Paddling for a wave: things to know
If you're lucky your surfing journey start with the help of an instructor, friend or partner who surfs. If not, you learn the hard way by trying and failing until somehow you find a technique that works (whether it's the right one or not). Either way, when it comes to paddling once we are free from the assistance of our coach or friend, it's a primary skill needed to catch waves.
An adequate paddling technique means that you must be aware of your positioning on the board and know where to sit in the lineup to be in the right place. If you're positioned incorrectly on the board or don't face the wave properly, you will waste your energy and still not make it.
To find the correct position on your board, you place your body high enough while making sure the nose is sticking out of the water 1 -2 inches. You want to make sure you are vertical on the water creating little to no resistance, not too far forward and not too far back. This will make the board streamline and much easier to paddle.
As reference points, for longboards or learning soft boards, your toes will be touching the tail. For shortboards, where your feet hang off the tail, you want to make sure your stomach/ribs are in the centre of the board. Keep your chest up by arching your back and legs together. You need to maintain your balance and control by engaging your core, and glutes, if you don't you'll lose your balance, fall to the side and become off-centre.
The paddle stroke should be controlled with a long, deep and strong motion. Make sure your stroke is close to the rail and that you're not paddling wide with your arms, as you will just splash the water without going. Remember an efficient movement should flow and feel easy with low energy expenditure.
Now that you are well-positioned on your surfboard and know how to paddle, here are 4 things to keep in mind when you're paddling for a wave:
Be determined and don’t doubt yourself If you paddle hesitantly, you will most likely paddle with half the power needed and leave you falling off the back of the wave or in the wrong position. This could lead you into the impact zone for the next wave set with low energy and poor positioning.
Look where you want to go If you look forward you will go straight, if you look to the face of the wave, you will go sideways and if you look down you will fall down and off the board.
Timing If you start paddling too early, you'll probably be too far forward on the wave. If you start too late you might not get enough momentum and the wave will pass you by.
Paddling on the right angle Once positioned, start paddling perpendicular to the wave. This will give you extra speed and more chances for the wave to take you along. In the last moment, change the angle slightly towards the face of the wave to avoid the whitewash and follow along the face.
As a beginner paddler, be prepared for bruised ribs, a stiff neck and sore arms. It's part of the journey of becoming an independent surfer. Just don’t give up, keep practicing and give your body time to get used to this awkward position, and keep reminding yourself, it gets easier with time.
From Surf Getaways, a surf travel and learn to surf company run by women for women, we encourage you to keep practicing your paddle strength in and out of the water. If you feel like you would need some coaching or support, or simply want to join our community of amazing women, feel free to check our Surf Clinic programs, Paddle Squads and luxury Surf Experiences.