You are pretty much doing what I'm doing right now, with the exception of the products used and using the paddle brush to put into a ponytail.
In response to going productless, I can if I use a leave in but the curls don't look the same. It also tends to look alittle frizzy, which I don't really mind. But without product(gel), I'm not able to attain 2nd or 3rd day hair. I would basically have to wash or wet my hair everyday to get the curls to look somewhat fresh, and I prefer not to. It's easier for me to use a gel(w/o alcohol, silicones, or mineral oil/petro). I find that as long as I use a good reg. condish and leave in, I don't experience any dryness.