Chapter 9: Surfboard Paddling Technique

Proper surfboard paddling technique:

Paddling technique is one of the most important skills in surfing. You spend most of your time paddling around during your session. Having the right technique will make your paddling more effective and less tiring.

You should lie on the board so that the nose is only a few inches above the water. If you lay too far back on the board and the nose is way up in the air, your board wont plane across the surface and you’ll be pushing against the water. On the other hand, if you’re too far forward and the nose is under the water, you won’t go anywhere and you’ll probably just end up falling off! Most beginners make the mistake of being too far back on their board.

Once you’ve got yourself lying at the right spot on your board, the next step is to arch your back a bit so your weight is on the bottom of your rib cage. Your feet should be together and lifted out of the water so they don’t drag. This position is HARD for the very new because of the muscles involved. You’re going to get tired quickly, but you’ll soon build up the necessary muscles.

The arm stroke itself should be deep. Don’t “lily-dip!” Girls and women tend to be guilty of not extending their arms fully down into the water, but guys do it too! Girls do have the disadvantage of less upper body strength, but that doesn’t seem to stop the women’s pro surfers from ripping! As you paddle more, you’ll build up your muscles.

Reach your arm fully out towards the nose of the board, cup your hands with your fingers spread apart just a little, and bring your arm down through the water making a small “S” shape that goes slightly under your board. This is the most efficient way to paddle and is utilized by none other than Kelly Slater himself. Learn from the best!

I’d advise against using a butterfly stroke. It’s not really necessary, and you lose speed when you bring both arms out of the water. It’s more beneficial to constantly have an arm pulling you. If you make your strokes deep and powerful, you’ll need less strokes to gain speed. Sometimes you see people windmilling their arms at a thousand miles per hour, splashing around like a wounded seal, but they’re not really gaining much extra momentum. In fact, they’re probably slowing themselves down. Calm, deliberate strokes are the key. It also looks much better :)

Practice in the whitewater first

Before you try to paddle to the outside, past the breaking waves, practice your paddling technique on the inside in the whitewater.

Once you’re good at pushing the board for momentum in the whitewater, you can start to try and paddle to gain momentum. As the whitewater comes towards you, climb on the board and start paddling towards shore. Once the whitewater catches you, grab the rails and hang on!

Remember: Proper paddling technique is a huge piece of being a good surfer.

Now that you've figured out how to paddle, let's move on to Chapter 10: Standing Up!

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