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Getting Past the Kook Factor to Catch More Waves

While we might deny it, most of us are as worried about how we look when we surf as we are about how much fun we have. When we first start surfing, all we care about is the stoke, but once we start to develop rudimentary skills, we start caring what other people think about us, and we do whatever can to avoid looking like kooks.

There are a number of “kooky” things people can do, from putting our boards wax down on the sand to letting waves hit us sideways rather than head-on. One thing that many of us think is kooky, but that actually might not be, is paddling with our chins on the board.

Chin Down

Growing up, I’d always see old guys paddling with their chins down and thought “Lame!” The proper shortboard paddling technique, as far as I understood, was to arch the back as much as possible while paddling in order to lie as far forward on the board as I could without sinking the nose. Likewise, when I started logging, I was acutely aware of the lack of rocker in the nose of my traditional logs, and tried to avoid leaning my head forward when taking off so I wouldn’t pearl. But I recently came across a video posted by a surf coach that has caused me to rethink everything I know about body positioning while paddling into waves.

In the video, the coach shares a bunch of clips of professional shortboards and longboarders (including world tour competitors and even world champions!) paddling into waves—and at some point, they all push downward with their chins. While most of the paddling is with arched back, just as their boards engage the wave and they are about to take off and standup, then lean forward with their upper body and head, driving their chins toward the board and effectively using their weight to push the board into the wave.

Watching all of these world class surfers do this makes me wonder if the proper way to paddle isn’t with our chins down after all! It makes sense that when we want our momentum to go forward, we put our weight into it. That’s what we do with our front foot when we are trying to pump and accelerate down the line, so why not when we are trying to drop into a wave too? The truth is, most of us probably do this at least somewhat, automatically and without even thinking about it. Maybe if we start thinking about it more, we will find that we can catch waves even easier.

Of course, this isn’t to suggest that we should be paddling around with our chins on our boards all day long—that would just be kooky! J