The Paddle Battle

Posted by Gillian Grove on

Heaps of people ask about paddling..especially if you are in that transition where you've started to surf but are still in your first couple of years.

Here I talk about both FITNESS & BOARD DYNAMICS to help with the paddle battle.

We all hate the word...FITNESS

Part of the reason that I went back to surfing after years of absence was that I was looking for something to keep me fit that didn't involve a gym. I can't stand things that are too repetitive, so I like to get my fitness kicks in nature. Surfing ticked all the boxes.

But after I went back to surfing after years of not doing it, every surf felt like a battle. The paddling was a killer and it frustrated me that I couldn't always catch the waves I wanted to and had to go in because I was tired and would start making dumb mistakes in the surf or leaning on my knee on the pop up.

Most days by the time I got out the back I needed a little breather and my arms were killing me - and that was on the 9ft foamie! If I went a week or two without surfing it felt like I was back at fitness zero and would have to rebuild it again.

Eventually the paddle got easier but it took a bit of time. 

What I'm saying here is that your body adjusts to what you need, but it takes time. Don't  fight it. Do what feels within your comfort zone for now and every time you surf you put a deposit in the paddle bank for later.

At the start, I used to count my paddle strokes, it would take my mind off the pain in my arms and help me control my breathing. More recently a local in the surf taught me something called whale breathing. It's where you push out the exhale as you paddle. So for me, if I have a big paddle back out, I do two quick inhalations and one big woosh of breath out like a whale and find a rythym with my arms.

The other thing that helps is to simply take your time. Stop stressing about it or panicking to get out quickly (unless you are in big surf and timing is critical). Break when you need to. Fitness will naturally come over time with your passion for the surf.

I've surfed a LOT these past 18 months. Most days with breaks for shitty surf in between. My body has changed. 

Funnily enough, it's not actually the arms doing the work - yes you will build new muscles there, but it's that muscle behind your armpit connected to your back that does the work. My theory is that's why guys generally have it easier - their bodies are shaped differently, that muscle is generally larger. 

When I moved to fibreglass again after my foamie - a 7'4, a new level of paddle fitness was needed. It took a couple of weeks of surfing that board before I stopped feeling trashed on the paddle. 

Waves and Paddling

One big factor to mention in this blog post is that sometimes the waves are just super full and hard to get on. My local was like this yesterday. So when you look around and people are catching waves and you aren't in a full surf, they are picking the 'right' waves and sitting in exactly the 'right' position for them.

Advanced surfers read waves from a long distance and can tell exactly which waves they can catch. Beginners paddle for everything because they are still learning that skill.

Sometimes when I switch boards too much I get a bit ambitious. Ive got James my 007 board that paddles onto just about everything, then I've got my green pickle performer that I switch between that isn't as easy on the paddle and will miss waves James would have eaten for breakfast.

Boards Designed for Paddling

My biggest thing when I hit the shaping bay was to create a board easy on the paddle - I'm getting older and I want to enjoy my surfing, not curse because paddling is causing me grief.

My first board - a 9'6 - was 3 and a half inches thick giving it heaps of buoyancy and gliding me all the way to the beach, but surfed like a truck. 

When we shape there are payoffs when you add something in - that's why the beginner foamies look so different to other boards. They are designed to be super thick for added buoyancy and super stable by adding width.

Thicker boards help with the paddle. They keep you higher out of the water and therefore have less drag.

Boards and Paddling

There's something about surfing new boards I have been thinking a lot about recently. One of the signs that you have moved to becoming an advanced surfer is that you can confidently ride any board and swap as you need to without a blink. It's then that you will notice the changes in board dynamics and fin set ups etc and can make better decisions around boards.

So you need to factor in each time you surf a new board that you have to take your time to get to know it. Don't surf a new board twice and dismiss it.

When I first shaped James my number 007 board and currently my favourite board for smaller fuller surf, I hated it.

I was experimenting with heavier glass and a more traditional log style. The board I was riding before that 006 is my performance board (this means it likes to turn and go fast), so when I rode James, it felt slow and boring. It was an easier paddle than 006, but it wasn't enough benefit for me to switch.

The Right Board

Then after a particularly long stretch of tiny waves, I started to really love James. I worked out:

1. I had to be in the right position and have my legs up to centre my weight in just the right spot.

2. The extra heavy glassing meant if I kept my chest lower to the board the extra weight in just the right board saw him sliding onto anything full I would usually miss on my green 006.

3. He doesn't like to turn quickly, but prefers deep slow turns which taught me how to fully appreciate what a 'drop-knee' turn was.

4. The extra weight and heavy glass means that he charges through any nonsense like choppy waves.

5. When he gets going, the extra weight gives him speed and drive forward which can have me gliding all the way to the beach on a ripple.

If I had of judged him on my first 2 surfs, I would have thought this to be a shitty board.

I have come to learn from the very wise Richard Harvey that the board needs to match the surfer to the wave that they ride.

Read that again.

So my James is perfectly suited to smaller 1-2ft waves and anything that is fuller or choppy. He is suited to a rider that likes to go a little slower and cruise along.

I swap between many boards now as I am constantly trying out new things and want to feel different dynamics underneath me to work out what they can and cant do in the water. I realised that I take that for granted sometimes.

I watched someone else try James for the first time recently and they couldn't paddle onto the waves. I could see from the side view what was happening - board position.

Paddling Tips

So check these things in your paddling:

1. Boards have primary paddle positions built into them in the middle third - when you lie flat on the board are you level, or is the nose coming up too much?

My boards have a slight bend at the nose 6" off the nose to stop anyone from pearling or nose diving so weight slightly forward is always best to find the 'magic spot'.

2. Try putting your feet in the air so that your weight is centred in that middle third.

3. Play around with how close your chest is to the board. On James, I paddle super low and with the green pickle (which has heaps of rocker) I paddle high.

4. Start paddling earlier - longboards build up speed and momentum, it is heaps harder to turn suddenly and catch a wave. Get as big a paddle on as you can.

5. Make sure you reach as far forward in your paddle to draw the water back and put your whole body into it.

The green pickle 006 board has a lot of curve and a glassed in fin. When I get paddling going on her, my hips move with my paddle and the fin acts like a kind of whip to push me forward - imagine how a fish swims - same concept. It's one of the benefits I've noticed of glassed on fins in the water.

I hope this helps in some way - happy surfing everyone!




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