Paddle Like A Pro: Improve Your Surfing By Improving Your Paddling

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So you can catch waves and your surfing is great, you throw buckets and can pretty much handle a combination of maneuvers with ease, that’s actually great! But what if you could surf a lot better and catch more quality waves and be in just the right position to drop onto a wave? What if you could save yourself from long term injuries and paddle more efficiently? Would you be interested to know how?

11-Time World Champion Kelly Slater Paddling | Image Source:

Before we get into this whole paddling thing, we must remember that one of the fundamental skills every surfer must learn is to paddle. In fact, it has to be one of the first skills to master before progressing to develop other surfing skills. Without paddling, you can’t catch waves. Without catching waves, you can’t start learning how to turn and master your maneuvers. So to get the best results from your surfing sessions, it is a must to take time to improve your paddling.

It is also important to note that paddling takes up about 85% of your time spent in a surfing session. Being efficient in paddling is important because it helps you conserve your energy and helps you catch more waves with less effort so you can focus on popping up, turning, and executing the maneuvers. Here are a few tips to improve your paddling.

1. Keep your head stationary and look forward.
It is important to keep your head still, avoid moving it sideways, and look forward when paddling. For one, it keeps your body from rolling, which reduces drag. When you move your head sideways, the body rolls, the surfboard rolls sideways and therefore it causes drag, lowering your efficiency, and will eventually take a toll on your body in the long haul.

John John Florence keeping his head still while paddling. | Image Source:

2. Keep elbows high.
Make sure your elbows are powering through your paddle and not your hands. With the elbows high as your hands are entering the water, your forearm and hands are kept in a vertical position underwater, giving you more surface area as you hold the water to propel yourself forward, and therefore getting you more power output for every stroke, helping you cover more distance with less number of strokes needed.

Keep elbows high when paddling as your hand enters the water. | Image Source:

3. Keep a minimal roll with every paddling stroke.
Aside from keeping your head still, execute your paddling strokes in a way that you aren’t rocking the surfboard left to right. The aim is to reduce drag and increase the efficiency of distance covered with every stroke.

4. Don’t arch your back too high.
While many believe that arching the back gives you leverage as it also helps keep your elbows high, it does not have to be that difficult. Studies and experiments such as that of Rob Case, an experienced swimmer and surfing paddling coach, have proven that arching the back way too high reduces efficiency, while lowering your back and focusing on holding the water instead of slipping through it helps you cover the same distance with fewer strokes needed.

Here is Rob’s video showing just that:

5. Lead with your elbow.
When paddling, you shouldn’t use your hands and exert energy on them, forcing your way through the water. Focus on leading every stroke with your elbows. As your hands are entering the water, the paddling force should be on your arms and not on your hands.

Lead every stroke with your elbow. | Image Source: Xgames, ESPN

6. Watch your hands.
Keep your hands straight and relaxed (not cupped) when paddling through the water. Cupping your hands reduces the surface area for holding the water to propel your forward motion.

7. Keep your horizontal balance.
Be mindful of your horizontal balance. Your positioning on the board affects your horizontal balance, be sure to reduce frontal drag by not having the nose of the board too high above the water.

Surfboard shouldn’t be too high above the water | Image Source: Pinterest

There are many other details you need to learn to improve your paddling but first focus on these seven pointers above. Measure if you have achieved efficiency by counting the number of strokes you need to cover a certain distance. Observe if you get less soreness in the shoulders and back as a result of applying these principles above.

If you are really serious about improving your paddling, get yourself a coach to help guide you, and help you measure results and track your progress.

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