Proper surfing paddling technique is one of the most important skills when learning how to surf. You spend most of your time paddling around during your session. Having the right technique will make your paddling more effective and less tiring.
If you have good paddling technique you will catch more waves and surf better overall because you’ll be catching the waves earlier.
Paddling is also a full body workout! Almost all of your muscles are engaged when paddling, including your back, core, glutes, not to mention arms and upper body/shoulders. Even your lower legs are engaged to keep them still and not dragging through the water.
Find the Board’s Sweet Spot
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 or pearling. Most beginners make the mistake of being too far back on their board.
This is called laying on the “sweet spot” of the board, where the board will plane through the water with the least amount of resistance. Each board will have a slightly different sweet spot.
Arch Your Back a Bit When Paddling out to the Lineup
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 sometimes hard for beginners to maintain because of the muscles involved. You’re going to get tired quickly, but you’ll soon build up the necessary back muscles.
Proper Arm Stroke
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.
Check out my favorite YouTuber, Noel Salas, discuss how to paddle faster:
Reach your arm fully out towards the nose of the board, cup your hands with your fingers spread apart just a little (don’t fully close your fingers), 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!
Shift Your Weight Forward when Paddling to Catch a Wave
When you’re paddling to catch a wave and you need to get up to speed and get the board gliding fully, you will want to shift your weight forward, lose the arch in your back that you use to paddle around the lineup, and drive into your paddle strokes.
A good tip to get you in the right position for this is to touch your chin to the board. This will get the board gliding at full speed when getting into a wave. When I’m paddling hard to get into a wave I sometimes jam my chin into the board so much I have a bruise the next day – obviously you don’t have to injure your chin, but you get the point.
This is sometimes more difficult to master for beginners, as beginners have a tendency to overdo the forward position and pearl/nose dive. Keep practicing.
Paddling in the head down/body shifted forward is not ideal for paddling around the lineup, which is why it’s good to also develop strength in your back to arch up a little and keep your head up. Much easier on your neck!
Keep Your Head Still
Keeping a still head when paddling helps to reduce excessive movement that produces drag. You don’t want your body moving all over the place as it will cause the board to move around in the water causing excess drag. You want your body and head as still as possible while paddling in order to streamline the board into forward movement.
More Paddling Tips:
Don’t use a butterfly stroke, where you paddle with both arms at the same time. 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!
Use Your Back And Lats
Using your back and lateral muscles to help paddle will give you a stronger paddle stroke. You’ll be relying less on your shoulder muscles to carry all the load.
Remember: Proper paddling technique is a huge piece of being a good surfer.
If you’re looking for our guide on learning how to surf, click here!