We could go on and on about the delicate intricacies of making you a better surfer (and trust us, we undoubtedly will) but there’s a seldom-sung-yet-hugely-important side to surfing that’s far too overlooked: Paddling. If you want to surf better, you’ll need to start catching more waves. And if you want to catch more waves, you’ll need to become a stronger paddler. To get your arms churning at capacity, we rang up 10-time paddleboard champ Jamie Mitchell for some insight.
There’s much more to being a strong paddler than just moving your arms faster. According to Mitchell, using your body to its fullest—along with the surrounding elements—is paramount. Whether you’ve got the arms of a crocodile or the wing span of Owen Wright, if you’re simply jabbing at the water as opposed to fully extending your arms for each stroke, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Further, if you’re paddling to the inside and see a chop, make the most of it. “It’s not just about throwing your arms around faster,” says Mitchell. “It’s about body positioning, looking at the ocean, and reading what’s going on in front of you and using it to your advantage.”
If you want to paddle faster, you’ll need to make a conscious effort of how you paddle. “We could all put a bit more thought into physically feeling the water in our hands when we pull through it,” says Mitchell. “You want that nice, strong feeling of tension against your hand when you paddle. That alone will transfer into a much stronger stroke.”
Talk to any swimmer and they’ll tell you that the key is pulling every centimeter of reach out of each stroke. To an extent, the same mantra holds true to surfing. “Say you’re in a paddle-battle at Snapper or J Bay for priority, that’s when you want to really extend your arm, open your torso, and get the most out of each stroke and move past your opponent,” says Mitchell. All those extra inches gained will add up.
Like any sport, if you want to paddle faster, you’ll need to cross-train. “There are a lot of things that you can do to make yourself paddle faster,” says Mitchell. “If you really want to get serious, go get yourself a paddleboard, go downwind, and try and catch a few bumps. You’ll pick up a few things about the ocean that you wouldn’t have thought of before.”