Paddling Out & Paddle Techniques

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“..Big Steamer Lane makes you wish you were a trout, when is smackin’ so hard, only two dudes paddle out…” Paddle Out by Sublime

If you want to be one of those 2 dudes that Bradley Nowell sang about, you’re definitely going to need to know how to duck dive and paddle properly.

One of the biggest hurdles that beginner surfers must overcome is paddling out – especially when they’re not used to swimming in general. Getting started with the right techniques early will help you progress your surfing quicker. If you’ve already developed some bad paddling habits, breaking them can help you save energy so that you can have longer surfs and focus on your waves.

Paddling out on your surfboard effectively and efficiently boils down to 3 things:

  • Picking where to paddle out.
  • Paddling technique.
  • Practice and training.

Where to Paddle Out?

If you’re new to surfing or surfing a new spot for the first time, it’s a good idea to observe on the beach for a few minutes before paddling out.

As you’re getting ready, take a look at where the waves are breaking and where other surfers are paddling out. This will help you identify channels in the water and paths of least resistance.

Reef breaks, points breaks, and even jetties will often have clearly defined channel that you can use to paddle out with ease.

At beach breaks, channels can form between sand bars or as rip currents along the beach. Using these correctly will allow you to quickly get back out to the lineup.

These channels are where the water is returning back to sea after breaking on the shore.

Taking some time to observe will also allow you to get an idea for how the sets are coming in. Try to count how many of the bigger waves of the day follow one another, and then start to time how long it takes for the next set to arrive. If there’s some time between sets, you can start headed out towards the tail end of a set to avoid having to dive under all of the set’s waves.

If you find yourself paddling out in a crowded area or after you’ve been caught inside, you’ll need to be more cognizant of other surfers.

When you’re paddling back out and there’s a surfer riding the wave that’s coming towards you, avoid paddling ahead of them towards the shoulder. While that’s easier for you, you’ve potentially ruined their wave and have increased the chances of a collision. Whenever you’re able, paddle towards the whitewater and duck under it rather than in front of the oncoming surfer.

Surfboard Paddling Technique

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Good paddling technique is going to save you energy and help you catch waves. Bad paddling technique is going to slow you down and require you to work harder to get into waves and cover the same distance when paddling out.

Good paddling technique begins with your body positioning on your surfboard.

  • Keep the center of your body aligned with the center of your board.
  • Avoid being too far forward or too far back. Try to keep the nose a couple inches out of the water.
    • Too far forward and you’ll sink the nose of the board and pearl.
    • Too far back and you’ll be dragging your feet and the board’s tail, slowing you down unnecessarily.
  • Keep your chest and head low.
    • Lifting your head and chest too high will also sink the tail of your board and create drag.
  • Keep your feet and legs together in the center of the board instead of hanging off the sides.

To paddle your surfboard properly:

  • Paddle with full extension, deep strokes, and complete your strokes.
  • Create a cup with your fingers together and feel yourself pulling the water.
  • Stay relaxed, remember to breathe, and allow the technique to do the work rather than flailing and paddling frantically.
  • Paddle in a S-motion (out-in-out) for speed.
  • Avoid slapping and splashing, keep your motions smooth and deliberate.
  • A slight roll from rail to rail with each stroke can sometimes help with speed.
  • Save your energy where you can – your most powerful paddling should be reserved for catching waves or when you’re trying to avoid the impact zone.

When you’re trying to paddle fast, try to think about pulling the water harder rather than moving your arms faster. This will allow you to create deeper, stronger strokes and avoid wasting energy and creating drag.

Paddle Practice & Training

If you’re new to surfing or new to swimming in general, paddling can be one of the most difficult things to master.

As you’re getting better, remember to stay aware of you’re technique – catch yourself when you’re getting sloppy and correct it.

Getting better and stronger at paddling comes with experience and training.

If you’re not used to swimming laps or swimming freestyle/front-crawl in the ocean, paddling your surfboard is going to work muscles you probably haven’t used much.

As you continue to surf and paddle out, your paddling will become stronger.

If you’re looking to speed up the process or get into better paddling shape, swim workouts in the pool or the ocean can be a big help.

When you’re doing some swim training to improve your paddling, try to follow this general workout structure:

  • Warm up: Begin with 400 yards or so at a moderate pace.
  • Endurance: Pick up the pace for some sets of 200-400 yards.
  • Sprints: Go all-out for shorter distances of 50-100 yards.
  • Endurance: Slow it down again for some more endurance sets.
  • Warm down: Slow way down and warm down from the workout.

Try to keep the swim workouts to freestyle, and increase the speed/distances with each workout. Limit rest between sets, and take a couple minutes before switching the next stage of the workout if necessary.

For other suggestions on some surf training, check the workouts for surfing page.

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