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Surfers “just want to ride waves. They see paddling as such a burden.” That’s according to surf guru Rob Case. He teaches surfing paddling techniques and finds that his clients “are starting to enjoy it a lot more.” He also finds that the best way to teach paddling is by putting a surfboard in his High Performance Endless Pools® swimming machine.
“When you learn to paddle, you increase your experience in the water tenfold.” That makes sense: researchers have found that a surfer spends about 10 times longer paddling than wave riding.
A swimmer since age three, Case says, “Paddling gives me an edge. I end up catching more waves” than other surfers. To help others catch more waves, he just opened his Surfing Paddling Academy in Novato, California.
Case previously tried teaching in a 50-meter pool, but that brought logistical hassles: the student needed to complete their laps, exit the pool, and wait for him to upload the video (that he recorded as he jogged along the deck) before seeing what went right or wrong.
Now, with his Endless Pools counter-current pool, “What I can accomplish in 50 minutes is incredible.” He used to address one aspect of technique per session, but now, “I’m working on nine or 10 things. This is so easy.”
“It’s absolutely amazing how quickly I can get them to improve. I’m seeing them save an average of 15 to 20 strokes in just a minute. When you’re surfing for two hours, that’s 2,400 strokes. It’s going to be a game-changer in the surf community.”
Case finds that his swimmers adapt to the Endless Pools current quickly. Soon after, though, the current’s unrelenting consistency throws any flaws in their stroke into stark relief. “About five minutes in, you start to see all the mistakes. Fatigue starts to set in, and the pool just picks apart their stroke.” And that’s what they call ‘a teachable moment.’
“I have an underwater camera that feeds directly into my computer” to deliver immediate feedback. That’s critical for Case, who sees this sort of learning as the development of the body’s memory.
“It’s about learning the feeling, training your body to feel what’s right. I can immediately say, ‘did you feel that?’” so that, with repetition, the student can say, “‘Oh, that’s what it feels like’” to do it correctly. “It’s been awesome,” he enthuses.
Of course, you can’t formally quantify what you measure by feel, and the field of surf research is just beginning to take off. Case has been collaborating with California State University San Marcos on the ongoing research by Sean Newcomer, some of it in the University’s Elite Endless Pool.
For instance, after instructing students on proper paddling technique, Case has been told, “That one little change saved my shoulder!” Now, formal studies are being planned to confirm to what extent his technique can impact rotator cuff injuries.
Case sees injury prevention as “the most useful and most evident” area for funding in the current climate; the study’s results could show “how to save ten grand on shoulder surgery,” he says with a laugh. Case’s clients will be among the first subjects.
For this research, and for his own coaching, Case says, “The Endless Pool is the most controlled environment you can get.” It lets him and Newcomer do what’s “literally impossible” in open waters.
Plus he’s starting to adapt his own XSWIM fitness program, a mix of swim drills and dry-land exercises, for his swim-in-place pool.
Of course, it’s not all work and no play. In his off hours, Case uses his Endless Pools swimming machine for just that: swimming. “I’ve seen huge improvements in my stroke.” In fact, he recently won his division in the Alcatraz Challenge Swim.
With two kids, ages four and (almost) seven, it also serves as the family pool. “My kids love it too. They’re having a blast in it!”