How To Get Better At Paddling For Surfing

When you start surfing, the first thing that hits you square between the eyes isn’t a spray of water but rather how difficult it is to paddle. After a first session, you might feel all your shoulder, back, arm, and even finger muscles torn to pieces, indicating that you must practice the skill of paddling continuously.

To enhance your paddling skills when surfing, you must apply the correct body position and ensure that your paddling technique is on par when paddling your hands and arms through the water. Regular exercise helps strengthen the muscles used for paddling, instantly improving your paddling skills.

 One of the very first surfing skills that you must learn to master is paddling. Even before you dream of basic skills such as the pop-up, bottom turn, and cut back, paddling is the one you need to focus on with all your energy because it’s a skill that saps your energy in the beginning. This article will highlight ways to improve your paddling skills.

The Importance Of Paddling In Surfing

If you’re contemplating joining the surfing world, it’s essential to know the following from the get-go. Without a strong upper body, which includes arms, back, shoulders, and neck, you will struggle to enjoy surfing to the fullest.

Paddling, of all the surfing components, may seem the least important skill to master, but in truth, it’s the skill that elevates the surfing experience to another level. Ask experienced surfers how much paddling they do in a single surf session and wait for the 90%-of-the-time answer.

Most of the time you will ever spend on a surfboard will involve paddling. So, it’s in your best interest to become efficient in paddling as quickly as possible for your sake and the surfers around you.

Every surfer needs a good paddling technique to help get to the best surfing positions, navigate past other surfers without causing a hindrance, and ultimately catch and surf the waves.

Paddling is a skill set that needs to be developed and practiced, as without proper paddling technique and a strong body that ensures paddling endurance, you will struggle to do the following consistently:


  • Catch a wave: You will only catch waves with a suitable paddle technique. Upskilling your paddle capabilities will allow you to position yourself favorably for an incoming wave. Paddling moves you around in the water as you search for the best spot to sync with the waves. The best surfers are the best paddlers; you only catch the best waves with an efficient paddling technique.


  • Stay in the water longer: If you can’t paddle, you can’t surf. Floating around on a board at the mercy of the ocean because your arms are sore and you can’t paddle anymore isn’t surfing; it’s more a case of surviving. In the beginning, as you slowly but surely build up your strength and technique, expect shorter surf sessions.

Once you have gained paddling endurance, you will find that you can maneuver much better while in the water, and you won’t get so tired so fast.


  • Distance: Paddling gets you around when in the water. On days when you need to cover a fair distance to get to the gnarliest waves, you will miss out if you can’t paddle efficiently. If your paddling technique is lacking, you will struggle to move to alternative surf spots, as you will get fatigued reasonably quickly when employing the wrong method.

How To Improve Your Paddling Technique

When you look at any successful surfer or sportsman, all we see is greatness. The ease with how these famous sports stars perform in their designated fields is always astounding and impressive, especially when trying your hand at the respective sport is difficult.

We don’t see the hundreds of hours these superstars put in behind the scenes. We don’t see the blood, tears, and sweat. It’s the same with paddling. If you practice and implement what works for the surfers before you, you will indeed become a surfer with a good paddling technique.

If you’re serious about surfing and want to improve your paddling technique, then the following tips will help you become a more efficient paddling machine:

Focus On Your Body Position

When paddling in the water, it’s essential to maintain the correct body position on your surfboard. What’s the correct body position when paddling? The head must always be upright, with your chest pushing forward, creating an arched back with raised shoulders.

Your hips should be low in the water, improving your speed by reducing drag. Keep your feet together and out of the water, as feet touching the water creates foot breaks! Your body weight should rest on your sternum.

Focus On How You Position Your Body On The Surfboard

Align your whole body on the stringer, ensuring no leaning or rolling to one side. When you’re paddling out, your weight can be farther forward compared to when you’re paddling to catch a wave.

You’ll struggle to get the surfboard to the plane in the water when you’re too far back. You’ll notice drag in the nose area when you position yourself too far forward. You’ll see how smoothly you glide through the water when you balance your weight perfectly.

Focus On The Position Of Your Fingers, Hands, And Arms

Push your fingers tightly together as if you’re forming a blade with them or slightly apart. Keep them stiff as you scoop them through the water, fingers pointing forward and palms down. Keep your wrists firm.

Keep your shoulders high as your hands enter the water, focusing on slightly bending your arm as you reach forward to stroke through the water. Ensure you stroke past your body; you want long deep strokes, not short, fast ones!

Practice your strokes so no surface splashing occurs; dig deep and as far back as possible. The greater the surface area that your hand, forearm, and arm move through, the faster the speed of your board.

