Life is like paddling on in: Learn to do it right

Surfing begins with paddling. The foundation of good surfing is paddling. Learning proper technique and timing to catch waves can be more difficult than learning to surf. Surprisingly, there is really very little information available on the subject of paddling and surfing.

Proper paddling technique is crucial to good surfing. Enter with perfection and you will finish with perfection. It is easy to spot most beginning surfers just by the way they paddle. Many beginning surfers start off with bad paddling technique, which prevents them from attaining surfing success. If you see a surfer paddling with his or her head barely raised - or worse yet not raised at all - and their feet spread wide, chances are it is someone new to the sport of surfing. Balance for paddling comes from staying centered on the surfboard with the feet and knees together.

An experienced surfer paddles with head held up and eyes level so he can see where he is going. There is no name as of yet for the proper position a body should be in while paddling a surfboard. However, in yoga, a very similar body position is called the “cobra.” Surfers who paddle with proper technique end up developing very strong back, shoulder, arm and chest muscles.

Many non-surfers and beginning surfers erroneously believe paddling a surfboard requires a lot of strength. Experienced surfers rely more on rhythm and proper paddling technique than strength. Without proper technique, a surfer using only muscle strength will tire quickly. Using proper rhythm and technique, a surfer can paddle all day long. Paddling a surfboard gives one strength and endurance. In times past, brave men in canoes would paddle thousands of miles. These ocean-faring men knew the secret to paddling endurance: use rhythm, technique and stay relaxed while paddling.

Many beginning surfers paddle with short strokes, almost like a hummingbird flapping her wings. Experienced surfers paddle with long and graceful strokes like a pelican, not a hummingbird. The proper technique for paddling a surfboard is to take long full strokes running the hands shallow along the bottom of the surfboard as opposed to deep in the water. To get the most power for catching waves, big or small, it is best to use two hands simultaneously when paddling. In swimming it’s called the butterfly stroke.

Experienced surfers do not try to catch a wave until the wave is right behind them. It should not take more than three paddles to catch a wave. After a surfer puts himself in front of the wave and checks his position, he should only look back once. When paddling into a wave, a surfer should remain calm, take long strokes and steadily breathe out.

One of the most common mistakes both beginning and advanced surfers make while surfing is not taking an extra paddle before standing up on a wave. Many beginners think they have caught the wave, stand up in haste and find the wave has passed them by. In their mind they did not get up quick enough, in truth they just needed an extra paddle before standing. Try not taking the extra paddle in small waves and you may just miss the wave, Try not taking the extra paddle in big waves and you may find yourself experiencing a very nasty wipe-out.

Life is a lot like paddling for a wave. Put your self in position for opportunity like surfers do the waves. With the proper information anyone can do anything, so what are you waiting for? Paddle on in.


E-mail surfing experts Michael and Milton Willis at