Perfect Surf Paddling Technique – 3 Top Tips from the experts!

Guys… It’s time to talk about paddling…

We know, Paddling is not sexy.

It’s boring. It’s that frustrating and tiring in-between part of surfing, that we would rather just get over with and forget about.

We know, it’s not cool like getting barreled or landing a big floater… But you’ll never do either of those if you can’t paddle properly.

In fact, good paddling technique will not only up your wave count and successful take-offs but mean less time getting caught inside and more toned muscles in your back and shoulders- bonus!

Why does paddling matter?

Along with your body position on the board, reading the wave and a solid take-off, good paddling technique is one of the foundation stones of becoming a competent and confid- ent surfer.

As you already know, surfers spend a lot more time paddling than actually surfing the wave. But paddling is not just getting back out to the peak, it’s also paddling to be in prio- rity and in the perfect position on the best waves, as well as being able to handle yourself out there on bigger days and in strong currents. So, let’s Jump right into it:

Perfect paddling technique explained Tip 1 – The surf paddle position

The basic paddle position is as follows:

  1. Legs Together
  2. Body Tension
  3. Head Up
  4. Chest up

Surf paddling is simply about the ability to create forward movement with your upper body and transfer that momentum to your surfboard to glide through the water. To get the most out of every stroke you need to have your legs together, your head and chest elevated and an overall tension in your core.

Why? Imagine lying totally relaxed on your surfboard with your legs apart and body floppy, a bit like a starfish. Now start paddling – what happens? Almost none of your paddling energy is transferred to the board, you slither around like a snake, tipping the board from side to side and generally being a bit all over the place without ever going decisively forward (try it out next time you go surfing). So, to avoid any drag or wobbling which slows you down, maintain body tension and your board will fly through the water.

Now, let’s go deeper into the paddling technique:

Tip 2 – The surf paddle technique : STROKE

The paddle stroke in surfing is actually very similar to the front crawl (freestyle) stroke in swimming. The only difference is that you lie on a flat surface, your surfboard. The key elements of an efficient paddling stroke are:

1. Have relaxed, slightly open fingers

2. Reach out in front of you, arm right in and pull all the way back

3. Push away the most water possible with each stroke

4. Make an S-curve with your hands to push effectively in 3 areas

The S-curve means instead of pushing back in one straight line you make an S shape as your hand goes through the water (see diagram). This is more efficient as 

Easy, effortless paddling is possible!

Do you ever wonder why some surfers look like they paddle with no effort, with almost no energy, even on tiny boards?

It’s simply because they have mastered the technique of efficient surf paddling.

Now you know about the importance of body position, core tension and a good stroke you can take it to the next level. As we describe in the Surf Companion book, once you have mastered the basics you can take advantage of the chest-up and chest-down position when paddling for a wave. For example:

Bonus tip! (or Tip 2.5) Green wave paddling

When paddling for a green wave, you can get an extra burst of speed by lowering your chest (but without your chin touching the board) on the last few strokes to catch the wave. 

The slight shift of weight toward the nose will give you more speed in those last few strokes making it more likely you will catch the wave at the perfect moment compared to being in the chest-up arched back position.

Tip 3 – Surf paddling training

So, now you have nailed the surf paddle technique stroke. The next step is to get and maintain a good level of paddle fitness ready for your next surf session or surf trip. You want to be feeling fit and confident to deal with whatever the ocean throws at you next time you hit the beach!

Is it possible to train surf paddling without surfing? YES.

The best way to be paddle fit is to be fit in general. As well as good cardio fitness you can specifically enhance your paddling muscles by swimming in a pool, doing boxing, paddling an SUP or doing exercises with resistance bands.

Of course, the best practice you can get as a landlocked surfer is just to paddle on whatever water you have available, even if there are no waves. Take your board to a lake or river and paddle away, even try paddling against the current to make it more challenging. (Obviously check for possible dangers first).

What Next?

Was this article helpful? Would you like more in-depth surf knowledge?

Then check out the Surf Companion Surf book where you can get all the expert surf technique advice YOU need.

Surf Technique




Perfect Surf Paddling Technique – 3 Top Tips from the experts!

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