The below Q&A session is between Aussie SUPerstar and Starboard dream team rider Michael Booth and Chris Jones, administrator of the SUP My Race group on Facebook which was created a few years ago to challenge SUP racers to paddle a little further each month and entice them to post their paddling sessions and mileages. Michael Booth who has developed his own SUP race coaching program called Booth Training, has been helping Chris this year on his first training season. You can read about his experience here. This interview was conducted shortly after Michael won two 2022 ICF SUP World titles in Gdynia, Poland in October and before the ISA World SUP & Paddleboard Championships in Puerto Rico, where he won bronze in the distance race and copper in the technical event. Two solid performances at the end of a long season which started in April with a new Carolina Cup title.
SUP Race Training: Questions and Answers with Michael Booth
Chris: Michael, if you were posting in SUP My Race, what sort of distances would you be posting each month? Would you be challenging Aristos Efthymiou for the #1 spot this year? As a guide, at the end of October Aristos had paddled over 5300km so far in 2022 and holds the individual monthly record in the group with a staggering 960 km in one month!
Michael: I certainly wouldn’t be challenging Aristos, that is some incredible mileage. I like to split my training up per month between Surfski paddling, SUP, running and strength work. Bigger weeks leading into competition combined I’m hitting around 125km p/week however this would be split 40/40/20. In Perth, I have a squad at Sorrento Surf Life Saving club so I do a bunch of training with them. I would say if I was hitting a targeted 50-60km per week on the SUP this would be ideal. I do not do this all the time, it is really important to have balance in training to keep myself motivated.
Chris: That would give you around 200 km a month which is pretty good, for the year that would put you in the top 10 paddlers in the group and the leading paddler from Australia. I know from working with you that you are a great coach, motivating me to push myself harder and go faster. My next question is who coaches the World Distance SUP champ?
Michael: Since I stopped flat water kayaking in 2014, I have coached myself. My last coach was actually a Swedish kayaker 4x Olympian Anders Gustafsson. He was the best coach I ever had, as he worked with the athletes on a personal and athletic level. I have had many other coaches prior to that in Surf Life Saving including my Dad who helped me towards my goals from a young age. Another influential coach was ex-Surf Ironman Jeremy Cotter who taught me how to really push myself on the surf ski in my early 20s.
Since I’ve been on the SUP it’s been all me, I think one of my biggest achievements as a coach was coaching myself to my first World Title in Fiji in 2016. This is where I really learnt I could do it myself and have gone on to win 5 more since. I like to take full responsibility for what I do both on and off the water. By being my own coach I am able to remove excuses as I know exactly what I have to do and only have myself to blame if things don’t go the way I want them too. And also on the flip side of that, I only have me to thank if everything goes to plan!
With BOOTH Training, I use my knowledge to help athletes of all ages achieve their goals. I’ve been fortunate to coach people to World and National titles as well as help people reach that best average, lose that weight, beat their mates and so on. You’d be surprised as to how many athletes I’ve coached who have their own coaching platforms now. Coaching is extremely rewarding and I feel very honoured that people trust me to help them achieve what they set out to do.
Chris: I am certainly in that group of paddlers beating the averages and losing that weight! Over the last 7 months I have noticed that as my fitness has increased so has my speed along with my stroke rate. That has come with a slight reduction in distance per stroke. These are two metrics that are often discussed in forums with the focus shifting from one to the other, which is more important, distance per stroke or stroke rate?
Michael: Distance per stroke is one of the more effective measures of how effective your stroke is. At the elite level in static conditions mid 3 meters per stroke is what I am looking for my best performance. For the forward stroke, I teach cadence around that 55 +- 5 is ideal for most paddlers. Sprinting is a different beast but as most paddlers aren’t looking to break the 200m world record I won’t go into it. The most important thing is to listen to everyone and find out what works for you. Once you find out what works for you believe in it for at least the season you are competing in. Chopping and changing all the time does not help your performance. There will always be someone who does it differently to you.
Chris: The next questions are related to speed.
Chris: Grietje Hoekstra has asked about paddle length: What is the best length for the paddle when you would like to go (a bit) faster? I bet there is no simple answer to that as paddles are a very personal bit of equipment, using my own experience I am now using a shorter shaft and larger blade than I was last year and going significantly faster.
Michael: I use the height + 4% rule for all my paddling. This is the best combination of cadence and power I have found. It has worked for many of my athletes including myself. The forward stroke I teach is based on an efficient range, downward pressure, holding the water and using your big muscles. If you want to find out more I do a quick tip on a Thursday on my @boothtraining Instagram. The paddle I use a Starboard Lima XL paddle with a 35 shaft.
Chris: John McFadzean is also asking about speed and he would like to know how he could go a little bit faster?
Michael: For speed, I think it is most important to work out exactly what your goal is and target it. With BOOTH Training I target an individual’s goals and base their training around their life. If you want to go faster I highly recommend getting a coach and working on a program to achieve that faster speed. The biggest mistake I see paddlers make is just going out for a paddle or racing every session. Specific sessions with targeted objectives is the way to go to achieve that faster speed. Send me a DM if you want to chat further.
Chris: Speed on the water has a lot to do with how good our stroke is. Taro Q Teressmarie Tucker would like to ask about the breakdown of your stroke. This could take a whole article but Taro noticed that you use your knees to get much more in the stroke’s power phase, is there something you can say here to encourage paddlers onto your training program?
