A few years ago someone forwarded me a video of Oscar giving a surfski clinic at a race in Mauritius. (See Resources section below for the full video).
My friend said:
“Hey Boyan, check this out. Oscar is speaking about setting the paddle angle at zero. What do you think?”
I didn’t know what to think. I hadn’t spoken with Oscar for a while. Our paths had separated when he moved to Nelo and I was still working with Epic Kayaks.
There was an obvious tension between the two competing brands and life kind of drifted us apart.
Before all that, I had worked closely with Oscar for nearly a decade and I could clearly remember how, when asked, he always proudly announced his paddle feather angle:
“I paddle at 75 degree left!”
I was intrigued about his change of heart and decided to listen to the presentation.
Oscar was making some … valid points:
I am a bit of a sceptic when new information is presented to me and I didn’t take all Oscar said at face value.
How could he make all those statements while his entire career and all his successful wins were done with a 75 degree left hand paddle?
Oscar’s statement, in his zero angle segment that, “Most people are like sheep and they only repeat what other people tell them’‘ did not sit well with me.
Here is a question then:
“Why should I listen to you if people are like sheep and only repeat what others tell them”?
Part of me was saying "Yeah, whatever, who cares about paddle angle?" but on the other hand I couldn't stop thinking about it.
I called a friend and asked what he thought about a zero degree angle and he told me his Greenland paddle was set at zero and he liked the feel.
If I am an educator and I make certain claims, I would definitely have to test zero angle for myself and get my own opinion on the concept.
There was a problem though.
Oscar said that if you had paddled for many hours at 60 degree (funny coincidence, why was I paddling at 60 degrees right? Bleeeeeat!) you would have to change 5 degrees per month.
This meant that I needed one full year to do the change.
What if I figured that zero was not for me? What then? Do I spend another year to go back to 60?
That’s not going to work for me.
We were at the beginning of the season and I had two weeks before the first paddlers arrived to Tarifa for some downwind surfski action.
If I was going to try this I had no other choice but to change to zero right away. I decided to give it a go for two weeks and try to get used to it.
I said to myself that I would stop the experiment immediately if I felt any abnormal pain in my wrists.
Now that I think about it, it seems so obvious thinking of “abnormal” pain. Doesn’t that suggest that I had “normal” pain?
As a matter of fact I did. I had a recurring pain between the wrist and the base of my thumb on both hands.
Ok, let’s do the test!
My first paddle at zero was strange. It was hard to coordinate because I was so accustomed to having my right hand locked on the paddle shaft that I had to think consciously about every single stroke.It got more tiring in my head than in my muscles, but I was determined to see it through.
One week in and the movements started getting more automated and I began to feel much more relaxed.
I even managed to push a bit, with harder strokes at about 70-75% effort.
The other thing I noticed was that somehow I felt the sliding movement in my seat better, something I hadn’t noticed before (and to be fair, also something I don’t notice anymore after paddling at zero angle for several years).
Maybe it was just the new perception of an existing movement or maybe zero angle was helping me to rotate better with each stroke.
It was a funny coincidence though when I shared my observations with a friend who lived in Portugal (not Oscar), he said he noticed the exact same thing about his hips movement.
After about two weeks I could sprint at 100% and I felt great. Quite frankly, at the time, I knew already I was going to stay at a zero setting and to this day I have never changed it again.
It just feels right, especially for me. I love surfing downwind, bracing as much as possible and occasionally using my paddles as a sail by holding it in the air to help me hop from one wave to the next without taking unnecessary strokes.
For those of you who are interested in statistics and paddling speed matters, I have managed to do my fastest downwind times using my paddle at zero angle and 205 cm length.
I loved it!
The fact that it took me about two weeks to adapt from 60 to 0 degrees meant that I could never do any side by side testing to prove or disprove my findings.
By the way, did I mention that my wrist / thumb pain has disappeared?
It did and this is not a small deal for someone who paddles for a living. I can’t afford to have acute pain or inflammation that prevents me from working and feeding my family. This point alone sold me on the zero angle idea.
Ok Oscar, you were right again!
And for you, the reader, give zero angle a try, it may turn out to be as good for you as it was for me!
And since we are on the topic of surfski paddling, I strongly recommend you get a copy of Oscar’s book (see the link) and immerse yourself into a surfski adventure of a lifetime.
You will get a new perspective about the humble beginnings of the sport we all love. You will read impossible “backstage” stories about Oscar and other athletes of that time, when there was hardly any surfski manufacturers and paddlers had to shape and make their own one off surfskis to compete.
Those were the guys who did the ground work, which eventually brought us to the point we are at now - having an amazing international surfski community and enjoying downwind surfing in beautifully designed surfskis.
Once you have read the book you wouid understand better Oscar's mindset and find valuable lessons you could implement in your own life, inside and outside of the water.
Oscar's hard copy at Amazon https://amzn.eu/d/cR4RsuL
Oscar's coaching websitehttps://www.coachchalupsky.com
Oscar's paddling clinic in Mauritius full video https://youtu.be/OLT0l2qf3AQ