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The Proper Paddling Technique Surfing

Maintaining the proper paddling technique surfing any range of conditions takes serious physical strength and stamina. But even worse is paddling with the wrong technique, as this will force you to exert more energy than when paddling correctly and with a lesser result in speed and powerโ€”a total lose-lose.

To conserve as much energy as possible and to surf for longer sessions, you need to master the art of paddling and strengthen the muscles used for paddling through a dedicated regime of surfing fitness. Here is how:

What is the Proper Paddling Technique Surfing?

We've spent a lot of time detailing how to paddle with sheer success, and we highly suggest you visit our articles "How to Paddle on a Surfboard", as well as "How to Improve your Surfing Paddling Posture" to fill yourself in on every intricacy of paddling. But for a quick, brief rundown:

  1. Locate your surfboard's sweet spot

When laying on your surfboard, being too far forward or back will cause you to nose dive or reduce your paddle speed from drag; you must find the sweet spot of equilibrium on your board. The board's tail should remain flat on the water, and if it sinks, you are too far back. The board's nose should stick up about 1-2 inches from the water's surface. If it is poking out higher, then you are too far back, or if the nose sinks into the water, you are too far forward.

  1. Remain Horizontally Centered on Your Board

Position your body within the horizontal center of the surfboard by using the stringer as a reference. Leaning too far on one rail will hinder your paddling and cause imbalance.

  1. Keep your Back Arched and Head Up

The right surfing posture is essential. This means keeping your back nice and arched by lifting your chest off of the surfboard and keeping your head up and your eyes forward.

  1. Feet Up

Don't drag your feet in the water when paddling. Instead, lift them up and wrap them at the ankles.

  1. Arm Position

Keep your arms tight along the rails of your board with your elbows high. Paddle one arm at a time, extend your arm all the way to the nose and pull it parallel back towards your chest until it is fully extended the other direction to utilize a full range of motion. When an arm exits a paddle, move it back towards the nose by skimming your thumb just along the water's surface.

  1. Slow, Steady, and Powerful

To make the best out of the proper paddle paddling technique surfing:

  • Don't rush it.
  • Be precise, slow, and steady with each individual paddle versus quick and frantic, and avoid splashing and kicking.
  • As you paddle, remember that this is a physical activity, so be assertive with each motion.

What Muscles Are Used When Paddling a Surfboard?

Learning about what muscles are used when paddling a surfboard is the key to strengthening them for more vigorous paddling and more prolonged, less tiring sessions. Surfing is a whole-body workout, but there are a few significant points of focus that are guaranteed to make a difference in your paddling:

The Heart

Your heart is the most used, most essential aspect of surfing and paddling. Although paddling requires strength, above all, it requires stamina. And to promote stamina, you need to focus on cardio.

Aside from surfing, as surfing in itself is a cardio workout, make cardio a part of your workout routine by:

  • Going on runs, such as on the beach, road, or treadmill.
  • Going on bike rides.
  • Hiking.
  • Stair climbing.
  • Anything that gets your heart rate up and requires ample amounts of oxygen for extended periods will act as an exercise that will seriously enhance the proper paddling technique surfing.


Your biceps are one of the primary muscles used for lifting and pulling motions of the arm, and considering paddling is repeated pulling of water, you need strong biceps.

Some straightforward bicep exercises to incorporate into your surfing fitness routine might include:

  • Barbell curl- standing or seated.
  • Chin-ups.
  • Seated rows.
  • Hammer curl.
  • Cross body curls.
  • Backpack curls.
  • Bent knee close stance push-ups.


Your triceps are involved in elbow extensions, shoulder stabilization, and shoulder extension, which are all integrated aspects of paddling a surfboard.

With your arms and shoulders the primary source of paddling strength, to strengthen your triceps, you can think to include some of the following into a surfing workout routine:

  • Narrow grip push-ups.
  • Diamond push-ups.
  • Walking planks.
  • Tricep dips.
  • Close grip bench press.
  • Tricep kickbacks.
  • Cable rope pushdowns.
  • Skullcrushers.

Deltoids and Shoulders

Your deltoids play a significant role in stabilizing your shoulder joints and influence several different arm movements. If it wasn't for your deltoids, reaching forward towards the nose of your arm and back while paddling would be nearly impossible, and the stronger your deltoids, the more efficient these movements. Because the deltoids are technically a part of your shoulder muscles, and shoulders are one of the most used groups during paddling, we will categorize these workouts together.

To strengthen your deltoids and shoulders and promote the proper paddling technique surfing, a few exercises to incorporate might include:

  • Burpees
  • Walking planks/shoulder tap planks
  • Rear Delt Fly
  • Shoulder Press
  • Single-arm dumbbell overhead press
  • Dumbbell lateral raise
  • Military press
  • Anterior deltoid raise
  • Front raise
  • Upright row

Your Back

The back muscles used during paddling include the trapezius muscle, or traps, which help you to move your head, neck, arms, shoulder, and torso; basically every body part required for surfing. You will also use your latissimus dorsi, the largest muscle in your upper body, which affects extension, adduction, and transverse extension.

Working out all of your back muscles will help to ensure you can remain in the proper paddling posture with your back arched to execute the best paddles possible with as least effort as possible.

To work out your back muscles, try:

  • Farmers carry.
  • Military press.
  • Deadlifts.
  • T-bar rows.
  • Seated rows.
  • Barbell/dumbbell shrugs.
  • Overhead barbell shrugs.
  • Barbell rows.
  • Pull-Ups/pull up shrugs.
  • Single-arm dumbbell upright row.
  • Bent-over Y.
  • Face pull.
  • Dumbbell overhead carry.

Your Abdominals

Paddling requires a serious amount of core strength, as the proper paddling technique surfing will require you to stay arched at the back with your head up, which primarily uses the rectus abdominis.

Ab workouts are pretty straightforward, so some of these simple exercises should do the trick:

  • Crunches.
  • Bicycles.
  • Sitting twists.
  • Raised leg hold.
  • Planks.
  • Planked leg raises.
  • Crunch kicks.
  • Flutter kicks.
  • Leg circles.
  • Scissors.

Why Learning What Muscles are Used When Paddling a Surfboard is Important

These muscle groups influence every aspect of your paddling, which therefore influences every aspect of your surfing.

Weak paddling muscles will force your body to slump into improper paddling techniques, such as lowering your back or your head, which will result in tiring out far sooner versus remaining correctly positioned.

The stronger these muscle groups, not only the longer you will surf, but the more waves you will catch, too! And besides, when you get caught in the impact zone, you're going to want every ounce of possible strength to make it back to the lineup, especially when conditions are considerable.

Take the time to implement a simple workout routine by utilizing the exercise outlined in this article, and with some dedication, you'll soon see and feel the results in the water, as paddling will become easier and easier. But most of all, the best practice and exercise for surfing will always be surfing.

Don't forget that when it comes to your journey of becoming a better and stronger surfer, choosing the right board is key. That's where foam surfboards and beginner surfboards come into play. These surfboards can provide stability and buoyancy, and they're designed to make paddling, balancing, and wave-catching a breeze while also helping with muscle building.

So, whenever you have the opportunity, head out into the water and begin refining your strength and skills!