4 Reasons Why Jack Robinson won the Paddle Battle Against Leo Fioravanti at JBay

Was this a case of Technique, Fitness, or a combination of both?

Check out this video to learn more:

There are 4 main reasons why Jack Robinson came from behind and won this paddle battle against Leo Fioravanti at JBay.

  1. Stroke Rate
  2. More Effective Propulsion
  3. Heart Rate (management of his own, and starting from a lower heart rate than Leo)
  4. Drafting

I’ll break it down for you one by one.


Let’s start with Stroke Rate. First we need to understand that Speed is a function of Stroke Rate and Distance Per Stroke.

Measuring 1 minute of paddling during the stage in which Jack passed Leo, I measure he took 110 strokes while Leo took 102 strokes. This leads to an 8% advantage in Stroke Rate.

Assuming they both have a similar distance per stroke, you can now see the speed differential. However, I am also concluding that Jack had more effective propulsion, which would increase the Distance he travels with each stroke he takes.

Just a 10% improvement in distance per stroke yields in this case an additional 10.8% speed advantage.


So how did I come to the conclusion that Jack had more effective propulsion? Two reasons,

  1. He needed more than an 8% advantage on speed to move past Leo as fast as he did. That was giveaway #1, but
  2. When looking closer at his Entry Point and Entry Angle vs Leo’s, you can clearly see Jack’s set up for propulsion is superior.

When the entry point is closer to the head, as you can see with Jack vs Leo, his stroke rate will automatically increase. But it is the Entry Angle that makes the biggest difference in his stroke’s propulsive effectiveness.

An earlier entry point allows Jack to enter steeper. When he is able to enter steeper, he is able to dive the arm into the propulsive phase of the stroke sooner, AND push backward over a longer period of time. Leo’s over-reaching is most likely leading to him pushing down in the first part of his stroke until his arm begins pushing backward.

Even though Leo and Jack are similarly sized, on similar boards, by over-reaching, Leo puts his stroke at a disadvantage to Jack’s because he’s getting a portion of the propulsion Jack is. And he’s pushing down, wasting valuable energy that doesn’t take him in the correct direction.


Leo had started at a disadvantage when it comes to energy use. He had already been paddling for 45 seconds and had taken two waves in a matter of a few minutes prior to Jack’s one wave. Several studies from 1991, to 2006 to 2012, 2018 and 2019 have shown that heart rate is at it’s highest when a surfer kicks out of a wave. Leo had take two waves before the paddle battle to Jack’s one wave. He was already starting at a higher heart rate than Jack, AND Leo had already been paddling back out for 45 seconds before the battle started.

Peter Mel discussed breathing as a possible advantage that Jack had, and while there may be some merit to that, Jack simply started with a lower heart rate to begin with and traveled a shorter distance.

What made it extra dramatic was the duck dive that separated them and the comeback after.


Lastly, after the duck dive, Jack appears to align into Leo’s slipstream. Drafting, or traveling behind another swimmer or surfer, allows the following surfer to let the leading surfer break all of the frontal drag. Drafting is most effective when the following surfer is right on the leading surfer’s feet, but even a few feet behind can help the following surfer.

Notice Jack’s increase stroke rate happen as he removes himself from the slipstream, mostly for acceleration purposes but also because he is now tasked with breaking his own frontal drag.

So there you have it. Jack’s miracle explained, though, it’s wasn’t as much a miracle as a combination of technique and a built in advantage with the heart rate head start.

If you’re interested in more paddling technique, feel free to check out my Level 1 Paddling Technique online course, or visit me here for an in-person analysis.

Until then, I’ll see you in the water.

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