If there’s one name that has been synonymous with the sport of stand-up paddleboarding it’s Danny Ching. From SUP Coaches meticulously deconstructing and analysing his paddle stroke technique to Danny’s own data-driven approach to mastering SUP methods and applying the same objectives in the development process of new race board and paddle designs, the SUP and OC1 World Champion continues to influence the sport and inspire the next generation of stand-up paddleboarding and outrigger athletes.
With the 404 and Hippostick, Californian brands co-founded by Danny, landing in Europe – Tanja Ecker is the exclusive dealer for Europe – TotalSUP caught up with the legend to chat about the latest board and paddle design innovation and his 2024 international SUP racing plans.
Photo by Lise M. Bee
Hi Danny, congratulations on the recent USA SUP National Championship title! What are you currently working on?
Thank you. The USA SUP Nationals was an awesome event for the sport of stand-up paddleboarding here in California. The organization did a great job of communicating with the racers and we had a competitive and fun event.
Currently, I’m getting ready to start my 2024 season. I have been coaching, finishing up designing new SUP race boards and SUP paddles and been working on a few multi-day adult and kids paddling camps that are rolling out for 2024.
You’ve been incredibly busy with coaching, has your focus shifted from competing to SUP coaching and gear development?
I have coached paddling nearly my entire life. I started coaching outrigger in 1998 as a junior and have been coaching and teaching ever since. Teaching has always been a passion of mine and I will never stop doing it. My daughters are now four and seven and that is where most of my time is committed. Because of that I have not travelled very much internationally this year but I have had time to teach, train and race locally in California. Now that the girls are in school, I have had some free time to train during the day. Over the last three years, I have redeveloped my paddling technique and teaching technique so now I’m just excited to be able to share it with the paddle community.
Although I have not been able to race internationally very often I feel I am paddling faster now, than ten years ago. I recently won the Outrigger Molokai Solo World Champs last May and I have not lost a SUP or OC1 or V1 race since last April. I really believe my time spent studying paddling technique, in combination with studying board and paddle design, really helped me take another step forward in my racing ability.
I’m hoping to get out to a few international races this year and see how well I’m paddling compared to the new crop of top international racers. I am even contemplating helping run an event in SoCal next year to see if I can entice some top racers to come and visit. I miss the big end of the year events like the Battle of the Paddle. It might be time to try and bring something like that back to SoCal.
With the world having embraced the “hybrid mode” post-pandemic, do you run or are planning to run any SUP coaching programmes online?
I do believe there is value in paddle coaching online but there is no substitute for in person coaching. I found that I love paddling and being on the water with other paddlers. Being in the water is essential to learning how to “feel the water”. “Feel” is not something you can teach in a video or over the phone. We can give tips and drills, and advice, but it is essential for the student, and the teacher, to be present in order to make coaching and paddling adjustments in real time and get real time feedback. With online coaching, I do not always feel I can properly convey an idea or a concept. If I cannot get you to understand or experience the “feel” that I am explaining, then I don’t think the coaching is as valuable. However, at the end of the day, coaching is a way to fast track our learning. Without the knowledge passed on by others, it would take each of us years if not a lifetime to figure somethings out on our own.
Currently, I have developed a new teaching method called the Wave Method. We have two four-hour days of learning, paddling and surfing. We start out day one on land talking about a new stroke technique for catching and riding waves. After about an hour we progress into the water, where we apply those techniques and drills to actual paddling. Then we take those techniques and use them to catch and ride a wave. I hire a motorboat to create a perfect wave so that we can practice catching over and over again. We’ve found that while catching and riding the wave, everyone instinctually starts to paddle more efficiently, more balance and more power. We also learned that second day is essential, because most people need a night to digest all the information they get. Then they can bring all their new questions back and immediately try again. This course turns out to be a lot of fun and everyone, including myself, learns so much. We usually end up getting about 13 miles a day of paddling and surfing. You can find scheduled courses on social media or through the 404 and Hippostick websites.
What’s your take on the current SUP racing scene and the SUP industry as a whole? Are you noticing any emerging trends?
