Front crawl via Simply Swim UK (CC BY SA)
Not paddling enough is one of the most common mistakes amongst beginner surfers which results in missed waves. You know that feeling you get when the wave just rolls underneath your surfboard and passes you by? Or when you paddle and feel like you are wading through treacle?
I have known for a while that my paddling sucks and when I go for a wave, I don’t feel like I’m actually getting anywhere. A few people have commented on this and I have also been told that when I go for a wave, I don’t paddle with any conviction – in fact, I look almost like I don’t want to catch the wave.
Before I started surfing, I had never been in the sea. I was always very wary of it and never what you would call a natural water baby. I had swimming lessons at school, but was never taught how to breathe properly, and I hated putting my face in the water.
This nervousness has stayed with me which, coupled with my lack of power and paddling strength, is having an impact on my surfing.
So, I have been hitting my local swimming pool to build my confidence and to improve my paddling technique. To do this, I have been starting from scratch with front crawl which means learning how to breathe correctly. It’s something that’s not coming very easily. I’m fine when I’m hanging on to the side and practising putting my head in the water and breathing, but for some reason, when I start to swim, I panic and start coughing and spluttering.
Today though, I managed a length of the pool, without stopping halfway and swallowing a load of water. It’s a small step and its very early days but for me, a real achievement,
Swim fit kit including a float, noseplug and a power stroke chord
It’s an irrational panic of not being able to breathe, and explains why I hate wiping out in the sea, don’t like paddling out too far, and why I get nervous when I see a wave bigger than 2 ft approaching. But I’m determined to overcome it and get to a point where the stroke becomes second nature. From there, I can really start to pound and sprint lengths of the pool, which will improve my stamina and build power, ultimately helping me to paddle out in bigger swell, and mimick the explosive moves required to catch a wave and paddle with more conviction.
So, if you are like me and think your paddle power could do with some work, or you’re just not hugely confident in the water here are my top tips:
- Get some swimming lessons – there are loads of classes out there for all levels of ability. A qualified instructor can evaluate your current technique and come up with a plan for how you can progress and help to build your confidence
- Swim as often as you can – practise makes more perfect and the more often you swim, the more you you will improve your technique, paddle power and stamina. Its also by far the best exercise you can do as a surfer. If you are a bit self conscious or don’t like crowded pools, chose a quiet session, or time it so that you swim towards the end of a session when everyone else is generally getting out
- Can’t get to the pool? – get yourself a power stroke chord. Available from around £25-£30, they are ideal for people who don’t get much pool exposure. This handy piece of kit allows you to mimick the stroke on dry land and build your upper body strength
- Poor breathing technique? – try a nose plug. It will isolate your breathing allowing you to focus on just breathing through your mouth. Its also a good idea to practise your breathing at the side of the pool, then gradually introduce elements of the stroke before having a go at swimming a length
- Combine your swimming with other cardiovascular exercise – this will improve your stamina in your pool
- YouTube is a fantastic resource with lots of videos on front crawl technique, swim fitness drills and breathing techniques. Can be useful to look at before you get in the pool.
- Keep calm and carry on! – panic doesn’t help and just exerts more energy. If you feel yourself needing a breather stop, get your breath back and compose yourself. It takes time so be patient and take it one step at a time.
Have you got any hints and tips for improving paddle power? Do you get nervous in the sea and don’t like being underwater? If so, how did you manage this? Get in touch, I would love to hear from you