No one is good at paddling on a surfboard from the beginning. So all surfers should learn and practice to improve their paddling. Some suggest that simply surfing more is good enough. While this could be true, it will only speed up your process if you can surf more with better paddling techniques. Here are 10 ways of improving your paddling effortlessly. Fine-tuning your paddling takes a long time as so many things to consider. Try 2-3 of these points each session, and you will be pleasantly surprised in 3-4 months.
1. Actively Relax Your Fingers When Paddling
Relaxing your fingers will help you pull more water and reduce the tension in your arm. New research on swimmers showed that spreading fingers apart at 10 degrees enhances paddling efficiency. This is due to turbulence created between the fingers, which prevents water slippage between the fingers.
How do you measure your fingers in water? Simply relaxing your hands will place your fingers around 10 degrees apart in water.
Relaxed fingers will also help to save energy while surfing. Paddling requires endurance, and you must not waste any unnecessary energy other than paddling. Holding your fingers tight will consume energy and add tension to your shoulder and elbow. While you are paddling out to a line-up, remember to relax. It will help you last longer and catch more waves!
2. Keep Your Legs Together or Crossed To Minimise The Drag
Keeping legs together or crossed while paddling will reduce the drag and help the surfer to paddle faster with less effort. Keeping the leg rope out of water will further reduce the drag.
One of the easiest ways to tell if a surfer is a beginner is when their legs are separated when paddling. This is to compensate for their lack of balance on the board. Lying on the board requires some balancing skills, and someone not used to the rocking board on choppy water will keep their legs apart to balance.
This is ok when you are just lying around and chatting with your friends. However, when you start to paddle, it will add enormous drag and slow you down. Keep your legs together when paddling. For more skilled surfers, try to keep the leg crossed with a leg rope on the top.
3. Chose Correct Size Leg Rope / Leash
Leg rope will cause drag, but you need to have one. So it’s essential to choose the right type/size. One simple thing you can try to minimise the drag is to keep your leashed ankle out of water.
Even the smallest drag will add up if you need to paddle for a long session. Ensure you buy the correct length of leg rope. A longer leg rope will cause more drag.
Here is a simple guideline for correct leg lope length. If you want to minimise drag further, the ‘Comp’ leg rope comes with thinner cords. These are only available for 6-foot leg ropes. The downside is its strength, and it is recommended to use it for waves under 4 ft.
|Surfboard Length range||Length of leg rope / Leash|
|6″0 – 6″6||6-foot leg rope|
|6″8 – 7″6||7-foot leg rope|
|7″8 – 8″6||8-foot leg rope|
|8″8 – 9″6||9-foot leg rope|
4. Improve Your Cardio and Muscle Endurance.
To be able to surf for longer hours, you must have cardio and muscular endurance. Improving cardio endurance can be simple and does not have to be limited to water sports. You can do skipping rope, run or swim.
The intensity you work out is important: maintain 80 percent of your maximum heart rate during exercise and aim for 30+ minutes of total exercise time. It is recommended to exercise up to 5 days a week with a minimum of 3. A simple way of knowing your own 80 percent of heart rate max is by talk test. You should be able to speak short sentences during workouts.
You can incorporate your exercise during your surfing session. When you paddle to line up or after catching a wave, think of it as a small exercise circuit. When it’s a small and quiet day, spend 10-20 minutes paddling exercise between different peaks and build your endurance.
Cardio endurance can be done out of the surf session too. Swimming in the pool is an excellent way of improving your cardio and muscle endurance, as freestyle swimming is very close to paddling. Therefore muscles being used are very similar. Here are excellent swimming drills you can do to improve your endurance.
5. Focus On The First Catch and Pull When Paddling
The most important part of paddling is early catch and pull. You will feel the water collected under your palm 1-2 seconds after your fingers and hand pierced the water.
With a relaxed elbow close to the water’s surface (high elbow), gently pull this water and relax once your hands pass your shoulder.
Nick Carrol, author of the Complete Guide to Surfing Your Best, explains that power transfer is finished once the hand passes your shoulder line and any extra effort you put behind this point is wasted. A little bit of wasted energy can accumulate in the whole surfing session.
Once your hand passes the shoulder line, there is a lot of debate about whether to pull straight down or draw an S. In Swimming, most professional swimmers draw quite a distinctive S when they do freestyle. Many experienced surfers report doing the S stroke naturally without thinking, which seems to help the surfer relax the arm. So try an S pull and see if it works for you.