It seems like the current SUP race scene is pretty fractured at the moment. There are a lot of great destinations, stand-alone races that are prestigious on their own, but then there are also a lot of events and multiple associations that want to be considered the world championships of all SUP racing. I’ve never been a fan of having more than one World Championship in a season, especially when most paddlers can only afford the time and money to participate in one of them. It dilutes the value of becoming a world champion. It’s also difficult physically to prepare for a major event like that. If you have to turn around and jump on a long flight and participate again the next weekend, you will be at a huge disadvantage to anyone that didn’t race last weekend. You can see this in most of the international race results. It is rare for a top paddler to win two weekends in a row, let alone three.
In my experience, across all paddling sports that I have been a part of for the last thirty years, the biggest and best races have always had the racers’ best interest in mind, not their own. It has always been the paddlers at the event that make an event big and prestigious or not.
The other fracture I see is in the new version of the SUP brand race team. It seemed to start when SUP Racer started posting his board brand rankings and individual rankings. Suddenly, there seemed to be a priority on which board brand won the most races or which individual won the most races in a year. Now some of the SUP brands are getting caught up in creating an exclusive brand members only team, where riders from one brand will not paddle or train with riders from another brand. I’ve seen and heard stories of SUP paddlers in the same town, who paddle at the same place and time as others, but will not be paddling together because they use different brands of boards or didn’t want their competition to know how they were training. Sounds kind of ridiculous and really takes away from one of the best things paddling has to offer, the comradery and the ability to paddle with and learn from others.
I was recently at the USA SUP Nationals and was able to experience the amazing comradery between SUP brand race teams in Southern California. Each team at the event had a tent or two, with no barriers to block out or keep in racers. Paddlers from every team and region flowed through all the tents freely to chat and hang out and talk about paddling.
The 404 has officially dropped in Europe with Tanja Ecker being the driving force behind it with already an impressive 404 following on the ground (#404eurosquad). What are the key features of the 404 racing boards that set them apart from other designs in terms of performance and user-friendliness?
We are super excited to have Tanja on the team building the SUP scene wherever she goes and sharing her love and passion. We are very grateful to be working with her and several new distribution partners. This allows us the opportunity to share our designs around the world.
Our Primary Race Board is the Jump and we could not be happier with it. The Jump was originally meant to be released in April 2020. However, it was delayed due to COVID-19 pandemic. The first time we really saw it in competition was the November edition of the 2021 Carolina Cup. April Zilg and I were both able to ride that board to victory and I’ve been in love with it ever since. Since then, April has won an APP world title on it, as well as a 200m Sprint World Title. And Tanja was able to win the SUP11 City Tour on the same board. So I think that shows its versatility from sprinting to distance and everything in between.
If you look at the hull of the 404 Jump, you will notice it’s very different from most of other boards. We’ve designed rocker into the board without losing waterline and by spending so much time designing the hull, we were able to create stability while the board is up to speed. Which allows us to sprint, harder and faster without losing stability.
As far as the design goes, we spent an enormous amount of time studying paddling and understanding the concepts that go into a fast race board. We noticed most companies would just narrow their board and then raise the rails since the board actually sank lower. This means you can only go fast as long as you have a lot of energy and a high stroke rate.
We found through video analysis and experience how the boards react during a stroke and how they react in between strokes, and were able to then start designing a hull that would maximize glide between strokes and minimize resistance during power.
Could you tell us more about the 404 and Hippostick brands. Has the vision changed since its inception?
404 initially started in 2010. After my first race, I was approached by several sponsors and after a long decision-making process, I decided to start my own company. Since 2010 we have grown tremendously and expanded from race boards to inflatables, recreational boards and surfboards around the world. 404 started as a race board company and racing paddleboards will continue to be our main focus. Our goal is to design and produce the world’s best SUP race boards.
I started Hippostick a few years later. I’ve always loved designing paddles. It’s a passion I got from my dad who had his own paddle business. Recently we have expanded from stand-up paddles to outrigger paddles and dragon boat paddles, so the company is growing and we are constantly designing and innovating in each of those disciplines. We’ve recently added new measurables when designing paddles.
Being a lifelong paddler, I have found that where a paddle catches is far more important than how much it catches. So we have introduced the concept of catch location. By knowing where you want to generate power, we can design a blade that holds on the most, at the correct part of your stroke.
