Here’s the hard truth: you will paddle your surfboard much, much more than you will ever ride it. It’s a difficult truth to reckon with, but it’s reality. This really isn’t a problem though if you are lucky enough to have waves to surf every day because you are simultaneously having fun and preparing your body for your next session, but if you like the majority of the surfing population, you have a job that keeps you away from the beach or maybe even have to deal with extended flat spells.
So the question arises: how do you make sure you are paddle-ready for that next session and avoid fatigue or injuries that might hamper your surfing? Let’s get to it. Yeah, the number one way to be a strong paddler is to surf a lot; however, that is a luxury that many just don’t have, so you can do a few easy activities to keep relatively in tune:
Go paddle your board around when it’s flat. Heck! At least you’re still at the beach and in the sun. Bring your longboard down and just go for a nice long paddle. See How far you can go. Maybe bring a mask and snorkel and roll off for a view every once in a while. Maybe paddle a couple of miles down the beach to the pier and get some lunch. Maybe see how far you can paddle out to sea before you feel really freaked. You will be working your actual surf muscles and might even be on sight when that next little sneaker swell rolls in.
Swimming is the Best Exercise
This is the number one best non-surfing exercise you can do because you not only utilize your paddle muscles but you are also incorporating core strength and breath control as well.
Swim in the ocean or in a big pool. It doesn’t matter. Swim hard and swim long and you will be totally in tune for your next surf session.
Hit the gym
Yeah, this looks great on paper, and it is important if it’s your only option; however, I have found that there is no exercise in the gym that will engage your surf muscles specifically, especially when we’re talking about paddling. It seems strange but push-ups and planks and weights, while great for keeping you looking and feeling strong, just don’t isolate the specific paddle muscles. Additionally, I have found that they don’t fight the fatigue that you are sure to feel after an absence from surfing. That said, if you can’t go paddle or swim, hit the gym to stay strong and loose but understand that it’s an activity that will have only limited effects.
Ride the Right Board
If you are in super-duper-supreme surf shape, you’ll be able to paddle just about any piece of foam into a wave and ride it, but if your paddle power is lacking and you haven’t surfed in a while, the wrong board will leave you dead in the water.
You need flotation first and then maybe a little longer. A thicker board will not only help keep your board high on the water and thus make paddling much easier and more effective, but it will also help you keep your board level on a plane so that you are not pushing water as you paddle. More length will give you more paddle speed and help you get more power from each stroke.
Remember, while surfing is an art and all that, it’s also a lesson in textbook physics. You can’t escape the math. A thicker, longer board will minimize water push and thus minimize that speed killing friction and pull from the water. You’ll get more waves and get out to the lineup with much less effort.
Stretch and Warm-up
A good stretching routine might be very helpful if it’s been a while since you have surfed because paddling is engaging many more muscles than you think. When the waves are a good size and the current is really pushing, you are doing several tasks while you paddle. You have to keep your arms moving while staying balanced on the board while ducking waves, recovering from white water and chop bumps all the while navigating incoming sets. It’s a complex dance for your mind and body, so stretching your back, legs, shoulders, and neck is effective.
If you are not one to perform a full range stretching routine on the beach for all your buddies to see, at least warm up at the house before you leave for the beach. Do a couple of sets of push-ups, jumping jacks, and some mock pop-ups until you are breathing hard and feel a sweat about to break. You are warmed up and loose, baby!