How to Paddle like a Pro

Written by on 7th November 2015
Published in Fitness, How To
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When learning to surf, one of the most over-looked and neglected steps to reaching that holy grail of riding green waves is literally the first thing you learn, paddling. You need to be able to paddle properly to get out to the line up and gain enough momentum to catch waves. Basically it’s the first fundamental step that needs to be practised and mastered because the more efficient your paddling, the quicker you’ll get out the back, the more waves you’ll catch etc.

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Photo, Lewis

Fitness plays a big part in successful paddling, but I have seen hundreds of crossfit meatheads over the years of surf coaching wasting energy and missing waves, despite paddling faster and harder than any of the locals in the water. It’s frustrating as hell to them, but what it all boils down to is technique and timing. So here are my top paddling tips:

1. Look for an easy way out:

Now I’m not talking like one of those motor powered surfboards to get you out to the lineup, I mean look for a channel or a rip current that can take you out back, or maybe some rocks to jump off (safely) as this will save you loads of energy that you can use for catching waves.

2. Nose up:

If you can’t jump off a pier out into the lineup let’s move onto paddling technique. Now we’re talking surfboard and the one on your face here. The nose of your board should be poking out of the water slightly, not too much as your legs will be under water and you won’t go anywhere, this is the most common mistake newbie surfers make, but on the flip side if the nose is under water, you are essentially paddling under water, which isn’t good. When teaching beginners we say toes on the tail, but this is only because we teach on 9ft foamies which are very forgiving, you on whatever craft you are riding, must find the ‘swett spot’.

Ultimately you want to be lying on your board so you’re balanced and planing smoothly across the water. As for the nose on your face, keep your head up looking forward with your back arched. This will ache at first, but you’ll soon get a nice unnatrual curve in your back; walk around any surf town and notice how the locals tend to walk with a chest out strut, this isn’t a manly swagger, this is due to surfing lots.

3. Long strokes:

Instead of short fast mental strokes, getting you nowhere and leaving you out of breathe, really reach out far, pull the water back and your hand should exit next to your hip. Your fingers should be closed, as if you are swimming and hands cupped slightly. Take it slow’ish on your paddle out to get the technique, don’t dilly dally, get a bit of a move on but don’t tyre yourself out. Then when you go to paddle for a wave, do exactly the same but faster.

3. No nipple rub:

When surfing in tropical countries quite a few of the fellas get nipple rub, but proper paddle technique will ensure this doesn’t happen. When paddling out back, around in the line-up or for a wave, you obviously paddle with alternate arms but you don’t need to sway from side to side. You may think you may be getting some momentum up as it might feel like you are but you won’t, if your left side swings out slightly to one side, the right side will do the opposite, you will be worming around, wasting energy and creating drag. You’ll also just get nipple rub.

4. Watch and take notes:

Not literally but watch more experienced surfers, they will paddle efficiently and also paddle themselves into the perfect position to catch a wave. Rarely paddling on the shoulder of the wave as this is a lot harder than paddling into the most powerful part of the wave, where you will catch it easier and be up and riding quicker.

5. Do Yoga:

Yoga is great for keeping your muscles stretched and supple. You will be able to use explosive movements without cramping, thus giving you longer in the water and catching more waves.

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