6. Start The Recovery Phase Using The Elbow
For the best recovery phase, practice getting your hands out gently. This can be achieved by getting your forearm and hand out by lifting the elbow.
The recovery phase refers to your hand and arms exiting the water until your next stroke underwater. As the name indicates, your muscles must be relaxed to deliver the next optimal pull during the stroke.
The good recovery phase saves energy and prepares the next optimal stroke by reducing the turbulence when the hand re-enters the water. Minimal water movement before the stroke will help you catch more water. A good example of a complete relaxed hand entry is the below video.
7. Getting a Longer/Bigger Board Will Help You To Develop A Better Paddling Technique.
One of the most frequent beginner mistakes is buying a surfboard too short for his/her ability. A famous surfer and shaper, Rob Machado, once said: ” Don’t be afraid of foam. Foam is your friend,” meaning buoyance will help you to surf easier.
Too little volume will slow the paddling down and reduces wave counts. Would you rather sacrifice a bit of duck diving and manoeuvrability for more actual surfing? I sure would.
Longer boards will glide better, and your stroke will be naturally more smooth and gain more inertia. As for beginners, don’t be afraid to try out a 9-foot surfboard. Most beginners start around 7-8 footer minmal/funboard. However, adding an extra 1 foot will add lots of smiles to your face.
8. Keep Your RPM (revolution per minute) Low When Paddling
Notice how fast you paddle and aim to slow it down. Each stroke should aim to get maximum pull with minimal energy usage.
If you watch elite long-distance swimmers, winners often have lower strokes per lap, proving their stroke has better efficiency than other competitors.
Lower the stroke count will make you focus on the efficiency of each stroke. Compare with someone paddling next to you. Aim to lower your stroke and achieve the same speed or faster.
Remember not to force your paddling. It’s like long-distance swimming. Most line-ups (where people sit and wait for the wave) are 50-150 meters away from shore, and you have to go back and forth 10-15 times. Slow hands will go far.
9. Have a Meal 2-3 Hours Before or Have a Piece of Fruit 10-15 Minutes Before Surfing.
Most experts suggest having complex carbohydrates with protein-based meals 2-3 hours before exercise. This will give ample time for digestion and adequate energy to surf. Also, to boost your energy just before surfing, having a simple piece of fruit like banana 15 minutes before surf will help.
We burn energy while surfing, and the right amount of nutrition will help you to last longer in the surf. However, it needs to be the right amount. Lying on your belly with a full stomach is unpleasant, especially when constantly moving your arm and if you feel hungry while surfing is not ideal either.
A small amount of fruit will give rise to glucose levels ( sugar in the blood) for your muscles to quickly utilise for surfing. A banana can be an excellent fuel for the session when you surf in the morning and do not have time for proper breakfast.
Needless to say but the important thing is to have plenty of water before a surf. Exposure to heat and salt water will require good hydration, and you can’t find drinking water while you are out there!
10. Compete or Participate In The Local, Long-Distance Ocean Swimming Competition
As mentioned multiple times above, there are many similarities between swimming freestyle and surfing. However, like most of us, you may lose motivation after a couple of weeks of trying and return to the same old routine and poor paddling technique. Therefore, having a goal will force you to break the bad cycle.
Most major cities near the ocean will offer ocean swimming competitions ranging from 1km to 9km. Start where you feel comfortable and build your endurance.
Ocean swimming is quite different from pool swimming because there is no wall to relax or line to keep you straight. Learning how to navigate ocean swim will be an excellent skill to have. You may lose your board one day, and knowing you can swim over 2km without any floatation device will add tremendous confidence in you.
11. Learn From Professionals about the paddling
Learning from professionals will be the fastest way to improve your paddling. You can attend online and offline courses to improve your paddling. While online surfing coaches can provide excellent content, it’s important to be aware face to face time is far superior.
Your positioning on a board and paddling technique can be reviewed and adjusted for the best outcome. If you are not in a position to do face to face session, discuss with them if they provide a video analysis of your paddling.
While there is the optimal way of paddling, no one person’s paddle will look the same due to their body shape and flexibility. A good coach will help you to maximise your potential. Here is a video of a well-known surfing paddling specialist and his excellent analysis of paddling from the world’s best surfers