How to Improve Your Paddling

Surfer’s spend approximately 54% of their time in the water paddling, 28% of the time we are waiting for waves and only 8% of our time is riding waves. 1 Improving our paddling efficiency can make a dramatic improvement in performance and enjoyment of our sessions. The better we are at paddling  the more waves we can catch while surfing!

Today’s article will break down the anatomy of the shoulder and its surrounding muscles involved in paddling.

We will then discuss technique of paddling plus the top exercises you can do to improve your paddling.


Shoulder Movements of Paddling

Paddling is the most important part of surfing. The stronger paddler you are the more waves you can catch. Paddling efficiently can also reduce your risk of developing shoulder pain also known as surfer’s shoulder.

Paddling movements can be broken down into 4 phases:

1 Catch Phase

2 Pull Phase

3 Exit Phase

4 Recovery Phase


1 Catch  Phase

The catch phase is when the hand in entering into the water. As your hand enters the water it creates a surface area for which we are able to move through water and create the drive to propulse our surfboard forwards.

Your fingertips should enter the water first, with a high elbow and a relaxed hand (see paddling video analysis with Kelly Slater below for more detail as to why this is important).

At this stage the Rotator Cuff begins to fire to preset and control the movement of the ball (humerus) in the socket of your shoulder (glenoid fossa).


Muscles involved with Catch Phase:




Teres Minor



2 Pull Phase

Prime Movers

Pectoralis Major and Minor

Latissimus Dorsi

Lower Trapezius


Biceps Brachii


3 Extend and Follow Through Phase

Triceps Brachii

Posterior Deltoid




Exercises Designed for improving Paddling


  1. Repeated shoulder extension
  2. Prone cable single arm/alternating pull and internal rotation
  3. Prone double arm or single arm theraband lat pulldowns
  4. Prone back extension/Cobra pose
  5. Prone Ys, Ts
  6. Tricep extension


Paddling Video Analysis

Key Points:

  1. Reduce Drag:  Head still, reduce side to side sway
  2. Fingertips Entry:  Relaxed hand, elbow high as fingertips enter the water first, create larger area.
  3.  Improve alignment for powerful paddle stroke:  Slight Lateral Roll along axis, as hand sinks down, follow with slight bend in elbow as you paddle close to your rail and slightly under your board

If you enjoy the videos then check out more from Rob Case at Xswimfit

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