Is Paddling The Hardest Part Of Surfing?
An aerial shot of a man paddling.

It is a well-known fact that surfing is not a cinch. Surfing is a great test of stamina and it takes a great deal of effort, perseverance, and patience. What is it about surfing that makes it so hard? Well, pretty much everything. Is paddling perhaps the hardest part of surfing?

In surfing, and in life, everything is hard until you’ve mastered it. The same goes for paddling. Most surfers agree that paddling is, if not the hardest, then definitely one of the hard parts of surfing. Partly because it’s one of the first things you need to learn. Paddling can be truly exhausting because it requires arm and shoulder endurance. 

We’ll cover paddling in more detail shortly. Before we dive deeper into today’s topic, you may be interested to find out what is easier to learn – windsurfing or kite surfing. Be sure to check out our blog that has the answer to this and other interesting surf-related questions.

Table of Contents

How do you paddle when surfing?

Paddling is all about the right technique. In order to progress in surfing, you first need to master a proper paddling technique. You also need to know what surfboard you should use depending on your height. In order to understand paddling better, you need to fully understand the following two concepts.

Drag or resistance

In order to minimize the drag while paddling you need to find the so-called “sweet spot” on your surfboard. The sweet spot refers to laying down on a surfboard at precisely the right spot both vertically and horizontally. The goal here is to move your body and board through the water with as little resistance as possible. Finding your sweet spot is all about sliding your chest up and down the surfboard so that your surfboard’s nose comes out of the water only slightly, by no more than 5cm.

When paddling, you always need to paddle with your head up to see what’s happening in front of you. In order to properly position your body on the board, we suggest imagining a football under your chin. By the same token, positioning yourself too far back, or too far forward will create a lot more drag that will eventually slow you down significantly. Finding the sweet spot will not only help you paddle faster but it will also help you catch waves and move your head up or down for extra speed or to avoid a nosedive.

You also need to be centered on the surfboard horizontally. To check whether you are properly centered, lift both of your hands out of the water and check whether you sink on either side. If you do, you are not properly centered. To readjust your body’s position, try imagining a straight line going down your surfboard, separating it in half. This line should run perfectly down the center of your body.


If you have an efficient paddle technique, you can increase your propulsion too. A proper paddle motion consists of four phases, which are taken from competitive swimming. You shouldn’t pause between these phases, as paddling is done in a fluid motion.

  1. Catch – this is the slowest phase where you don’t want to force anything, as it could lead to shoulder injuries. It starts after your hand penetrates the water and you extend your arm. Imagine that you are wrapping your arm around the log. As you slide your fingers downwards and you have your arm wrapped around an imaginary log, you get the position called EVF which stands for an early vertical forearm. In this position, your elbow should be high and your fingertips should point downwards.
  2. Pull – in this phase, you basically pull water backward to gain forward momentum. Make sure your hand and forearm stay aligned and perpendicular to the bottom. Don’t drop the elbow and don’t lead backward with your elbow while you paddle. It is one of the most common mistakes that will have a negative effect on your paddling speed.
  3. Recovery – this phase occurs when you bring your arm out of the water after the paddle stroke. The elbow should exit the water first. Keep your elbow bent and don’t fully straighten your arm at the end of the underwater pull. This phase should feel smooth and effortless. You should start leading with your hand once you get to the midpoint of your recovery phase.
  4. Hand entry – your hand should enter the water well in front of your head in front of your shoulder. In the case of big, wide surfboards, your hand should enter the water next to the rail. Your fingertips should enter the water first, your wrist should be higher than your fingertips and your elbow should be higher than your wrist.

A man paddling out at sunset.

Is paddling the hardest part of surfing?

We’ve outlined the steps and explained the two main concepts of paddling in surfing in a previous paragraph. By now, we can probably all agree that paddling is hard. First and foremost, you need upper body strength to paddle. Whilst paddling, you will engage your shoulders, arms, lats, back, and chest.

Second, you need to learn the proper technique and how to save, not waste energy while paddling. You will also need to learn how to pick the right waves, as well as the right days to go surfing. To do that, make sure to read our article and learn if it’s safe to surf in a thunderstorm.

Finally, you should know that no matter how hard it seems, you will get much better at paddling with practice. The truth is that you will spend more time paddling out than surfing in. Waiting for the next set will require a lot of patience. As will all other things related to learning how to surf, including carrying the board, getting back into the water, and learning that all waves are different.

Why is surfing so hard?

Paddling is just one of the many parts of surfing that make surfing hard. Surfing is one of the most complex sports to master. It is at the same time, an incredibly rewarding experience and a lot of fun. Also know, that in surfing, hard work and a lot of practice will eventually pay off. Let’s now take a look at different factors that make surfing hard.

#1 Reading the ocean is difficult

The ocean is unpredictable in many ways. One day it is calm, the other rough. Understanding the varying surfing conditions takes time and patience. Winds are a big part of your overall surfing experience and you should learn what wind is best for surfing. As a surfer, you need to gauge when a wave is worth paddling into and when you should let it go.

#2 Surfing is physically demanding

Surfing will be much easier if you are already in good shape. Otherwise, you might lose interest in surfing, because you’ll get too exhausted too quickly. You will need to build all your muscles for surfing.

When you stand up on your board, you will basically be doing a push-up. Paddling out will engage all of your upper-body muscles. Riding the waves will build your core and legs. These are some exercises that can help prepare you for surfing:

  • Squats
  • Push-ups
  • Burpees
  • Swimming
  • Sprint training

#3 You need to be mentally strong for surfing

You need to exercise both your muscles and your mind to make progress in surfing. These are the things that surfing will require from you:

  • Commitment – in order to improve in surfing you will repeat paddling, duck diving, and catching waves with a lot of falling mixed in between. Traveling to and from the beach, packing your gear, and working on your surfboard we’ll take a lot of time too. So, commitment and dedication are one of the first skills that you will need to develop to become a surfer.
  • Patience – surfing is all about patience and a lot of waiting. You need to wait for the waves to arrive and even then, you might not get the opportunity to catch them. Don’t get frustrated. Only around 5% of your surfing time will be spent riding waves. Fall in love with other aspects of surfing, as well.
  • Humility – there will always be somebody who is better at surfing than you are. Accept help and advice if it comes your way. As a surfer, you will fall and wipe out constantly. Don’t be embarrassed and accept this as a part of surfing.

Final thoughts

Despite being one of the hardest sports to learn, there are few activities that compare to surfing. If at any point of your surfing journey, you feel like you will benefit from actual surfing lessons, by all means, go for it. If you are into yoga, you may even want to check surf and yoga camps such as this one.

Last, but not least, don’t forget to select the right equipment to excel at surfing. You will also need to learn how to care for your surfboard and even do some minor repairs, for example how to fix a bubble in a foam surfboard.

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