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Learning how to paddle is an essential part of learning how to surf properly. Knowing how to paddle will help you find the best waves, allow you to keep up with your peers, and maintain your energy for the entirety of your surfing session.

What is Paddling?

While the excitement of surfing may lie in catching those big waves, the majority of your time in the water will be spent paddling, so it’s important to know what it is, and how to do it right!

Paddling is the technique surfers use to move through water when not on a wave. This is done by lying flat on the surfboard and using your arms and hands to push through the water.

How to Paddle Well

Paddling correctly is an exercise in min-maxing: you want to minimize the amount of water resistance you meet, while you maximize your propulsion through it.

There are several factors that go into making the most out of your paddle, including body position on the surfboard, bend of the elbows, hand shape, and angle of the paddle. Some of these factors work to minimize resistance, and others to maximize movement; mastering all of them will make you a paddling pro.

Learn the Perfect Paddle Technique

  • Position Yourself Correctly: the right position on the surfboard is key to reducing resistance from the water you move through.  When you lie down on your surfboard, face forward and arch your back. Balance yourself so the nose of your surfboard rests just above the surface of the water. If you struggle with the posture, imagine that there’s a volleyball being held between your chin and chest. Be sure to center yourself as much as you can; resting too far back on the surfboard will cause the nose to rise and create a wall of resistance as you try to paddle; too far forward, and you’ll slide right off! Don’t forget to also center yourself from left to right–more weight on one side will cause your surfboard to lean and dip. You want a perfectly flat surfboard for best paddling results.
  • Keep Your Elbows High: You want to bend your arms when you paddle. The force of straightening them in the water will provide a greater push to your movement, which goes back to maximizing propulsion. To go a step further, keep your elbows up high as your hands enter the water; this will keep them vertical as they descend. The more vertical your arms and hands are in the water, the more water they encounter, the greater surface area they have to push against, and the greater your propulsion will be.
  • Use Full Movements: Like swimming, moving through the water on a surfboard is about making the most of your movements. Long, full movements are the most efficient way to propel yourself forward quickly and without tiring. When you paddle, extend your arms and fingers as far down vertically as you can. Maximizing the length of each paddling stroke will also maximize the forward movement it delivers.
  • Keep It Tight: When you paddle, your shoulder acts as a fulcrum for the lever of your arms pushing through the water. The closer you can keep your arms to your shoulder, the more effective that fulcrum will be, and the less energy you will need to exert to use it.  Keep your strokes close to the surfboard and angle your hands so the thumb enters the water before the rest of your hand. The proper positioning of your arms will prevent you from tiring out.

This tutorial video from How To Rip is an excellent example of how paddle on a surfboard using the correct technique if you need a video example:

Practice Makes Perfect

Paddling may look simple on the surface, but there’s a lot to consider if you’re trying to do it right.  Keep these tips in mind, keep working at your paddle, and soon you have the perfect technique down to glide through the water and catch those choice waves!

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