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How to Paddle On a Surfboard

   July 2nd, 2024   Posted In: How-To   Tags:

The thrill of surfing draws millions of people to beaches around the world. But if you’re just getting started, you’ll see that knowing how to paddle efficiently on a surfboard to even get to the waves can be one of the biggest challenges. 

Learning how to paddle on a surfboard seems simple, but it’s not. It takes strength, stamina, and determination. But the good news is, once you’ve mastered it, you’ll know exactly how to conserve your energy so you can use it to actually ride some waves. 

Millions of first-time surfers don’t ever end up catching a wave on their first day because they get so tired trying to paddle out. This guide will be a helpful tool in preventing that from happening, ensuring you know the proper techniques for paddling before you even set foot in the water.

The Basics of Paddling

When learning how to paddle on a surfboard, the first thing you need to think about is positioning yourself on your board in a way that is centered and balanced. For the best surfboard balance and control, you want to be lying flat on your board with your chest centered toward the front of your board.

Proper Paddling Technique

Next, you’ll want your hands to lay flat on the board just below your shoulders and push your chest up a little, sort of like the mini cobra yoga position. When you feel balanced in this position, it’s time to start your paddling motion. Extend your arms forward, dip them in the water, and pull the water back towards your hips to give you propulsion to move you forward.

To do this efficiently, make sure you are not just using your arms. Engage your back muscles and your core to generate power while keeping your elbows high and as close to your body as possible. Once your arms are fully extended past your hips, pull them out of the water and set them up for the next stroke. 

Remember to keep your arms loose and focus on sustaining this motion over and over in a slow and smooth fashion. Try your best to relax and avoid short, choppy strokes that will waste your energy by forcing you to tense up. The name of the game is staying loose and relaxed.

How to Paddle Efficiently on a Surfboard

Figuring out how to paddle efficiently on a surfboard helps you save your energy for longer, better sessions. Once you feel like you’ve gotten the hang of it, it’s time to focus on making the basics better. The first way to do this is to make your strokes even longer and smoother. Stretching your arms further in front of you, cupping your hands, and pulling slower but with more power will help you achieve this. 

  • Body: Be aware of how you use proper body mechanics as you’re paddling. Coordinate your entire body in the paddling motion. You may start feeling your torso rotate from side to side with each stroke to maximize power and efficiency. This is a good thing as long as the rotation is controlled and you’re able to maintain your balance. 
  • Width of Strokes: Another thing you must be aware of is the wideness your strokes. Paddling with your hands far outside the rails of your board will lead to strains on your should and make your strokes less powerful. Keeping your arms as close the to rails as possible will ensure that you’re not putting unnecessary strain on your shoulders and allow you to maximize power with each stroke. 
  • Breathing: The last piece of the efficiency puzzle is to focus on your breath and to learn what it feels like to maintain a steady breathing pattern. When working out at a gym, experts tell us to breathe out when we are exuding force. The same principle should apply when paddling. Breathe in when you are stretching your arms out and dipping them into the water and exhale when you are pulling the water behind you. Establishing a controlled breathing pattern will help you relax and give you more energy to sustain a consistent paddling motion.

How to Paddle Faster on a Surfboard

It’s not rocket science. The faster you paddle, the quicker you move through the water. You do this by keeping a steady rhythm of strokes, which if done correctly, can make you feel like you’re gliding across the water’s surface. 

To achieve this sensation, a strong core is key because it will provide stability as you add speed and power to your strokes, which will increase your overall quickness. But beware, paddling fast will wear you out quickly, so make sure you’re not over-exerting yourself and taking away from the actual experience of riding a wave. You’ll also need to focus on keeping your legs or feet out of the water to avoid any unnecessary drag or resistance.

how to paddle efficiently on a surfboard

Overlooked Aspects of How to Paddle on a Surfboard

  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water a few hours before your session will make paddling easier. Swimming in salt water can dehydrate you, which can lead to cramps while you are in the water. The last thing you want is to get a painful cramp that will force you to paddle back in.
  • Pre-Surf Stretch: Stretching your arms, shoulders, back, and legs before you get into the water will warm up your muscles and get them ready to start paddling once you get into the water. Spending 5 to 10 minutes on the beach stretching with intention will ensure your body is loose and ready to paddle, which will help you avoid pulling a muscle.
  • Looking For The Easiest Way to the Waves: While you’re on the beach about to paddle out, scan the waves and see where they are breaking. You’ll likely notice there are areas that appear to offer an easier path to getting out there. Avoid paddling out where the waves form a peak and are the most powerful. Instead, paddle out in the area where the waves show less power and are visibly slowing down. Once you make it past the area where the waves are breaking you can paddle left or right to get to the position where the waves are peaking. 
  • Keep Your Head Up: Looking down while you are paddling can lead to strains your neck, which can make you uncomfortable. Focus on keeping your eyes looking forward with your chin lifted to maintain proper posture. This will also allow you to keep track of the swells on the horizon and keep you better prepared to catch a wave or duck dive under the white water.

Practice Makes for a Perfect Paddle

Mastering how to paddle on a surfboard is fundamental. First, learn the basics, then master how to paddle efficiently on a surfboard. After you’ve achieved a certain level of balance and smoothness you can then work on how to paddle faster on a surfboard. 

Applying all the techniques we talked about will not only allow you to catch more waves but it will also create a better overall surfing experience. Remember, paddling is not easy. If you’re struggling, keep going! Because practice and patience makes perfect.

Wes Severson is a fitness enthusiast and bodyboarder from San Francisco, CA who is always at Ocean Beach hitting the waves. He is also an Emmy Award-winning broadcast news writer and producer and a recording artist who goes by the name Wes Magic.

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