We paddle out to the backline, we paddle against rips, we paddle down the beach to the next peak, we paddle back up the point, we paddle to make it over a clean-up set, we paddle past other surfers, we paddle to catch waves, and some people even paddle in.
Surfers are paddlers. Full stop.
If you paddle like a poepal you’ll get less waves. Less waves means less surfing. So you’d be more “floater” than “surfer”. Here’s a quick look at to how to up your paddling game. Cos getting dragged over the falls backwards cos you haven't quite made it over the set - that sucks coconuts.
So you spot that lump on the horizon that has your name on it, don't paddle after it like a wind-up toy on acid. Relax. Form is function. You gain more from doing less properly than expending a bucket-load of energy karate chopping the water.
Learn from the master. Kelly will out-paddle pretty much anyone. Including guys who are 2 ft taller than him with arms that have wingspans like condors. Kelly will smoke them. All whilst looking cool as a cucumber.
Let's start at the beginning - be in the sweet spot on your board. It's easy to spot a kook from a mile off as they tend to lie too far back as they paddle, lifting the boards nose out the water. Pretty impossible to get any momentum like that, and forget catching a wave. Lie too far forward, and nose-diving will be your friend. And keep those feet together.
Don't go hyper-arching your back like a scorpion in attack mode. You'll often see the groms doing this weird paddling stroke. Maybe cos they're just so damn elastic and their backs bend that much, I dunno. But it isn't all that effective in the long run. They get away with it whilst they're still in the energiser bunny phase, but as you get older it's a bad habit to have developed.
A highly arched back means you end up with a shorter reach on your paddling stroke and less of your arm in the water during the catch phase of the pull, so definitely not the best bang for your buck approach.
If you check out Kelly, Parko & Mick - they all stay fairly low and centred on their boards. This allows you to reach further forward on your stroke, giving you a longer stroke overall, and hence a wider pulling arc during the catch phase of your stroke. Bigger pulling arc means more power, which means you go faster.
Ok, so you're in the right spot on your board, and you aren't arching up like crazy. Now what? Keep that head still! Wiggle it about from side to side and your body"ll wiggle right along with it, using up valuable energy and slowly you down in the process.
Keep that elbow up when you paddle - a higher elbow helps your arm clear the water properly and allows you a nice long reach forward. Keeping the elbow high also means your hand enters the water at a bit more of a downward angle and give you some more power during the catch phase of the stroke.
Make sure you get a full arm extension with every stroke. You'll often see ou's, specially lighties, doing this weird chicken-wing paddle where their arms enter and exit the water prematurely. Your hand should be entering the water at the full extension of the elbow and not before then, says Mick Fanning.
Now that your hands in the water keep it loosely cupped - most the pro's reckon this more relaxed approach is better than tightly gluing your fingers together. As you pull through your stroke, get that arm as deep as possible. Don't just tickle the surface of the water! Kelly's an advocate of the "S" stroke. Drawing a gentle S shape in the water whilst you'll pulling through it, which gets your arm slightly under your board.
Long, powerful strokes, bring those lat's into the game - they're the biggest shoulder muscles you have so let 'em do the work. Concentrate on long pulls that use your whole body and create a constant speed.
Pull through your stroke in one continuous motion until your arm is fully extended behind you. Yank it out the water too early and you lose power and your stroke, and look like a chicken. Double bad.
If you're pretty jacked up you can even engage your core during the whole paddling process. Nice stable base from which to paddle more effectively. If you're over 30 your core has probably gone into retirement, so don't worry about this one. It's a nice theory though!
The dudes who've studied paddling technique also speak about using a very subtle roll in your paddle as well. Imagine a rod drilled into the top of your pip and coming out your butt - very slightly rotate on this axis during the final phase of your stroke just before your hand enters the water. So if your right arms extended out front and about to enter the water add in a very subtle rotation to the left - which rotates your body ever so slightly and allows your right arm to get that little bit of an extra reach.
Your waves arrived. Don't miss it! Cos firstly you'll be super annoyed with yourself for blowing the wave you've been waiting for wave AND (public service announcement) you have now lost your first place spot in the line-up, and the next wave most definitely ain't yours! Snooze you lose. Back in the queue buddy.
So how to get that extra bit of vooma to make sure you catch that wave? The Great Bald One talks about bending your elbow a bit so that your forearm paddles right under your board, almost compressing water against the bottom of your board to create lift.
Do NOT lift your head too far up at the last minute. So many guys do this - and all it does is shift your centre of gravity backwards at exactly the wrong instant, and acts like a handbrake, stopping your momentum dead and meaning you miss the wave. Quite the opposite is what you need.
Luke Egan was one of the first ou's to popularize chin paddling. And if you check out Laird Hamilton's chin - yeah, looks like that thing has pushed down on a few boards in it's time!
Think the waves about to slide by under you? Stick that chin of yours down onto the deck of your board and give it a push! This keeps more momentum and speed going and helps keep your centre of gravity forward - hopefully giving you that extra lil oomph to get over the lip.
Putting this extra weight forward and consequently shifting your center of gravity forward helps to keep you and the board ahead of the wave as the push comes. Your board has its own center of buoyancy. When paddling your centre of gravity is near the board's centre of buoyancy. When the wave comes you gotto shift your centre of gravity forward to in front of the board's centre of buoyancy. This helps create the downward angle of the board to stay in front of the moving swell and catch the wave and give you crucial acceleration you need. Simple physics.
Happy to say every single one of my boards has a lil pressure dent on the top deck from multiple chin paddles! It does work for sure.
Most of us are guilty of doing the old butterfly stroke at the last minute, thinking it'll help us get that wave that's running away from us. The double armed paddle is unfortunately in most instances not the right thing to be doing. Normal paddling keeps our forward momentum smooth and consistent, the minute you start butterflying it's creating a stop/start effect on your motion which actually slows you down. Try hard to break the habit.
What about kicking? Does it help? Seems so, according to a recent study at Griffith University, Australia. Researchers assessed maximal-paddling performance in surfers, and found that kicking while paddling gives the surfer a 9.2% increase in paddling speed over paddling with arms alone over a 5-10 second period.
The study and physics suggest that if a surfer can kick hard while paddling he will gain an advantage however small it may be. Of course if the kicking destabilizes the surfer on the board or disturbs their arm paddling rhythm then it may in fact reduce paddling speed and make it hard to catch the wave.
Last but not least - always take that extra paddle before standing up. When it's small, that last stroke might mean the difference between catching the wave or missing it. In big surf, failing to take an extra paddle may get pitched over the falls.
Besides trying out the techniques described, another thing which can really help your paddle power is to get those arms a bit stronger. To be honest, surfing is just about the only thing that keeps your paddling fitness up. But in PE, where you can go for almost a whole week and not have been able to get in the water once, helps to have a Plan P. Push-up's are your friend. Whack a few of these guys every morning when you wake up, and you'll be good to go when the next swell pulls in.
Have fun catching more waves now that you know how to paddle like a pro!