Do you spend most of your time dreaming of catching waves, feeling the warm sea breeze and waiting for the next swell to come ashore. Ahh, that is the life!

But what if you feel like you are missing out on the best ones. Or even worse, get exhausted after trying to catch a single surfable wave. If that is the case, you probably need some tweaking in your surf paddle technique. This guide will help you do just that. 

”The better your technique is the more efficient and faster you will be.”

Positioning on the surfboard

Your optimal positioning on the board can be divided into two different categories; vertical and horizontal. You’ll want to be as centered on your board as possible to minimize drag and make you faster and more efficient on the water.

Let’s have a closer look at them!

Vertical positioning on a surf board

Vertical positioning refers to the position of the surfer along the length of the surfboard. If you are too far back your tail and fins will sink too deep, causing more drag or resistance on the water. Therefore, you’ll have to use more energy with every paddle.

However, if you are too close to the nose your surfboard, you will force it to sink. This will either create resistance or even make you fall of your board.

The proper position is to stay centered on your board so that the nose is 2-5cm (1-2 inches) above the surface. Arch your back and keep your chin up. You’ll have better visibility, mobility and stability. Don’t rest your head on the board.

Better aerodynamics = better technique.

That’s pretty much it!

Don’t be afraid to really arch your back and lift up your chin. This will enhance visibility and make takeoffs easier.

Horizontal positioning on a surf board

Horizontal positioning means how centered you are in relation to the edges or rails of your surfboard. If your weight is offset to either side, the board will sink to the one with more weight on it. Thus, creating more drag. You will also have less control of the board in this case. 

Sometimes beginners extend their legs over the rails to help stabilize the board. This brings out two negative effects. First, you’ll significantly increase drag on the water. Second, it can make your nose dive and cause you to fall off. 

That’s not what you want.

What you want is to be perfectly balanced in the middle of the board. Keep your feet together and let your arms do the work. Try to keep your upper body still as you paddle to reduce rocking on the surfboard. 

The perfect surf paddle technique

Having a good technique can make or break your experience on the water. And, the better your technique is the more efficient and faster you will be. 

The basic principle of paddling is to propel yourself forward by pushing water in the direction of the surface. If your strokes are directed towards the bottom, your body will rise up into an upright position. Therefore, try to keep your feet close to the surface and guide your arms so that you go straight forward. This will significantly reduce drag and you’ll end up using less energy with every paddle. 

Also, try to maximize the surface area of your arms. This will eventually push more water into the direction you want to go. 

Reducing drag in the water is the most important tip to becoming a better swimmer & paddler.

Here’s how you get the most out of every paddle

Use the whole range of your arms when paddling. This means that you extend your arm, penetrate the surface and let it sink to the water. Remember to keep your elbows high at this point. This will make sure your forearms are vertical as you propel forward, creating less drag.

After your wrist has sunk for about 15cm (5-6 inches) grab the water by bending your wrist and pull it next to your body. Finish the stroke in an accelerating motion and pop your hand out of water close to your thigh. Keep your elbows high just like before. Remember to accelerate the stroke towards your feet – not towards the bottom of the sea. 

It is also important to keep the rhythm of your paddling. Don’t try to paddle with straight arms as you’ll just end up fatigued in no time. Instead, bend your arms as you reach for every paddle. It is better to go slow with good technique than paddle like crazy with a bad one. 

Common issues in surf paddle technique

Often times unexperienced surfers tend to limit the range of their strokes. This reduces the amount of propulsion you can get from a paddle. Thus, making you glide less in the water and forcing you to paddle more. Also, if your arm hasn’t sunk enough before accelerating, you won’t be able to grab the water well enough for an efficient stroke. You can fix this problem by having your forearm vertical in the water. 

Some surfers may splash the water too much as they paddle. This will most likely cause extra drag in the water as you are propelling yourself towards the surface rather than across it. Keep your elbows high and you’ll never have to worry about this! Try entering the water with your fingertips. 

You might want to lift your arms above water before paddling to test if you are balanced.

10 Quick tips for better paddling on a surf board

Here’s a quick recap of the basic principles on how to paddle efficiently. This works for swimming with or without a board.

  1. Keep an aerodynamic position to minimize drag; head down and legs close to the surface
  2. Keep your palms flat and fingers together. Don’t cup your fingers
  3. Try not to rock from side to side
  4. Do long strokes and try to stay relaxed
  5. Don’t splash! Go for a smooth entry with your fingertips
  6. Keep your elbows high
  7. No butterfly strokes e.g. both hands at the same time
  8. The strokes shouldn’t start from the surface – let your arms slide and sink before propelling forward
  9. Strokes should always accelerate towards the end
  10. Wrist movement should not be linear. Keep them upright in relation to the surface when you propel yourself

Practice makes perfect

Perfecting your surf paddle technique does not happen overnight. But, with these few steps that we mentioned, you’ll definitely have a few aces up your sleeve. As the old saying goes, ”practice makes perfect”. Most of the time catching a wave has little to do with your technique anyway. It is all about timing your paddling perfectly with the upcoming swell. 

Try to enjoy the process of becoming better at your surf paddle technique. It will also help you catch more waves and become a better surfer in the long run. Just get out there and spend some time in the water with your friends.

What’s better than that?

Did this article help your surf paddle technique?

Subscribe to our newsletter

Shop Hansen Surfboards