Focus On Your Breathing Technique

Taking deep breaths while slowly exhaling relaxes the body, which is an ideal way to warm your body before you start paddling. Try to exhale forcefully on each paddle stroke when you need the most energy.

Paddling Exercises For Surfing

Surfing is a sport that requires participants to have a healthy level of fitness to enjoy the experience fully. Like any other sporting code, you must practice and train your body to become a more efficient surfer.

Hitting the water and pushing yourself to the limit concerning paddling will make you fit in the long run. But only after endearing sore muscles for a long time. The trick is to exercise the muscles that do the most work when paddling, whether you’re in or out of the water.

Ultimately, a healthy and strong body is an asset in the ocean. The stronger the body and the paddling technique, and better the surfer. Remember to warm up your muscles before doing any exercise. Most people skip warming down the muscles after training, which can be as damaging to muscles as not stretching before strenuous activity.

Always listen to your body and skip an exercise session if you must; the ocean is going nowhere, and so are you if you tear or strain a muscle.

The following exercises will help you to improve your paddling technique:


Type of Exercise Why It Helps
Pull-ups •       Pull-ups strengthen your back, shoulders, forearms, and pecs (chest) while also engaging your abs – targeting most of the muscles you use while paddling.
Lat-pull downs •       It works the same muscles as the pull-up, and is an excellent exercise for athletes with similar pulling motions, such as swimmers and wrestlers.
Swimming •       Endurance swimming: Swim 100 yards briskly before resting for half a minute; aim for 10-15 sets, and you will feel an increase in endurance levels after a few weeks.

•       Freestyle: Sessions of 30 minutes each, where you focus on swimming form, will teach you how to keep your body streamlined while working arm and shoulder muscles.

•       Breaststroke: A 30-minute session a couple of times a week will strengthen the back, chest, and core muscles.

Resistance Band Training •       Band pull-apart: Hold a resistance band in front of you with straight arms before pulling the band apart and bringing them to your sides. Do 15-20 reps in 3-5 sets to increase arm muscle strength.

•       Band rows: Sit on the floor with your legs straight before you. Loop a resistance band around both feet and hold it with your hands before pulling it towards your chest. Squeeze your shoulder blades together. Works shoulders, back, and arms. Do 3-5 sets of 15 reps each.

Paddle Drills •       Extended paddle training: Take your board and paddle for at least 30 minutes while focusing on paddle form.

•       Interval paddle training: To build speed and endurance, paddle at a high intensity for 1 minute before resting for half a minute. Do 10-15 sets per session.

•       Sprint paddle training: To build explosive power, do the following. Paddle as fast as you can for half a minute, rest for half a minute, and repeat for 10-15 sets.

Planking •       Planking is an excellent exercise that mimics lying on a surfboard, working the core muscles used when paddling. A minute planking session repeated 5-10 times daily will work wonders for your paddling game.
Stretching •       Stretching your muscles before you work them out is very important and will prevent muscle soreness and injuries to a certain degree. Warming down after a workout or paddle session is almost more important than stretching before you exercise.


Any exercise will prepare the body for a session on a surfboard. Running, hiking, and playing alternative sports will stand you in good stead and improve your surfing.

Other Tips For Better Paddling

The following helpful tips can help you improve your paddling skill set. Let’s start with a recommendation that instantly increases your paddling, the surfboard!


  • Use the right equipment: When buying a surfboard, ensure it’s the right size for your body shape and skill level. The best advice is to visit a local surf shop where you can bank on a person with experience helping you. Buying a board online may seem more straightforward until you get on it and realize the mistake as you try to paddle it successfully.


  • Practice makes perfect: Legendary golfer, Gary Player from South Africa, stated, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” Get in the surf as much as possible and persevere through the early pain and frustrations. The more you practice paddling, the better you will become, ultimately transforming you into a better and healthier surfer.


  • Mimic what the good surfers are doing: There’s no harm in stealing with your eyes. Watch a surfer you admire for their skillset and see how they paddle. Practice what you see. Watch surf videos online, practice in the ocean, practice in the pool; as long as you practice, you will become a master paddler soon enough.


  • Stay healthy and fit: Live a lifestyle focusing on eating healthily, working out, and getting enough rest. The stronger your body, the more advanced your paddling skillset will become. To become the best surfer, you must live a dedicated life.


One of the first functions to master when taking up the sport of surfing is how to paddle. Without paddling, there will be no surfing. Waves will come and go, and surfing will die a slow death. Fortunately, you can enhance your paddling technique by focusing on body position and exercise.

The more you work on strengthening your body, the easier paddling becomes. Ultimately, the more time you spend surfing, the better you will become in all aspects, especially paddling. Living a healthy lifestyle will speed up improving your paddling technique and output.



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