Paddling – Show that sweet spot some loving!
– Guest post by surf coach Alice Louise Brown of King Surf surf school
If you ain’t paddling right, there’s no point in trying to learn new surf tricks when you’re on your feet. You must have seen people in the line-up scrambling for a wave, think they’re in the right spot to take off, but miss most of the waves they go for?
Do you get super tired in a session early on, before you’ve even ridden a few waves?
Over the years of teaching surfing, I have collected some weird (and I admit sometimes quite childish), yet memorable, ideas to think about when helping people get better at paddling. It does always help to have another person take a look at your technique. For those of you who don’t have a committed, full-time, personal coach (like the pros), I’ve tried to explain my favourite few analogies, as explicitly as possible, for those of you who might find some of the above rings a bell.
The surfboard Sweet Spot
It is fundamental that we practice finding the ‘sweet spot’, in order to keep our boards satisfied ;-)
I want you to try something. It might sound lame to you, but give it a go.
Get an old towel and a marker pen. Lie on the towel, with your toes hanging off the end and mark a big ‘X’ under your chest, right at the bottom of your ribs, below your sternum. Now place your hands on the towel as if you were to pop-up.
- Are your hands in line and framing the ‘X’? – Pop to your feet.
- Is your front foot slap-bang on the ‘X’?
Where the weight of your chest pushes into the board, we call this the ‘sweet spot’: it is the thickest, fattest, widest part of the board = the part of the board with the most volume.
To be the most balanced and in control of the board, we want to keep our weight here at all times, regardless of which part of our body is the heaviest in contact with our board. When paddling, your chest is the heaviest part of you, in contact with the board. When popping up, your hands are heavy on the board. When standing and surfing the wave, your front foot is heavy on the board.
Having your weight too far forward of the ‘X’ will make you more inclined to nose-dive, and being too far back from the ‘X’ will result in letting the tail sink in the water. It is fundamental that we practice finding the ‘sweet spot’, in order to keep our boards satisfied ;-)
Arching your back
Posture is key to helping your board sit right in the water, so that you get the most out of your committed paddling!
To start with, arching your back will help – when you’re lying on your board and paddling, try to keep your weight on the lowest part of your ribs – imagine you’re doing a yoga ‘cobra’, squeezing your shoulder blades together, and using your core to help round your lower back as much as possible. Then, if you need that extra bit of a push, to tip you over the edge of a steep wave, you have the ability to drop your chin closer to the board, therefore pushing the nose down that little bit more (as your chest weight is moved a little closer to the nose), to made sure you paddling effort aren’t wasted. Posture is key to helping your board sit right in the water, so that you get the most out of your committed paddling!
Think like a swimmer
If you do short paddles, your arms will get tired before you have hardly moved anywhere. You will be moving super slow, too.
There are some things we can learn from thinking about pool swimming. To get the longest paddle length, with the furthest reach, a swimmer extends their arm as far forwards as they can. They even roll their body to get that extra bit of reach from their shoulders and flicks the water out as far behind them as possible. The longer the range in their paddle stroke, the more efficient it is. Going as fast as possible, but using a technique that makes the most of the energy expended per stroke. If they do short paddles, their arms will get tired before they have hardly moved anywhere, and they will be moving super slow, too.
This comes back to the need to keep our weight on the bottom of our rib-cage. If your body is low to the board (therefore meaning the weight on our chest is further forward than being at the ‘sweet spot’) your arms will need to lift up over your head, in order to be high enough out the water to paddle at all. This will make for extremely tired shoulders, and slower, less effective paddling. Plus, trying to roll your body to extend your paddle length will rock the board, creating more drag in the water. Show that ‘sweet spot’ some lovin’, paddle with pulled-back shoulders, and your arms won’t come above your head at all, so you’ll be able to keep going for so much longer (that’s pretty important, eh!). By doing this you’ll also be able to roll your shoulder forwards with each paddle (to get a longer reach), even look over your shoulder to check what the wave is doing behind you, whilst keeping the board stable at the same time.
The planing elephant
Being just an extra few inches further forward on your board should make a massive difference to your wave count.
The balance point of lying on your board might be a bit of a mystery, and you struggle to actually locate your ‘sweet spot’. You might feel like you are paddling like a lunatic, but still find your percentage of successfully caught waves, compared to waves paddled for, is pretty low. This could well be due to the positioning of your body on the board. Now, imagine your surfboard is like a speedboat; it gets faster and faster, so as a result, the nose – or to non-sailors, the bow – of the boat starts to lift up. As it gets faster, you can even sit a baby elephant on the front of the boat, and the bow won’t sink. With speed, not only does the bow lift, but the boat seems to float higher in the water, therefore creating less resistance between the moving boat and the water itself.
Think of this analogy in terms of you lying on your surfboard; I’m not saying you’re a baby elephant! Just bear with me… Not only can you get your weight closer to the nose of the board without nose-diving, but you need to be traveling faster (as we want to match the speed of the wave, to be able to catch it). This one is a bit more relevant if you are trying to catch a green wave. In terms of testing this out in the water, when you are about to paddle in for a wave, shift yourself a little further forward on your board than you would be when just lying stationary: your nose will probably be under water at this point. Making sure your shoulders are pulled back, now start to paddle hard, and the nose will naturally lift out the water. Being just an extra few inches further forward on your board should make a massive difference to your wave count.
Practice makes perfect
I know it might be a lot to take in, but just trying one thing at a time will hopefully make all the difference, meaning the amount of energy exerted compared to waves caught will level out significantly. You must remember that shoulder mobility, fitness, positioning in the water, and timing when catching the wave are other stories altogether. Try some of these out by just focusing on one thing per session – don’t overwhelm yourself & overload your brain with too many things to think about at once. Now you can surf for longer, paddle battle more successfully, catch more waves, and then you’ve got more chances to practice those air-reverses and slashing cut-backs ;)
Thanks Alice!!!! So many great surf tips in here.
Alice and I went on an adventure surfing in the snow in the Sea of Japan! Have a read of our adventure, or just have a look at the ridiculous pictures like this one!
Give her a follow on Instagram @barnacle_socks – life of a surf coach that spends lots of time in the mountains is an account you want to follow!