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Minimizing Resistance when Paddling

Drag is fluid resistance. It’s the force that decreases your speed when you are moving forward.

The paddling technique is frequently overlooked by surfers of all levels. In fact, even experienced surfers often don’t paddle to their full potential and are unaware of the optimal paddling technique. In this video, we cover a crucial part of paddling: Minimizing Drag by finding your sweet spot.

The example we referred to was trying to swim as fast as you can while keeping your head out of the water, versus if you were allowed to put your head down. By swimming with your head up, the rest of your body sinks lower underwater, which greatly magnifies the surface area exposed to the water, increasing the water’s resistance force.

The first thing surfers can do to limit drag while paddling on their surfboard is to find the “Sweet Spot”. The “sweet spot” is a common concept used to describe a surfer who lays down on the surfboard at precisely the right spot, both vertically and horizontally. The goal is to have your body and board move in the water with as little resistance as possible.

Vertical Body Position

First, let’s see how to find your sweet spot with the correct vertical body position. To do so, you need to slide your chest up or down the surfboard until you notice that your nose is just barely coming out of the water. In this position, your surfboard is lying flat in the water, gliding with as little resistance as possible.

When finding your sweet spot, you need to keep your head up. Surfers need to paddle with their heads up in order to see what is happening in front of them. You can imagine a soccer ball under your chin.

If, for example, your board’s nose is barely coming out of the water, but your chin is touching the surfboard, you are not in the sweet spot. Your head weighs about 20kg. By bringing it up, your nose would come out of the water drastically. You are in the sweet spot if your surfboard is laying so flat that by putting your chin down, the nose would go underwater, and by leaning very far back in a cobra pose, your nose would pop out of the water by more than 2 cm.

When surfers are positioned too far backward or too far forward, they create a lot more drag, which slows them down.

Here the surfer is positioned way too far back on his board, causing loads of resistance. He is paddling at a fraction of his potential.

Here the surfer is creating drag again, but this time by being too far forward on the board.

This sweet spot position won’t only help you paddle faster, but It will be very helpful when catching waves, moving your head up or down, whether you need extra speed, or avoiding a nose-dive.

Horizontal Body Position

In addition to having the proper vertical position on the surfboard, you will need to be centred horizontally. Lift both of your hands out of the water. If you sink on either side, you are not centred on the board and you need to re-adjust your body. Imagine a straight line going down your surfboard, separating it in half. This line should run perfectly down the center of your body.

A common mistake from beginners is to compensate for an uncentered position by trying to stabilize their board with their legs. This will slow you down, as your legs will sink in the water and create drag. Keep your feet together. If you’re on a small surfboard, lift them up in the air to have the least water resistance possible.

Paddling Technique Drag

Being correctly positioned on your surfboard to minimize resistance is not all. You also need to make sure your paddling technique doesn’t create unnecessary drag.

To do so, make sure that when you enter your hand in the water, the first things to go under are your fingertips. Your wrist should be higher than your fingers, and your elbow should be higher than your wrist.

If you are splashing water, you are creating unnecessary drag that slows you down. Many professional swimming coaches tell their students that an efficient freestyle technique is a silent one. Try to remember to listen to your paddling once in a while, making sure it is as silent as possible.

Also, keep your head up, centred and stable. Do not rock your head from side to side. It will create more resistance and slow you down.