BOOK REVIEW: ‘Waterman 2.0,’ Comprehensive Training For Paddlers

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Kelly Starrett’s new book Waterman 2.0 makes a decisive argument: We must take action.

That is, we must stop treating paddlesports so passively. Just because an activity takes place on water does not mean that it equates to low impacts and soft landings, especially when combined with repetition fueled by passion or competition.

That type of front-seat thinking is a big act of counter-programming. Starrett uses nearly 400 pages to lay out his case, working with Phil White to create a lively self-help reference guide for serious water-oriented athletes that is not as heavy a tome as the (large hardback) book appears (and feels).

Rather, Starrett, a Bay Area physical therapist with serious multi-paddlesport chops, and co-author White (a frequent SUP contributor) created a lively and readable guide. It’s one that mixes anecdotes from Starett’s own competitive journey through injury to the search for “full positional capacity,” followed by chapters packed with value-rich tips, briefings and progressions (with helpful illustrations to go with them). The back third of the book provides a colorful application and added context to the book’s info-rich meat and potatoes midsection, with nearly 150 pages of athlete profiles sharing their wisdom, from Kai to Kalama and Shane Perrin to Lina Augustis, mixing in OC, surfski, and freestyle kayak legends alike. This profile section bookends a clear place-setting introduction from Laird Himself, sharing some sound waterman wisdom on the long-game priority of staying durable.

Dave Kalama shares his tips in the book. Photo courtesy of Waterman 2.0

And the place that SUP currently fits, as Starrett points out, is a bit like the Wild West. The paddling discipline is still new enough that sport science and anatomical best practices are still catching up, creating a paddler predicament he compares to one of gladiators thrown to the lions of injury. With new generations picking up what Starrett calls “the fullest expression of a lifestyle sport — something you can do with your family at any age,” Waterman 2.0 makes an inspiring call that standup paddlers owe it to our future selves to start now to fix soft tissue restrictions and to develop strength, conditioning, movement and mobility the right way.

For Starrett, that call-to-action starts with core guiding principles and then – where the bulk of the book’s applicable info lies – in a series of 13 standards. Each ‘standard’ is a benchmark of what normal movements should look like, followed by progressions with the steps clearly spelled out (and photographed) to move through them, or level up. Then the chapters are structured with those standards applied through: spine and hips; shoulders; feet and ankles; hands, wrists, elbows, and arms; and finally, preparation and recovery notes. With a huge appendix of movement and mobility examples, any level of paddler — and even the most casual of reader — stands to gain a tip, tidbit, warm-up, or recovery nugget to allow him or her to heal, correct, adapt, or perform just a bit better.

The book is comprehensive in that way and indeed thick. Maybe a bit too thick with full-page photos that often stretches the material. The Mobility 101 section also gets a little deep into theory, jumping around a bit on anatomy-kinesiology lecture points that may fatigue the more practical in the audience.

The sum of all the points however has a cumulative effect the same way that paddle strokes add up over miles, for better or worse, depending on how you apply them. By the finish line, Waterman 2.0 is an investment in longevity. The idea here is a simple, and noble one: To move better, so you can move more, and move longer, and ultimately, so you can live better.

As Starrett says, “the journey to sustainable excellence never ends.”


An excerpt from “The Pacific Alone” – A deeper look a kayaking’s boldest voyage. 

The article was originally published on Standup Paddling

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