Ask yourself this question
“Is my paddling letting me down?”
Do you sometimes struggle to get out the back and then when you do, you have to rest for 10 minutes? A really good wave comes along and you’re just too buggered to catch it.
Do you get discouraged when other surfers outpaddle you when competing for waves? Some guys just seem to catch all the waves don’t they?
How frustrating is it when you can’t quite get onto that wave that would just make your day?
Are you coming back to surfing after a long break, maybe due to injury or surgery, and are very wary about how you’ll go?
Or perhaps you’re planning to head off on an extended surf trip and are worried about how you’ll handle three sessions a day for a couple of weeks.
Wouldn’t you just love to paddle stronger so you can catch more waves!
Why is paddling so important?
A number of studies have shown that surfers generally spend over 50% of their time in the water paddling. Of course there are a number of factors involved including size of the waves, currents or sweeps, break configuration and the technique, strength and endurance of the surfer.
Most surfers are lucky to spend 5-10% of their time actually riding waves and maybe 30% sitting around waiting.
There are also different paddling contexts:
- Getting out the back to start with
- Maintaining or improving your position your position in the lineup (think Superbank with a big southerly swell)
- Paddling back out after a wave
- Avoiding a cleanup set
- and not to mention paddling to catch a wave.
What are the effects of imperfect paddling?
Firstly, there are the mindset effects as outlined at the start. So much of your surfing experience is dictated by how you feel and what you expect.
Let’s look though at the physical side of paddling.
Paddling is the biggest energy sapper in surfing; and we do a lot of it. And if your paddling efficiency isn’t great, then paddling saps even more energy and can even lead to injury.
Accidents do happen in the surf but there are other types of common surfing injury that can creep up on you. What I’m talking about here are what are classed as “Chronic and Gradual-Onset Injuries and Conditions”. Some examples are shoulder injuries such as rotator-cuff injuries, neck, back and spine injuries. One study shows that the majority of these are due to paddling.
What can I do to improve my paddling?
1. Improve Your Paddling Technique
- Find your “Sweet Spot” along the length of your board
- The nose of your board should be just above the water to reduce drag
- This is even more important if you ride a shortboard.
There are many so-called experts out there who give advice (some paid, some free) on how to paddle efficiently. There are some significant differences between what they tell you.
However, here are a few tips that are mostly agreed upon:
- Paddle as close to your board as you can. There will be less strain on your shoulders and rotator cuffs.
- Keep your fingers spread slightly. There is no need to cup your hands.
- Don’t overreach with your stroke. This uses more effort and energy and strains your shoulders.
- Focus on smoothness and efficiency rather than more strokes per minute
Once again, there are many physios etc out there who give advice and coaching on programs to improve your paddling and surfing fitness, strength and endurance.
The fitter and stronger you are, the less energy you’ll expend on paddling.
One quick tip: Make sure to drink plenty of water before paddling out to keep hydrated and help your body recover.
3. Equipment that can Make a Difference Right Now
H2Odyssey Webbed Paddling Gloves
Webbed paddling gloves give you increased surface area which increases your propulsion. Some people report a 30% increase in their paddling power. Over the years there have been some reports of gloves exacerbating shoulder problems. My research indicates that the vast majority of these would be due to underlying poor paddling technique. I’ve been using webbed gloves for nearly 20 years now without a problem. I just don’t go out without them anymore.
H2Odyssey are the original and the best and come in three different models:
- Max – (shown above) full fingered for maximum paddling power
- Touch – finger tips exposed for more feel & dexterity. Good when using a GoPro etc
- Magna – neoprene on both sides for extra warmth in cold water
All models are light weight and great fit and have a grippy palm for non-slip duck diving and pop-up.
PaddleAir Inflatable and Padded Rash Vests
PaddleAir products are designed by Dave Hilts in the US and have been around for about 20 years. They have a dual purpose of protecting your ribs and sternum and also improving your paddling position so that you can paddle stronger, stay out for longer and catch more waves. And they work a treat.
The PaddleAir Ergo is the original product and, in my opinion, the most flexible.
It has an inflatable bladder whose level of padding can be easily adjusted on the run. It’s positioned to protect your ribs, sternum and xiphoid process which is great for surfers with pre-existing conditions or a tendency to get sore ribs after a long session.
It also gives you a much better paddling position and has been shown in university testing to reduce stress in the lower back, shoulders and neck areas, all of which allow you to surf in comfort for longer.
I’ve been using a PaddleAir Ergo since 2010. Before that, if I had a three hour session, I wouldn’t have been able to surf for the next 2-3 days. Now I can surf for as long as I want, as often as I want.
The Rib Rocket and the Rib Cloud are padded rash vests for men and women respectively.
They give you “set and forget” protection for your ribs and sternum. The Rib cloud, which is specifically designed for women, also gives you extra protection for your hips.
They are an ideal item for everyday use and essential to pack for your next extended surf trip
Improving your paddling will enable you to
- Expend less energy
- Move faster
- Catch more waves
- Stay injury free