Both companies are in the middle of a design renaissance. The evolution of the sport and the speed that paddlers can achieve now, have started to accelerate paddle and board design. I really believe Hippostick and 404 are on the leading edge of race design in 2024.
What’s your favourite 404 x Hippostick SUP set up?
My favourite 404 and Hippostick SUP set up are the 404 Jump 14 x 22 and the new Orca Pro Paddle. I found the Jump hull design combined with the immediate power of Orca Paddle allows me to hit top speed in fewer strokes with less effort. That comes in handy when I’m racing someone less than half my age.
Could you share a sneak peek of what’s coming? Any innovative design shake-ups in the 404 quiver?
We are very happy with the feedback, performance and quality of our Jump SUP Race Board and will definitely be bringing it back for 2024. Designing the Jump was a two year process for us. We at 404 decided that it was no longer feasible to make a board narrower and then raise the rails since the board sat lower in the water. We realized little to know design efforts were going into the shape of the hull. So the Jump ended up being the first race board to incorporate hull design along with outline, rocker and rail height.
We’ve learned a lot during testing and recognized very quickly that many of the measurables we consider when buying a board (thickness, width, volume) don’t actually tell us much about how the board performs during paddling. We’ve found that we need to know things like the rider volume displacement, so we can see what part of the hull the rider will be riding. This measurable helps us determine a race board’s true water line when accelerating.
On the Jump, we don’t just size up a board, we redesign the hull to match the new predicted rider volume displacement. This results in a race board that is just as fast at 25 inches wide as it is at 22 inches wide. These are the measurements we used to design the Jump and the measurements are being used to design our future boards. Now I can accurately show a rider where their true waterline will be while paddling and how that hull design will help them go faster, be more efficient and be more stable.
Moving forward into 2024, we have redesigned the LTD (our Low Volume race board) and we’re adding a higher volume ocean race board to the line. These boards have over two years of development in them already. Adding hull design to the equation is a game changer for creating maintainable speeds and being able to increase stability while accelerating.
These two boards are currently only available by order but we do offer a wide range of sizes.
We will continue to offer our all of our Jump race boards in the molded carbon sandwich technology. This allows us to offer the Jump at weights in the 23-24lbs range no matter the size of board.. The race performances it has displayed over the last two years have been incredible, and we are very grateful for the feedback we’ve received from our fellow paddlers.
For the Hippostick paddles, I’ve developed two new SUP blades, the Orca and the Verve. Through teaching and paddling, we’ve noticed measurements like surface area of blade had little to no value when testing to see how paddles worked. And when we describe paddling, we always talk about things like the catch but have no measurables for it other than words like “Big” or “More.
While testing we found that catch location became important for sustaining speed and stability. Catching too far or releasing too soon quickly caused fatigue and instability. We’ve adjusted blade angles and blade curve to create a very natural catch location on both of our new blades. Then we changed blade shape and concept to create one paddle blade for acceleration and another for maintaining speed.
The Orca is a little shorter blade that grabs immediately right when you need it. I use it for sprint, technical races and SUP surfing. It’s thin entry helps the paddle set quickly and the soft, thicker shoulders allow the blade to hold water under maximum pressure without slipping. I can sprint with a short stroke or power with a long stroke with this paddle.
The Verve is a longer sleeker design. Its longer length blade and sharper tip allow paddlers to draw out their catch longer. This allows the paddler to spend more time in the power loading portion of the catch. We then gave the blade a narrow profile to create a very forgiving power phase. I use this paddle for longer distance paddles when I’m doing a longer smoother stroke.
At 404 and Hippostick we are very excited to introduce some new concepts that really help paddlers choose their paddles and boards correctly. You’ll be able to see some of that info on our website soon.
What are your SUP racing and coaching plans for 2024?
As we approach the new year, I am still working on my racing and coaching calendar. Between stand-up paddleboarding and Outrigger I could race twice every weekend if desired. My season usually starts in January at the Hanohano Race and runs through December.
My plan is to continue competing at the local race scene in California, but I’m looking at a few travel opportunities. There’s a good chance ill end up in Europe, Asia and maybe even South America for a race or two this year. I’m working with our distributors to figure out where the best races are and making it out for those.
Thank you so much for sharing your design insights and have an epic 2024!
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