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Surf Kids Lesson 6: How to Paddle On a Surfboard
Learning how to paddle on a surfboard the right way will entirely change the surfing experience for you and your surf kids. And trust me, most of our time spent surfing is really spent paddling, so it's hugely worth honing in on proper, effective surf paddle technique.
Because there is a technique, and, as always, sharing these good habits early on in a young surfer's journey is always easier than breaking bad ones later down the road.
Here's everything you need to know about paddling a surfboard, my salty people!
A Quick Recap!
If you missed a lesson or two, here's a recap of our entire "How to Surf" series:
- Surf Kids Lesson 1: Introduction to Teaching Kids to Surf
- Surf Kids Lesson 2: Teaching Your Grom How to Read a Surf Report
- Surf Kids Lesson 3: The Surf Equipment Checklist
- Surf Kids Lesson 4: A Guide to Kids Surfboards
- Surf Kids Lesson 5: How to Teach your Grom The Surf Pop Up
Bringing us to the following essential surfing skill set: paddling!!
Why Proper Surf Paddle Technique Matters
I said above that the correct paddling technique would entirely change your surfing, so what does that mean? The proper surf paddling technique will alter multiple facets of the surfing experience, like:
Longer Surf Sessions
Bad paddle technique will tire you out incredibly fast. The right surf paddle technique makes the best of every muscle movement, granting you more surf time before fatigue sets in. When you're trying harder but going slower, it's a downhill battle and a cardio workout quick to take you out.
You'll Catch More Waves
When you're no master of the surfboard paddle, it's guaranteed to lose you more waves. Becoming better at paddling will increase your speed + power, which is step one for catching more waves. Plus, when you're paddling the right way, it means your body is positioned correctly on the board. And body positioning is a huge aspect of dropping into a wave!
When you're practicing the proper paddle technique, you won't nosedive from being too far forward, and you won't miss the wave from being too far back on the tail.
Paddling Out is Easier
Surfing: It's 99% Paddling, 1% Riding Waves.
Paddling into the lineup is often one of the most challenging aspects of surfing, especially once conditions get gnarly. If you or the groms plan on taking surfing seriously, you'll quickly realize the need for quick, powerful paddles following every duck dive to make it to that lineup.
When your body is positioned incorrectly or not performing the right movements, you will rub your chest/belly against your board extra aggressively while placing added pressure on the ribs.
The end result? Surf rash, of course!
The red friction blisters and pressure bruises on the chest and abdomen make your next surf session far less enjoyable, so if you didn't know, you could help prevent surf rash with the efficient surf paddle technique.
Style matters, even when you paddle. Flailing arms and splashing water equal disgruntled stares from others in the lineup, so don't be a kook and learn how to paddle on a surfboard! Seriously, paddling is an art, and the right technique adds a lot of grace and elegance to your surfing style.
Step By Step: How to Paddle while Surfing
Paddling is a lot different when you're a little surf grom versus a full-grown teen or adult. This guide will outline exactly how to paddle while surfing, but if you're teaching your kids how to surf, some of these characteristics of good paddling aren't achievable at a young age. With that, do your best to teach them proper surf paddle technique, but also remember:
- Kids have small arms: they won't be able to reach around the decks of most surfboards fully. It's going to be difficult for a young grom to paddle themselves around until they're on a custom-sized kids surfboard or grow a few inches.
- They also have small bodies: requiring adjusted body position while lying on the surfboard to find the paddling 'sweet spot'. Don't worry; we'll talk about that soon.
- They aren't super strong: Again, a little grom will take growth and time before they can really paddle on their own. Duck Diving also requires developed strength. Don't expect much!
That said, there's never a better time to preach good paddling techniques. Every time you surf, you can help spread awareness of said technique to your grom and practice it yourself, of course. And in time, you'll naturally notice the little ones growing up to be powerful, efficient paddlers.
1. Start in Flat Water
Practice paddling in a flat body of water before taking it to the lineup. Either the ocean on a flat day, a lake, or even a pool.
2. Identify the Surfboards Sweet Spot
A critical key to paddling is where you position yourself on the board when lying down. Surfers like to call this 'the sweet spot', and this essentially references the ideal position for your chest/stomach. By placing yourself in the sweet spot, the board can best move across the water's surface to increase paddle speed and flow.
To discover the sweet spot, you're looking to position your body so that the board's nose does not sink into the water. If you notice the nose sinking, also called 'pearling', this means you have too much body weight on the front of your board. Scoot yourself back until the nose hovers above the water's surface and to where it does not enter the water when paddling.
However, just as there's too far forward on the board, there is also too far back. As soon as you see the board's nose aggressively lift out of the water, as though your body weight is anchoring the tail down, move up the board until it drops evenly onto the water's surface again. The board will have a natural rocker, as in an upward curve on the nose, so a 1-3 inch lift is normal, but any more means you're too far back.
