NO PADDLE, NO SURF
Let’s face the cold-hard facts, the act know as “surfing” actually consists of very little actual surfing. Maybe it should be called “paddling with occasional wave riding.” The really good part – standing up and riding a wave – is a very small part of the practice of surfing. I would go as far as saying 10% is wave riding, 90% is paddling. So if you want to enjoy the practice of surfing, you better improve your paddle fitness and ability because you’ll be doing lots of it.
Put it this way, the practice of surfing according to Jaimal Yogis in Saltwater Buddha
is a great metaphor for life. “The extremely good stuff – chocolate and great sex and weddings and hilarious jokes – fills a minute portion of an adult lifespan.
“The rest is like the paddling: work, paying bills, flossing, getting sick, dying.”
“Sure it (paddling) wasn’t always as fun as riding a wave. But it was part of it. They were the same – interdependent. No paddle, no surf.”
1. Keep Feet Together:
When I taught surf lessons, I used to tell kids to pull their legs together like a cobra’s tail. When your legs are sprawled all over the place, you don’t have very good balance to move the board through the water.
2. Body Position:
Every board is different but you must find the “sweet spot” where you can paddle with ease: not too far forward so that the nose of your board is ploughing water and not to far back that your ass is dragging. Also the stringer of your board should be down the mid-line of you body to avoid tipping over from rail to rail.
3. Knowledge Actually is Power:
Have you ever noticed a surfer that easily catches all the best waves with very few, graceful strokes? He or she is necessarily a faster or stronger paddler than you. Position often dictates who gets the wave. Wave selection and being in the right place to catch that wave is crucial to effective paddling. Plus a person with local knowledge of currents, rips, swell direction and shallow spots will out paddle someone without such knowledge.
4. Warm-up and Stretching:
This is a no-brainer but if your shoulders, chest and lats are tight, paddling will be debilitatingly more difficult. You may be able to paddle for a while but fatigue will set in and end your session quickly. Get a tennis ball and a foam roller. This guy is kind of a dork but he has great videos, like this one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_eFCw4oYOE.
5. Paddling’s a Marathon, not a Sprint:
You want to save your energy for the actual wave riding so it is important to use paddling as a form of active recovery. Try to slow your breathe down and use the right technique so that you can be explosive and full of energy when you do catch a wave!
Actual Paddling Technique by Greg Long
(Greg Long is a Californian big wave champion who paddles into huge Mavericks, Todos Santos and Puerto Escondido on the reg):
1. Position yourself on your board correctly. Where you actually lay will be different depending on what type of board you ride, but each board has a sweet spot. You don’t want to be too far back on the board. This causes the board to be too high and makes you push through the water. If you are too far forward your nose will pearl into the water. You want to be perfectly centered so when you do start paddling your board is on a nice, even plane.
2. Get a full arm extension with every stroke. I often see people who do an awkward, 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 never before.
3. When you are at the full extension of your stroke, your fingers should be held tightly side by side creating a cup or paddle with your hand. Do not slap the surface when your hand enters the water. It should enter in a graceful diving fashion.
4. As you pull through your stroke, try and get your arms as deep as possible. I like to create a slight “S” motion with my stroke bringing my arms down the centerline of my board. Try and keep your wrist and forearm in one line.
5. Pull through your stroke in one continuous motion until your arm is fully extended behind you. Again, do not prematurely pull it from the water. In doing so, you lose power and your stroke is ultimately much less efficient. Not to mention you look like a chicken.
6. When you pull your hand from the water, do so in the same graceful fashion as when you entered. Splashing or throwing water behind you is wasted energy.
7. As you become a more advanced paddler you can get even more power from your stroke by implementing your core strength into the paddling motion. As your arm reaches forward your torso will slightly lift forward with it. As your arm pulls back, so does your torso adding even more muscle and power into your stroke.
Improving Your Paddle Fitness by Layne Beachley:
Of course, the best training for surfing is surfing but if you can’t go out for a paddle everyday the best thing you can do is to stay fit and keep your upper body in shape. Layne Beachley, Freshwater local and seven time world champ recommends the following exercises to keep your paddle fitness up outside of surfing:
Hope this helps all you noodle arms out there understand and enjoy paddling a little more. Some little tweaks and work can really imrpove your paddle fitness. After all it’s 90% of any surf session and you gotta put in the work to make it outside on those big days.