Nailing the basics of surfing: Paddling and the pop-up
As Victorians, we love nothing more than getting down to the beach. The start of Autumn means a change in the weather patterns and winds, and this means ideal surfing conditions, that culminate in the Bells Beach Pro.
So you’ve left home before dawn, have your board and steamer ready. But after half an hour of paddling (which can seem futile!), you call it a day. Read on to find out why you shouldn’t abandon your surfing goals just yet…
Getting better at the basics
Did you know that even amongst professional surfers, only 5% of your time in the water is spent in actual wave riding? This means in a 2 hour session, you spend about 12 minute standing on your board and riding waves. You spend almost 50% of your session paddling. So whether you’re a beginner or fancy yourself an advanced surfer, there are many things you can do to get the most out of your surfing sessions. And the more efficient you get at paddling and the pop-up, the more energy and success you’ll have at the ultimate goal – riding the wave.
Why is paddling important in surfing?
You can’t catch an awesome wave if you can’t paddle to the wave. Paddling all about technique and efficiency to paddle effectively while conserving energy.
Paddling involves arm strokes to travel through the water, whilst lying on your board. Professional surfers travel up to 1.8km in a 20 minute heat. Paddling is an essential basic skill for:
Accessing the surf break
Getting priority over your mates!
Moving into the right position to catch waves
Create momentum to catch the wave
Optimise position on the wave face for manoeuvres (aerials, cutbacks)
Get back to the line up to do it all again! Maximise your number of potential waves!
You need to paddle firstly to get out to the line up, where surfers wait in line for their wave. At some breaks you’ll be paddling over broken waves or through the impact zone. This can sometimes take 5-10 minutes (or even longer depending where you surf), so the more efficient your paddling technique, the less energy you’ll waste on the way out to the line up. The best surfers usually have the best basic skills of paddling and pop-up. Check out this paddle battle between Kelly Slater and Bede Durbidge where Kelly shows his class before he’s even on the wave. It really proves that efficient paddling technique is just as important world champions as it is the beginner surfer.
Once in the line up, paddling is essential to finding the right spot in the take-off zone, or the pocket (where the broken wave and green wave intersect). The pocket is the part of the wave with the fastest speed, so catching the wave at this point maximises your chances. At this point, you are not paddling ‘slow and steady’ but quickly so you have enough momentum to catch the wave. This paddling is explosive like a sprint so your board speed matches the wave’s speed allowing you to catch the wave and get to your feet.
How do I paddle faster?
Research1, 2 in professional surfers tells us that the following features are associated with fast paddling speed:
Keeping chest low to the board
Minimal extension through the back
Strong forearm (pronated pull) strength, but this is only relevant under 10-15 metres. But that 10-15 metres is probably how far you travel when trying to get onto a wave.
1Sheppard, J. 2013. “Technique Adjustments influence the performance of sprint paddling in competitive male surfers” International Journal of sports science and coaching 8(1): 43-51.
2Sheppard, J. 2012. “Association between anthropometry and upper-body strength qualities with sprint paddling performance in competitive wave surfing”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 26(12): 3345-3348.
Other factors include:
Keeping your head still (ie focused straight ahead and not looking around)
Avoid excessive rolling and rocking of the board. Think about a line from tip of your board, down the centre to the tail of the board. Squeeze your legs together, and keep your body as close on this line as you can, and you’ll minimise rocking of the board from side to side.
Kicking your feet in the water for this speed paddle can make you travel faster as well. This can translate up to 1.5 metres extra distance over 5-10 seconds – and this can be the difference between catching the wave or missing the wave.
Paddling: Training & Exercises
Paddling is a repetitive technique. Practise really does make perfect. As well as the tips listed above, pull ups, assisted pull ups, working on swimming technique and your cardiovascular fitness are great places to start.
What is a pop-up?
The pop-up is the way to get to your feet so you can ride the wave. It is an explosive jump from lying on your board, to standing on your board. Sounds simple, right? It can take years to master a 1 second pop-up, but having an understanding of the mechanics will help you.
The components of a pop-up are:
Pushing through your hands to lift up your body weight – that’s right – push ups are a surfer’s best friend
Shifting your weight forward
Quickly jumping your feet under your hips.
Important factors are:
Speed: The slower you get to your feet, the more speed you lose. If you slow down too much, the wave continues to travel on without you. Secondly, if you’re on your feet quickly, you can decrease your injury risk, as you can balance and react to the wave, rather than have it catch you off balance. The faster you can complete a technical pop up the better it is.
One smooth movement- Try to get to your feet without kneeling first. In the early days, of course you’ll try a few sneaky knee lunges as you get to your feet. But there’s a reason the surf schools get you to practice a fast pop up without kneeling – it’s faster (see point number 1) and maximises your wave riding time.
If you’re new to surfing, using a long board (> 8 foot) or a long foam board will make it easier to catch the wave, giving you more time to practice and perfect your pop-up.
Push Ups: I said it before and I’ll say it again…..push ups! They really are number one for a successful pop-up. The strengthen your core and trunk, as well as shoulders to shift your weight up. The ideal whole body exercise.
Flexible hips and low back: You need flexible hips and low back to get into the position quickly. Many yoga postures such as downward dog, child’s pose, cat / camel, and ‘happy baby’ are all helpful.
Leg and Trunk Strength. The explosive power needed for a pop-up is generated by a combination of strength and speed. Weight training is a great way to do this. Squats, lunges, deadlifts, Olympic weight lifts, and hip pull ups are all effective strengthening ideas. If you have never done strength or weight training before, we can help you design a program to achieve your goals whilst keeping you safe.
Practice your pop-up at home or on the sand before your surfing session. There’s enough going on in the water when you’re catching a wave – the more you make this movement automatic, the easier it is to do in the surf.
How can we help you?
At Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy we are not only interested in injuries. We have the qualifications and experience not only to treat injuries but also to help you with the core skills to improve your performance.
If you're a keen surfer that is keen to take your skills to the next level or you just want to catch more waves every session, then book in with one of our physiotherapists for an appointment. If you have been injured surfing or you have a nagging injury that’s holding you back we can also help you with that too.