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How to Paddle on a Surfboard

Want to know how to paddle on a surfboard? Take these tips with you the next time you head out to the sea to paddle more easily and safely.

Step 1: Identify your Surfboards 'Sweet Spot'

The first step in surfboard paddling is to identify the proper placement of your body when laying on the surfboard deck. We call this the 'sweet spot'.

When laying too far forward towards the nose, your weight will sink the top portion of your surfboard into the water, creating a resistance that makes it far more difficult to gain speed and remain properly positioned when paddling.

Too far back towards the tail, on the other hand, will send the back end of the surfboard into the water, poking the nose upwards, which creates unnecessary and unwanted drag.

Every board, depending on the length, has a different sweet spot. Adjust your body forward and back until the surfboard lays evenly on the water as you practice paddling. You want the tail to remain even on top of the water's surface and the nose to stick about 1-2 inches above the surface. When you paddle, it should feel like the surfboard is gliding, and this is precisely where you want to position your body.

As well as forward and back, you need to ensure your body is horizontally even along the middle of the board. If your surfboard has a stringer, you can use this for reference, as stringers are placed perfectly along the middle of the deck. When laying down, the stinger should run through the exact center of your chest, right between your pectoral muscles. If it doesn't have a stinger, you can run a string or an imaginary line from the tip of the nose to the tail and mark the spot with a sticker or the logo.

Step 2: Perfect your Surfboard Paddling Posture

The next step in learning how to paddle on a surfboard is to master the proper surfboard paddling posture, as in learning how to position your body for optimal speed, power, and range of motion.

We've outlined all you need to know about "How to Improve your Surfing Paddling Posture" in the linked article, but for a quick rundown:

  • Keep your back arched by lifting your chest upwards, the upper abdominals remaining on the board.
  • Keep your head and eyes facing forward.
  • Avoid placing your feet into the water, as this acts as an anchor that increases drag. Instead, lift them above the tail. You might choose to wrap your feet together at the ankles.
  • Keep your elbows high.
  • Remain horizontally centered on the surfboard and identify the vertical sweet spot.
  • Keep your body relaxed to avoid tension.

Step 3: How to Paddle In Surfing

The paddling motions of your arms greatly influence your surfboard paddling. When done poorly, you will exert far more energy than needed, and your paddles will still be weaker and slower compared to the proper technique.

When learning how to paddle on a surfboard:

  1. One Arm at a Time

Aside from giving yourself one final, powerful paddle into a wave with both arms, the paddling surfboard technique generally sticks to using one arm at a time. Think of it as a rhythm. One arm should be entering a paddle just as the other arm exits a paddle.

  1. Smooth Entry

The entry of your hand into the water should be nice and smooth. You don't want to go splashing around, and instead, dip your hands into the water before the rest of your forearm while avoiding frantic splashing. You want a smooth entry each time.

  1. Arm Along the Rails

Keep your arms close to the rails when executing your paddles.

  1. Reach Towards the Nose

With your arms kept along the rails, reach far towards the nose with each paddle. Avoid reaching too far to one side, and extend your arm all the way forward to increase the surface area and propulsion of each individual paddle.

  1. Full Range of Motion

Maintain a full range of motion when paddling. When you extend your arm to the nose, pull it back towards your chest until your arm straightens again before removing your hand from the water. When an arm exits a paddle, pull it back forward by hovering your hand just above the waterline. Lifting your arms too high as you reach back around will require more energy and muscle.

  1. Elbows High

Keeping your elbows high ensures that your forearms remain vertical when entering the water for each paddle.

  1. Power

Be powerful with each paddle. Paddling takes work, and it's one hell of a physical activity. Pull your arm back towards your chest with as much power as possible, and work on surfing fitness to increase your speed, endurance, and strength.

  1. Head Still

Try to keep your head still as you paddle. Don't shake it side to side, and maintain a 'heads-up' position.

  1. A Light Roll

You should feel a natural roll from side to side as you paddle. Do not try to increase the intensity of this roll at your shoulders, and instead, imagine that there is a rod running through your body. You want to ever so slightly roll with this rod as each individual arm reaches for a paddle.

  1. Slow and Steady

Slow and steady really does win the race. Be precise and rhythmic with your paddles, and utilize quality over quantity. One good, strong paddle will do a hell of a lot more than three quick and poorly executed ones.

  1. Feet Up and Don't Kick

Aside from when you are paddling into a wave, you don't want to kick your feet. Keep them lifted out of the water, and wrap them together along the center of your board to promote equilibrium while laying on the surfboard deck.

Other Tips for Surfboard Paddling

The more you surf, the more you practice how to paddle on a surfboard, and as we all know, practice makes perfect. Even if there are no waves, you can always work on your paddling by taking your board out in flat conditions. This allows you to really focus on your technique and to continue building paddling strength.

Before going out for a session, you should always ensure to perform surfing warm-up exercises. 90% of our time surfing is spent paddling, and this strenuous activity can lead to injury if not properly stretched and warmed up.

When paddling out, try to identify a channel towards the lineup. A channel is an area where the waves do not tend to break, or at least break as powerfully, and will help make your paddle out easier. You will, however, need to learn how to duck dive, as not all surf spots have channels, and you're guaranteed to get stuck on the inside more often than not.

When you paddle out, try to time everything right. You want to make it to the impact zone just as a set dies out. This will open a small period of time to paddle into the lineup during smaller waves.

A higher volume board is always easier to paddle, so if you find yourself struggling, perhaps take a step back and ride something a little more buoyant. Beginner surfboards and foam surfboards are great options as these boards, designed with higher volume, offer the buoyancy you need for easier paddling.

While much of your time in surfing is dedicated to paddling, it's important not to overlook essential surf accessories like a surfing leash and surf ears. Paddling can be strenuous, and accidents can happen. A surfing leash ensures that your board stays close, preventing potential injuries, while surf ears protect your hearing from the impacts of the waves, enhancing your overall safety and comfort.

Finally, if you have any questions about how to paddle on a surfboard, feel free to reach out, as we are more than stoked to offer you advice when and where needed. Happy surfing, everyone!