People often say you must paddle as fast as the wave to catch a wave. This, however, is a misconception and not based on a fact or science.
Matching the speed of the wave to catch a wave is impossible with your paddle power alone on a surfboard. A surfer catches a wave when his/her paddle power generates enough speed combined with the wave’s push. This momentum then allows the surfer to be at the same speed as the wave and ride it.
If you are a surfer or spend some time on the beach, it becomes apparent quite quickly how fast the wave travels, even smaller than 1 foot. So how does actual wave catching happen?
How Does Surfer Catch A Wave?
To catch a wave, a surfer needs to position him/herself where the wave is about to break. This part of the wave is steeper than others parts, which allows the surfer to paddle down the wave’s slope, and the wave gives the surfer and his board a push to generate the speed and be on the wave.
It is important to note that the timing and taking-off zone become more error-friendly if you have a more buoyant surfboard. For example, see this longboarder taking off on a wave well before the wave break compared to the short boarder taking off right before the wave breaks.
Interestingly, if you position it perfectly, you can catch a wave without one single paddle.
Check this video showing a surfer taking off on a wave without a paddle. The surfer sinks the back part of the board, and the buoyancy pushes the bard back out and forward. This was enough forward momentum to catch a wave.
This is possible on shortboards too. People have reported that some skilled professionals, such as Kelly Slater, caught a wave at Pipeline without a single paddle. As the wave breaks, the top part will tip the surfer downwards, and the surfer can stand up with the correct timing.
Most beginner-intermediate surfers, however, need to paddle with close to maximum effort to catch a wave. Let’s look at how to paddle efficiently.
How Do You Paddle Faster To Catch A Wave
Even though positioning and timing are critical, the paddling technique matters.
The paddling technique when catching a wave is different from regular paddling. Read here if you want to know about efficient paddling techniques and improve your regular paddling.
Here Are Seven Tips You Can Apply Immediately To Improve Your wave count.
1. Lie Slightly Forwards On The Board.
Lying slightly forward on the board will allow the surfer to shift the centre of gravity towards the nose of the board. This assists the surfer in two ways. Firstly, the surfer can use gravity to paddle down the wave to get more speed when catching a wave.
Secondly, it reduces drag when padding. When you position yourself forwards, the board becomes more horizontal compared to the surface of the water, creating a more streamlined bodyline.
However, it requires many trials and errors to find the sweet spot. Positioning too far forward will tip your surfboard forward as the wave pick the board up.
2. Put Your Head Down Last Few Paddles.
Putting the head down also puts the centre of gravity forward when placing your head down. Furthermore, when a surfer lowers himself close to the board, it allows him to place his arm deep into the water, pulling more water when paddling.
Therefore, putting the head down gives the surfer slightly more edge to generate more speed.
3. When catching a wave, especially when the wave is big, paddle down the slope of the wave.
Look here how John John Florence takes off on a steep wave. Take an extra focus on how the board is angled down, and he keeps paddling.
This paddling down technique can help an average surfer catch more waves even when the wave is smaller.
The sizes and shapes of waves are different, but the mechanics of catching waves are similar.
4. Angle The Board Slightly
Angling refers to lining up the board in the direction you plan to travel. Angling boards are crucial, especially as the wave breaks fast and the size gets bigger.
Shifting the centre of gravity too far forwards to gain momentum often causes the board to tip forward or nose dive.
Angling board can compensate for this by getting the surfer to move down the line as the wave breaks.
5. Look Where You Want to End Up.
Humans are visual creatures, and visual cues are used in many sports to improve our performance.
In surfing, surfers usually end up where they look. When you look down the line at a certain point, your body will do what it takes to reach that point. All the movement in between occurs subconsciously and overthinking it does not usually help.
Therefore, the next time you take off, ensure you look far down the line you plan to travel.
6. Commit to the wave.
When trying something new and scary, we all hesitate. Taking off on a wave is no exception. You will face a steep face and feel like you are going to fall off the cliff. This moment of hesitation matters, especially in big waves.
Hesitating means leaning back from the wave, reducing the chance of catching your wave.
It would be best to put weight forward when you paddle and pop up to almost ‘go with the fall’. This will help to catch more waves.
7. Choose a slightly bigger board.
Buoyancy means easy surfing. As mentioned above, a more buoyant surf craft allows more leisurely paddle and wave catching. As a beginner, you may feel like compromising because you lose manuevability.
However, wave count is far more critical regarding improvement in skills.
Does Kicking Help When Catching A Wave?
You would often see surfers kick aggressively when they catch a wave.
There are two ways how kicking can help to catch a wave.
- It helps counterbalance the paddling. Paddling on alternate arms will cause side-to-side tilting of the board. When kicking with the opposite leg of the paddling arm, it can counterbalance the tilt and keep the board relatively horizontal.
- Kicking can add forward momentum when you are riding a shortboard. Your legs will be slightly submerged, and kicking can add forward movement.
If you see most professional surfers, they kick HARD when they are catching waves. They likely do that to get maximum speed when taking off and to help them build momentum quickly.
How many paddles do you have to do before catching a wave?
The number of required paddles depends on a surfer’s positioning and paddling efficiency. If a surfer is out of position, he/she may need to do 10+ paddles to get to the correct zone to take off. Once the surfer is at the optimal position, it usually requires 3-5 powerful strokes to get onto the wave.
As mentioned above, timing, positioning and techniques are far more critical than the number of paddles regarding wave catching.