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  • davebradshaw6

The Art of Paddling

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

As I've mentioned before, a wise surf coach told me once that surfing is 85% paddling. We are paddlers that catch the odd wave, particularly when we are starting out. The ability to be able to paddle back out through the surf, wave after wave is something we all aspire to - however the reality is it takes a long time to build up the knowhow and upper body strength to do so.

Kale Brock has a bunch of really good strength building instructional videos and his banana youtube vids are not only a great chuckle, but are spot on regarding technique and practice.

As I've progressed, I am starting to do more things by rote, and not having to think about them too hard in the water. It gives me the opportunity to experiment with some of my technique (or lack thereof....) and I also have the opportunity to observe how other folks in the water paddle. None of these observations are unique but these are the ones I've learned and observed of late.

The Board Matters

You want to keep your board horizontal - as close to flat as possible so it's planing across the water surface. Once you are at a point where you are able to keep your board well balanced as you paddle, you can find a sweet spot with the nose of your board an inch or two above the water line. Paddling when you've found that sweet spot is amazing - you'll find you can whiz by other surfers with half the strokes even if they are on a bigger or lighter board.

Stay Straight and Don't Wiggle About Too Much

Stay centred and keep your legs nice and straight on the board. Try not to move too much from side to side when you paddle. If your legs are flared out the sides of your board you are effectively dragging an anchor along with you. This is especially important when taking off for a wave (one of my early issues pointed out by our Head Coach).

Moving around too much upsets your rhythm while paddling and means you end up fighting to re-centre and to keep yourself level. Keep your back curved up, keep your strokes close to the board, fairly deep and S shaped under the board, pushing water back under your board.

Paddling for the Take Off

This is the point where that explosive forward momentum really counts. Paddle hard, fast and if it works for you, kick your legs too (if you have a short board).

Personally I can't do the kicking at take off very well - I find it tends to unbalance me on the take off meaning I can end up at an angle on the pop up.

Train, Practice, Train

It should be no surprise that the more you surf the better you will get at paddling. Similarly, if you need to improve your paddling strength and you can't get to the beach - try swimming some laps at the local pool, or even go out to the ocean and just paddle - even if the waves are no good.

Pepper your gym sessions with triceps and shoulder exercises if you can. Keeping your shoulders flexible with full rotation and keeping cardio fit should be front of mind.

Do you have any tips for better paddling prowess? Leave a comment or email us at

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