So you want to try prone paddling
Prone boarding is pure. It’s challenging. It’s fun. You get to lie down.
The first time I tried it, Katie Elzer-Peters let me climb aboard hers…I almost didn’t give it back.
But, it does come with it’s own idiosyncrasies. Balance is different. Paddle technique is different (think more like swimming, less like SUP or OC.) The boards are obviously different. But the fun factor is definitely there and it can be a great cross-training tool or can keep you on the water during certain types of injuries.
Some things to keep in mind if you take the plunge into the Prone Zone:
Pay Attention to your surroundings
You are low to the “ground” on the prone board so you’re not nearly as visible as you are when you are standing up on a SUP. Be especially mindful of boats and jet skis that might not be used to seeing someone paddling with just their hands, more or less flat out on the water. Oh, and with this comes this admonition – beware the Prone Paddler’s Curse: You will be asked at least once during every session if a) you are okay, b) you lost your paddle, c) you need a ride back to shore and possibly d) where your life jacket is. (Note: there is much discussion over US Coast Guard regulations exempting prone boards from the PFD on board requirement because those regulations cover only water craft propelled by paddles, oars, machinery, poles and sails.) Just smile and say “no thanks, I’m getting my workout in, bless your heart.”
Wear a leash
Some prone paddlers will tell you that wearing a PFD on a prone board is darn near impossible, and, as noted above, not required by the US Coast Guard. However, if you can wear one – maybe a waist belt PFD – and it’s okay, then why not? At least give it a try. If that’s a no go, then wearing a leash is doubly important. Even though, because of the prone position – lower to the water – the board is not as, well, PRONE, to getting away from you in the same way a SUP can, it can still get carried off by wind and current. Smaller, lower profile body boarding leashes are useful on the prone board. (See note above about PFD regulations.)
Pay attention to what you wear
It’s good to keep your arms as unencumbered as possible. That’s why you’ll notice lots if not most prone paddlers go sleeveless. You don’t want extra drag in the water.
Bright colors will help with that visibility issue too.
Make sure you’re lower back is covered. As you learn to knee paddle (and you will) that transition to what resembles a yoga child’s pose can leave your lower back (or lower) exposed. Be sure your shorts come up high enough and your top stays down low enough. You don’t want to end up with a bad stripe of a sunburn down there and you don’t want to flash everybody out on the water, either. Slather that sunscreen on those sleeveless arms too, especially if you normally wear a rash guard.
Relax your neck
It’s tempting at first to crane your neck up to see where you are going. In reality, you don’t need to over-extend your neck upwards, if you are positioned correctly on the board. Play around with your position to find the sweet spot for you. If you need to, use a foam chin rest that can be attached to the board with Velcro. After a while, you may find you don’t need the chin rest anymore.
Install Water Bottle Cages
Because of the contours of most prone boards, there’s not a lot of room to carry anything with you and strapping a hydration pack to your back is going to be infeasible for the same reasons a PFD is – you do not want to be lying on anything pokey or bulky. It will affect your paddle stroke as well as your comfort level. You can purchase a water bottle rack that will fit in the “fin box” groove on the nose of most prone boards, or you can fashion your own with some bike water bottle cages and a fin. It will make staying hydrated during your workout much, much easier.
Go short and slow at first
Remember, you’re working a different set of muscles in a different way so don’t necessarily go full throttle on the prone board at first. Take your time, get to know the board and the way it moves and they way it moves with you on it. Practice technique. Practice knee paddling. Practice getting back on. Maybe take a clinic or two. Don’t worry, you’ll be motoring in the Prone Zone in no time.
Play around in flatwater
Just like you did when you bought your first SUP board, master the prone skills on the flatwater first, before you head out to catch runners downwinding or surfing.
Realize momentum is your friend
You’ll find that a little speed and forward motion can make going from the prone position to knee paddling a lot easier. Practice, practice, practice.
Paddle with your sense of humor
As in all things, don’t take yourself too seriously! Have fun! Play, experiment, enjoy the differences and the nuances of prone paddling. And it you want to belly laugh incessantly, just start paddling backwards until you start to spin around….really. It’s good for the soul!