How to paddle tips & techniques

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How to paddle

Before mastering how to paddle, let’s find the right position for you to lay on the board. You want to lay on your belly in the center of the board – both length and width wise.

You want to try to avoid being too far back or too far forward.

You can test this by doing this little trick:

  1. Laying on your board bring your arms forward like a superman, check your balance. If the tip of the board dips in the water, move your body slightly backward.
  2. Then the same way, this time bring your arms towards the end of your board along the sides of your body. If your board stays balanced, you’re in the right position. If the tip of your board sticks too high up and the tail dips too deep into the water, move slightly forward.
  3. Once you test both ways and your board stays perfectly balanced, floating slightly above the water, you got the right position. Try to memorize this position!

surf paddle

How to surf paddle

There are a number of different ways of paddling, we will look at two most common types:

1. “Sprint” paddle for a wave
2. “Endurance” paddle to get back out to the line-up

Paddling is an extremely important and difficult part of surfing as it requires a great amount of energy and effort. We spend more time paddling around than actually surfing, so it is important to know how and when to preserve your energy. Learning how to paddle from the beginning will also help you catch waves better and faster, and that is certainly one thing you want when you find yourself in a crowded lineup.

You can complement your paddling by strengthening the shoulders with specific exercises targeting the triceps, biceps, deltoids, the trapezius, rectus abdominis, latissimus dorsi, and oblique muscles. Being a good swimmer is also an advantage.

Ladies – don’t get frustrated! Women have naturally less upper body strength (thanks mother nature, not) so it takes us a lot more effort to build the paddling strength. If you get lucky, you may get you better (surfing) half to push you into waves at the beginning. But don’t always rely on this, work to improve your strength so that you can catch waves without help. Hard work pays off!

surf paddle


  • Keep your feet together when paddling so they don’s slow you down
  • Cup your hands and keep your fingers together, creating a C shape with your hands
  • Make sure you dip your hands and arms into the water enough to generate speed(slashing the water on the surface will get you nowhere)
  • Paddle, creating a letter S with your hands under the water (see below) with the arms close to the board and bent at the elbow point
  • Use the strength of your shoulders rather than the arms. Your shoulders have more muscles and these are also stronger. Arms tend to tire out faster
  • When paddling you almost want to bring the elbows as high up as above the head
  • The strength comes from the shoulders – internal and external rotators of the shoulder, and the subscapularis.
  • Try to keep your lower body still and firm against the board. Wobbling from side to side as paddling will sabotage your speed

surf paddle

The “S” Paddle

This technique is a more efficient way of paddling. By creating a letter S under your board you will incorporate different muscle into your stroke. This will not only help you conserve energy but also direct water toward your fins, helping you glide through the water faster.

How To “S” Paddle

1. Slightly cup your hands, dipping your hands into the water – thumb first

2. As you start drawing the S letter in the water, first pull outwards

3. Then pull inward for the second part of the stroke

4. And lastly pull out again

Sprint Paddling – Paddling for a wave

1. Make sure you keep your feet together, but occasionally (if riding a short board) you may kick your legs to get into the wave faster
2. Cup your hands and keep your fingers together, creating a C shape with your hands
3. Dip your hands and arms into the water to generate speed by drawing a letter S 4. With the body close to the board bring the elbows high up, almost above the head as you paddle
5. Use your strength and paddle as fast as you can, keeping your body and chest close to the board. You may have heard ‘put your head down and paddle’. While this is very true, don’t take it literally. Your head and chest are indeed close to the board, but your gaze is up towards the shore or the wall of the wave to generate more speed to get ahead of the wave
6. If the waves are fast, make sure to angle your bard in the direction of the wave. (left-hander – angle the board slightly left, right-hander – angle the board slightly right)
7. When you feel the wave push you, arch your back coming into a cobra pose, so the tip of your board doesn’t dig into the wave, and then pop-up

Endurance Paddling

You caught an awesome long wave and now you have an exhausting way of paddling back out into the line-up. We know, you want to get there as soon as possible to catch more waves, but picture this: you paddle back out as fast as you can, you get to the peak just in time for the set, but you are out of breath and don’t have the energy to turn around to catch any of the set waves. So you not only missed the set, but you also get frustrated. Which is why we use a different style of paddling, to get back out to the line-up. It is all about preserving your energy.

1. Keep your feet together.

2. Try to paddle around the white water if the wave allows you.

3. Your fingers are closed together and hands are cupped, think letter C.

4. Taking nice long and slow, but controlled and strong strokes with the arms.

5. Paddle, drawing a letter S with your hands under the water and draw extra strength as you dip the arm in the water, throughout the initial part of the stroke 6. Exhale as you take the initial part of your S stroke.

7. Keep your back arched slightly, your head up, and your body still, allowing the upper body to do all the hard work.


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Pata Sudaka 🤙🏼


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