How to Improve Your Surfboard Paddling

February 22, 2023

How to Improve Your Surfboard Paddling

Everyone knows how to paddle their surfboard, right?  Well it is one thing to paddle and it is a whole other thing to paddle effectively. In fact, proper paddling technique is one of the quickest ways to become a better surfer. Paddling correctly can help you move faster with less fatigue, catch more waves, surf longer, and be more comfortable in the water. Plus, when you’re catching more waves, that’s more opportunity to improve your surfing!

Paddling on a surfboard is similar to swimming (if you don’t know how to do that yet, you might have skipped a step in this whole “learning to surf” thing). You want to pull yourself through the water while having as little drag as possible. Our paddling guide covers the details of how to maximize the effectiveness of your paddle.


Body Position

The first thing to be aware of when paddling your surfboard is where your body is positioned. If you’re too far to the nose or tail of your board, it will drag through the water and slow you down. If you’re too far to one side, you’ll be struggling to keep from falling off instead of using all your energy to paddle.

You want to find the sweet spot on the board where your weight is perfectly centered over the board’s buoyancy. If you’re on a shortboard, you’ll know you’re in the right spot when the nose of your board is just peeking out of the water, and you can lay motionless without falling off to one side.

On a longboard, you want to position yourself towards the middle of the board with your feet resting on the tail. If you’re too far forward, your nose will start to sink. If you’re too far back the nose will lift up, and you will feel the tail of the board dragging and slowing you down, or even sinking a bit.

Generally, no matter the board you’re riding, if you feel like you’re positioned too far in one direction, you probably are. Trust your balance and instincts. Once you’ve found the sweet spot, you’ll know. It’s like paddling out at your favorite break on a sunny day with a 3-4 foot swell – it just feels right.

Once you’re correctly centered on the board you need to be aware of a few other details of body positioning: your head, shoulders, and feet. 

Your head should be up with your shoulders back. This allows you to see what’s in front of you (seeing where you’re going is generally a good thing, helps with not getting run over by other surfers) and puts you in a position to use your back muscles to paddle, in addition to your arms and shoulders.

Finally, keep your feet together. This will help keep you centered and balanced in the middle of the board. We can’t guarantee you’ll be existentially centered and balanced as well, but we hear enjoying a surf sesh because you know how to paddle helps with that too :) 

Paddling technique

Now that you’re correctly positioned on your board, you’re ready to paddle. While you paddle, you’ll want to make sure you’re focusing on some key techniques.

  • Your hands should be relaxed but firm, fingers together and ready to pull you through the water. Don’t cup your hand, this creates less surface area and gives you a weaker paddle.
  • Avoid bending your wrist, as this also creates less surface area.
  • Your elbow should be slightly bent about 45 degrees. Your paddle will be stronger this way, rather than with a completely straight arm. 
  • Keep those shoulders back like we talked about earlier, in order to utilize your back muscles and get all the strength your upper body has to offer.

Paddling motion

Even if you’re positioned correctly and your arms are ready to paddle, splashing around with your elbows perfectly bent and shoulders back still doesn’t get you anywhere. You have to use the right motion, step by step.

  • Step 1: When you start your paddle, you want your hand to enter the water in front of your shoulder, this allows you to have a full pulling motion. Slide your fingertips into the water nice and smooth, trying to avoid splashing. Smooth is fast. 
    • Tip: Think about when you jump into the pool. When you dive in nice and smooth, you cut through the water with minimal resistance. If you do a cannonball, you splash a bunch of water around and slowly sink to the bottom. You don’t want to be cannonballing your hands into the water. Slide in nice and smooth.
  • Step 2: Imagine there’s a beach ball in the water under your arm and you’re reaching over and in front of it to pull it backwards with your whole arm. 
  • Step 3: With your arm now in the water, keep your forearm and hand aligned as you pull the water backwards and propel yourself forward.
  • Step 4: Repeat, of course. As you alternate paddle strokes, focus on keeping your elbow higher than your hand and forearm both while your hand enters the water and while you pull your arm up out of the water.


We know that’s a lot of information, so here’s a simple recap you can remember while you’re in the water:

  • Body centered
  • Head up, shoulders back
  • Feet together
  • Elbow high and slightly bent

Hopefully this guide gets you paddling faster and surfing more waves! Happy surfing!  As always if you have any questions give us a call at the shop (800) 920-2363 or email

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