How to paddle in surf

Surf Technique : How to paddle in surf

If you already have your first surf session, you may know that you spend between 80 to 95% of your time by padding. In though conditions, going through the peak may be a little bit challenging. In this context, a little technique could help you. That’s why we’re going to speak about the paddling technique.

Surf paddling and freestyle stroke

A good way to understand how to move the arms efficiently is by drawing a parallel between surf paddling and freestyle stroke.

The whole freestyle stroke movement is usually separated into 4 phases: catch, pull, exit and recovery.

The catch is the initial phase in which the hand enters the water. The big thing to notice is the angle made by the forearm and the water. In other terms, the elbow has to be high to ease the entry.



Pull is the action of moving the arm through the water as it follows the length of your body. There are 2 things to note: the forearm is perpendicular to the ground, and the move ends when the hands are at the stomach level.



Exit The final pull of the hand/arm as it leaves the water. It’s the transition between in and out of the water.



Recovery: The arm in the air, as it is coming back to the front of the body to restart the stroke cycle. When you move your arm to the front, your hand has to brush past the waterDon’t put your arm too high, to avoid overworking with your shoulders.



Here is a nice slow motion video of Yan Thorpe show you each phase from different angles.

Body position on the surfboard

Too much in front or too much backward are just not good for your surfboard to slide properly on the water.

Head still

If you move your head from one side to another, your hips are going to react by moving in the opposite direction which will create interfering moves. In other words, your body will have a tendency to snake which is not the good way to optimize your efforts, so keep your head still, just in front of the middle line of your surfboard.


If your upper body keep still as your head, your shoulder will have to do the whole job which could lead to injuries and which is not optimal to generate powerful movements. The idea is to help your shoulder by rolling on both side of your surfboard.

Paddling Rhythm

The rhythm is also important. As you’re on a sliding surface, the idea is to take advantage of the momentum generated by the previous move. So keep calm and take a smooth rhythm.

Common errors

Let’s kill a common preconception about how the hands have to work to paddle efficiently. Maybe you already heard that the fingers has to be perfectly closed together without opening any room between them. Or maybe, someone told you that the hands has to be curved, like a spoon. These ideas are seductive, but the reality is different.

The most efficient way for the hands to enter the water is by getting a simple plan shape. Fingers have to be closed to each others, but not too tight. Hands have to be firm and flex at the same time.

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