Michael: There is a lot that goes into the stroke that may be hard to see. Simply with my stroke I focus on keeping my knees behind my toes and sinking my legs into each repetition. I keep my eyes up gazing 1-2 board lengths in front of the nose of my board to keep the chest nice and open. I load my legs to help put downward pressure on the front of the stroke. Then I plant my blade to hold that position with my major muscles in my back, and move past that point. Once the blade reaches my feet I start to release, feather and recover the stroke so I can set up for the next one. It’s all about effective movement over an efficient range. If you would like me to break down your stroke or want to chat more about this please check out the analysis section of my website.
Chris: Speed is also governed by board design, conditions and of course, motivation for the paddler.
Michael: Board design is extremely important to all paddlers and I think the biggest mistake people make is going too narrow. If you can’t stand on it you can’t paddle it.
The Starboard Sprint is something that is lightening in the flat water. It is so efficient in gliding through the water at cruising speed and the new hollows take that feeling to the next level. I find I am using the AllStar now for more all round conditions when it’s windy and choppy and switching between the 20.5 and the 23. Another thing that can help you is your fins as they have a major effect on how your board reacts. I basically take the whole range of VMG Blades away with me when racing. If it’s flat I’ll use a small fin like a 28 or TT and if it’s choppy and I want more stability I’ll use a 37 or 44!
Chris: Australia is a land of crocs, swimming snakes and sharks, all things that would motivate me to paddle faster! What is the most dangerous thing you have paddled with and how much faster were you as a result?
Michael: As far as dangerous things go I rarely see them in the water. A few years back I did see a White Shark under my board which did get me to the beach quite quickly. However 99.9% of the time padding is uneventful and it is just me versus the elements which I love.
Chris: Slightly more serious questions now from the racers, after reading your recap from the distance race at the ICF World Championships Katherine Wallace and Helen Nightingale both asked about the mental side of racing. Katherine would like to know what you do to overcome the mental barriers you face when racing, do you have a mantra which helps you drive the distance?
Michael: The mental side of racing is extremely important at any level. You need to learn how to compete with your fellow athletes, you need to know how to push yourself beyond what you think is your limit and you need to stay focused on the task at hand. I don’t have a mantra as such but I do try and find things to keep pushing myself.
At the World Championships, there were a few things going through my head that kept me pushing when I had other athletes breathing down my neck. First I think of my family and making sure that being away from them is worthwhile, I think of how a great result keeps creating my legacy, I tell myself to stay focused on what I can do not others, and I fall back on my training. One of my favourite quotes is “you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to your highest level of preparation”. Ultimately every race is just about doing my best, if I finish knowing I couldn’t have done any more, I am satisfied.
Chris: Helen wants to know how you reset your mental state after setbacks in a race? In this case you had a couple of falls allowing Titouan and Clement to close the distance to you on lap 2.
Michael: I made a few mistakes on that lap as I was too concerned with what they were doing and not on how I had created quite a good gap. I refocused my mind and spoke to myself about the things mentioned in the last question. It’s all about knowing what you can do and doing it when it counts. I constantly say to my athletes “once you have made a mistake forget about it and a new race starts”. If you keep doing this throughout your race you can capitalise on what’s to come instead of focusing on what has passed.
After racing in general I will always debrief the event or race with those closest to me. I am always working out what I did well, what I can do better and how I can be a better athlete next time. Being a racer is just such a cool thing as you are constantly fighting off people who want your spot, they will try and work out where they can beat you, and try and tear you down. This is the challenge I accept head on and am constantly trying to improve to stay ahead of the game.
Chris: On race day do you have any rituals in your race prep that are specific to you, any superstitions? And I was wondering how you cope when organisers have to make changes to the race schedule like they did in Poland?
Michael: I’ve learnt to accept things for what they are and control the controllables. This therefore means I do not have many race day rituals. I realise that everyone is in the same boat and it’s the ones who handle the changes the best come out on top. This has come with maturity and having it happen to me many times in competition. I like to always say “everything works out”. The things I try to do before competition is static stretch the night before, eat 2-3 hours before the start, warm up an hour before and make sure I have my race clothing and board choice organised. As far as race strategy goes I try not to think about it too much. I’ve been in many race scenarios before so it’s about working out what is happening around you and making smart decisions constantly.
Chris: Finally, what is the best thing about Stand Up Paddling for a world champion paddler?
Michael: This is an interesting question for me, I spoke before about winning my first SUP World Title in Fiji and it honestly didn’t mean too much at the time. There were bigger independent races for me that I was aiming for and they were my focus. But as I’ve got older I’ve learnt to cherish being a World Champion and it’s an extreme honour to hold such a title. To be the best in the World at something is really hard to come by. I love racing and I want to stay at the top of the sport for as long as I can.
Chris: Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to do this and for coaching me. I have found that working with you has improved my paddling immeasurably, I am faster, stronger and much faster. You might persuade me to do a race in 2023 as a result!
Chris Jones, administrator of SUP MY RACE on Facebook
Huge thanks to Chris Jones and Michael Booth for this great interview!
To find out more about Michael, his coaching services and some of the work he does off the water on his website: www.michael-booth.com.au/
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