When we think about improving our surfing we typically think about the performance elements—our cross-step or our bottom turn or our Superman-to-air reverse. Rarely do we think about our paddling. Rob Case does. He’s been obsessing about it for over 15 years. The creator of XSWIM and the Surfing Paddling Academy, as well as an avid surfer, swimmer, water polo player, and free diver, he has broken it down to a science.
How do we improve our paddling?
I think the first thing to understand for surfers is that you actually get greater gains from reducing resistant drag than by adding strength and force. Once you optimize your streamline then you can focus on adding more force or propulsive force. A lot of surfers think harder or stronger equals faster. But it’s actually better to take a few steps back and reduce any drag that you are adding to the equation. You end up going faster with less effort.
How do we reduce drag?
Flatter is faster. One of the first things on my checklist is your horizontal balance. How flat are you while you’re moving through the water? It’s really about positioning—not being too far forward and not being too far back. Most people tend to be too far back. You want to be as far forward as possible. People often have a mind block with that because of pearling. While we paddle the horizontal balance is always changing—the nose goes up and the nose goes down. You can’t constantly be moving up and down on the board to keep it steady so you use these other three techniques, which are basically (1) how much arch you should have in your back (or where you hold your head is another way of thinking about it), (2) where you hold your feet and how you hold your legs, and (3) your chest press. Shortboarding is more like assisted swimming than paddling. On a longboard it’s more proper paddling. So it’s the combination of these three things—using your head, your feet, and your chest press—that affect horizontal balance.
How about the way the hands slice the water?
The universal thing I like to tell people is: Think as though you’re entering over a barrel. So you’re going to dive your hand down with your fingertips first. But it’s different between longboards and shortboards. If you’re on a shortboard, the entry angle, or the barrel, is a little bit flatter, so you want to enter with your elbow a little bit higher than your hand, fingertips first, and you want to enter and glide in. With a longboard, you’re up higher on the water so you have the ability to go in at a steeper angle, and the advantage you have there is you can go into the propulsive phase of the stroke faster, with less drag to interrupt the whole equation. So think streamline, and think over a barrel.
And what about the actual stroke?
The second law of motion a lot surfers understand: If you want to accelerate faster you need to apply more force. But what a lot of surfers don’t understand is the third law of motion, which actually tells you the direction in which you want to apply that force. In other words, for every action there’s an equal opposite re-action. That has everything to do with our propulsion under the water. A lot of surfers will push down when they first enter the water. The opposite of down is up, but that’s not where we want to go, we want to go forward. So our force should always be in the backwards direction at all times. All force should be pushing from front to back. The biggest mistake surfers make when they’re paddling is they push down upon entry. And there’s actually a physiological and psychological reason for that. It’s because humans don’t like being horizontal in the water. Being face down in the water is not comfortable for us because our breathing apparatus is actually in the water, and so our brains kick into survival mode and push down so we can go up. But once we realize that we can apply that third law of motion, which is pushing from front to back.
For more of Rob Case and the Surfing Paddling Academy check out http://www.surfingpaddling.com