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How to Surf Better Part 2 of 9: Paddling

One of the foundational skills in surfing is paddling. After all, if you can’t paddle into waves, then you certainly can’t ride them (unless you have your own dedicated tow team!). But as simple as paddling might seem, there are actually a lot of nuances involved, especially if you are trying to paddle in the most effective and energy-efficient manner possible.


Paddling Technique for Longboards

The first thing to consider when you are working on your paddling skills is what type of board you are riding.

If you are on a longboard, the volume of the board will naturally give you extra paddle power and speed, but that isn’t an excuse to get lazy. The key is to do everything you can to utilize that extra paddle power so that you can maximize your wave count and establish perfect positioning on the waves you catch. Because longboards don’t have much rocker, it is important that you accommodate the flat nose.

This can actually be an advantage, since flat boards paddle faster and it is possible to lie on the board with less of an arch in your lower back and neck, meaning that you won’t have to strain as much when you paddle.

However, the lack of rocker also means that the board is more likely to pearl when you drop in, so you want to ensure that you are paddling into waves early, and often at an angle.

paddling Technique 2

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When paddling a longboard (and any surfboard, for that matter), you generally never want to utilize the double-arm paddle. Paddling with one arm at a time is typically faster and more efficient.

When paddling around the lineup and positioning, you want to use a moderate paddle that is efficient but sustainable.

Then, when it is time to catch the wave, you gear up into a faster, more aggressive paddle, using a burst of speed to get you into the wave early. 

Rather than cupping your hands into rigid paddles (as many beginners tend to do), it is better to simply keep the hands loose and comfortable. Don’t spread the fingers super wide, but instead, just let them position themselves naturally.

Small gaps between the fingers is actually a good thing, as the water molecules will create a hydrostatic web that actually forms a larger quasi-paddle than if you crammed your fingers together. Plus, since you are not tensed up, your arms and hands are less likely to cramp and get tired. 

Paddling Technique for Shortboards

Paddling a shortboard takes more effort and technique, due to the lower volume and smaller outline of the board. Less volume means less floatation, which equates to slower speeds when paddling. At the same time, the narrower outline of a shortboard is less stable and will tend to sway back and forth under you while you paddle. 

Paddling Technique

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While the most effective way to get efficient at paddling is to just do it a lot and get stronger, there are a few things you can do to make the process easier.

For one, you want to lie as far forward on the board as you can without putting the nose under water. When you are farther back on a board, the tail sinks and the nose rises, which has the effect of pushing more water as you move across the surface, slowing you down. By lying farther forward, you keep the nose down, putting the board into a planning position that increases speed and efficiency. Of course, if the nose goes under, then you are likely to pearl when you drop in, so it is important to find a balance between speed and control. One way to eek a few extra inches out of your body positioning is to arch your back aggressively while you paddle. By lifting your chest, you are able to lie farther forward on the board without pushing the nose under. This is why you will typically see shortboarders arching their backs a lot more than longboarders when they paddle.

Catching Waves

Paddling into waves on a shortboard will typically be a lot more critical than on longboard, due to the fact that the waves are often bigger and the paddling is slower. The result is that takeoffs are typically must later and faster than on a longboard. Positioning in the lineup is key, as you don’t want to have to chase waves all over the place on a board that doesn’t paddle well. Instead, position yourself ahead of time, then, when the wave that you want finally comes, you should ideally only have to paddle a few times to catch it. As with all takeoffs, look over your shoulder toward the breaking wave to ensure that you are in a good position and that no one else has already caught the wave behind you.

Catching Waves

Once you catch a wave, whether on a shortboard or longboard, you want to quickly turn your board toward the shoulder so that you are taking off down the line. This will improve your positioning on the face and make it more likely that you will make the wave, while also allowing you to pump through sections for speed.

Paddling Out

Paddling back out after your wave is also important. The person riding the wave always has the right of way, so when you are paddling, it is your responsibility to stay out of people’s way. This starts with choosing the appropriate place to paddle out. In most cases, this will be in the channel, out past where the wave shoulders off. If you are surfing a beach break that doesn’t have a defined channel, it is best to look for rips that are flowing out to sea, as these tend to be the easiest spot to paddle out.

If, for some unfortunate reason, you find yourself in a bad position when you are paddling out (such as close to where the wave is breaking), it is still your responsibility to stay out of the way of anyone riding the wave. This takes a lot of wave knowledge, which only comes with experience. For this reason, it is best to stick to beginner spots until you have a comprehensive understanding of surfing etiquette and how the ocean works.

Once you have the ability to read waves, you can make split-second assessments about whether you will be able to make it over a wave before the person riding it reaches you. If you can, then you need to paddle as fast as you can for the shoulder to stay out of their way. If you can’t make it over the wave before they get to you, then your responsibility is to paddle behind them so that they can safely pass you, without you ruining their wave. This will typically mean putting yourself in a worse position where you are likely to get smashed by the wave harder—but that’s all part of being a polite surfer. 

Paddling out technique in surfing

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Whether you decide to paddle for the shoulder or behind the surfer, the important thing to do is commit to your decision so that they can read your body language and adjust appropriately. If you hesitate or change your mind at the last second, the chance or a collision with the surfer is much higher.

Finally, if you find yourself in an unfortunate situation where you can’t get out of a surfers way, your job is to do your best to dive under them.

If you are on a longboard, this will likely be quite difficult. On a shortboard, however, you should be able to duck dive deep enough to get under a surfer coming down the line. Until you have the ability to do that (or, in the case of a longboarder, to always stay out of the way), you should probably stick to beginner spots.

Once you have all of that figured out, all that’s left to do is paddle back out, catch your next wave, and enjoy the ride!





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