When you're too far back, you create massive drag and totally slow yourself down.
Every surfboard will have a different sweet spot, as it all depends on the length + type of board. If you like, try identifying the sweet spot on a flat body of water, and mark where your chest lays with a sticker, paint, etc. That way, you always know where to jump back on your board.
Here's another thing: the sweet spot is unique for kids. When you have a little grom paddling around a soft top twice their size, their body doesn't fit on the board or weigh it down the same way ours would. Typically, they require a position slightly further back towards the tail. Overall, as long as the board stays nice and even while you push them into waves and they try to paddle, then you're solid.
You also need to account for the horizontal positioning on the board. Surfboard padding is best done when the body's weight is split evenly on each half of the board.
That's One Way to Paddle Out!
If you lean too far to the right/left, you'll inevitably feel the rails start to sink into this side. If your surfboard has a stringer, which looks like a strip of wood running right down the middle, use this as a reference to perfect horizontal paddle positioning. And overall, try to keep your weight split between the horizontal axis of your board.
3. Head + Chest + Feet Positioning
Now that you're in the sweet spot, it's time to start tweaking the surf paddle technique.
Start with your chest. Lift your chest nice and high with a slight, natural arch to the back so your head is lifted up and looking forward. When you start paddling, try to keep the head as still as possible, as you're not swimming! A shaky head causes a shaky body, and that means a shaky, unstable board.
Keep your feet lifted out of the water, as you don't want them to increase any drag toward the tail of your board, thus slowing you down. Maintain even weight across the horizontal axis of your board with your legs to promote stability. Also, you don't want to kick when you're paddling, aside from the last paddle or two when catching a wave.
The body should look cool, calm, and collected.
4. What to Do With the Arms
Learning how to paddle on a surfboard is all about maintaining this perfect body positioning while engaging the arms in the water. It's a special type of balance, and it will take practice.
With the body in the sweet spot, the chest lifted up, back arched, head forward, and feet even, begin with both hands out of the water so you're even with your balance. Then, initiate paddling with one arm at a time.
During each paddle stroke, your goal is to make the most out of your power with strong, fluid movements. Reach your arm out far towards the nose of the board, stretching out your body, as you want long, powerful paddles and not short, weak ones.
Dip this arm into the water when it's fully extended, and keep it nice and vertical while you pull it back towards you, using the entire forearm + hand to push yourself forward. Keeping your elbows high will help keep the arms vertically positioned in the water to promote solid and effective paddles.
Keep the arms close to the board's rails as you pull them back, as reaching out wide towards the side drains energy.
Pull the arm back until it reaches your chest, and lift it out of the water to begin the next paddle.
As one arm finishes a paddle (exiting the water), the other should be entering a paddle, and the proper surf paddle technique is an even rhythm. As you reach towards the nose, be careful not to splash too much water around or drag your hand in the water in the opposite direction.
Be flexible with your arms, and avoid mimicking a windmill or rolling your shoulders with each arm entry. Bend them as you reach + pull, and the more centered you keep yourself, the better the padding. You might feel a slight roll in the body, and that is natural, but focus this rolling to your spine, not the head.
5. A Summary + a Few More Tips
Practice, Practice, Practice.
Let's break this all down super simply:
- Start by practicing in flat water.
- Identify the sweet spot on the surfboard. If the nose sinks, you're too far up, and if it lifts more than two or three inches out of the water, you're too far back. Keep the body perfectly even over the horizontal axis.
- Lift the chest up by arching the back, but don't overdo it, as it should feel natural. Keep the head up and eyes forward, and avoid any head rolling.
- Even the weight of your feet, don't drag them, and don't kick! Only kick when you need a little extra power when catching a wave.
- Reach the arms out all the way to the nose for long, strong paddles. Dig the forearms deep and vertically into the water, keeping them close to your body while pulling along the board's rails. Exit the paddle when your arm reaches your chest, and keep the elbows high the entire time.
- Don't reach wide & too far out to the sides of the board.
- Don't cup your hands.
- Don't splash and flail.
- Slow and steady wins again.
- Avoid resting the forehead against the board.
- Keep a steady rhythm.
This makes up the basics of learning how to paddle on a surfboard. So what's next?
Get a feel for paddling a surfboard in flat water and then moving out into the real deal with small, manageable conditions. Now, this is where everything you learned comes into play and where nothing but practice will make for perfect.
There will now be new challenges to paddle into the lineup, like learning how to duck dive or identifying a channel. And paddling into a wave requires its own set of techniques and skills, too.
So stick around, as that's up next for our "Surf Kids" series!
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