sprint till you are just past the tipping point of a wave. Sometimes stopping even before that and letting your momentum carry you to your destination.
Enjoy the ride – Austin