The Inertia Smartass
'Ol John John Florence knows a thing or two about paddling around a surfboard. He's learned to become good at paddling mostly because he really likes surfing on top of the waves. Photo: WSL

‘Ol John John Florence knows a thing or two about paddling a surfboard in the ocean. He’s become really good at paddling on his surfboard mostly because he likes surfing on top of breaking waves. Photo: WSL

The Inertia

Other than there being waves and you having a good attitude, paddling prowess is the most important factor for having a good time surfing. If you suck at paddling, you’re gonna have a bad time surfing, because you won’t be, you know, surfing. Great paddling requires efficient technique as well as endurance and power. Here’s how to paddle like a beast.

1. Love surfing. Make sure you enjoy surfing enough to want to get better at paddling. You don’t have to keep trying. I mean if you suck at paddling, that’s fine. Surfing maybe just isn’t for you. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s better, in fact. Surfing is incredibly dangerous, expensive, and not at all fun.

2. Have arms. If you’ve determined that you do indeed wish to improve, having arms helps tremendously. It’s very difficult to paddle well without them. If you only have one, that’ll do, as the incredible Bethany Hamilton has demonstrated. But it takes incredible grit and talent. A two-arm situation is ideal. If you are lucky enough to have both, good for you. Be grateful.

3. Work them out. Should you be spoiled enough to have both arms, do pull-ups. So many pull-ups. Get lats so big they look like God’s wings. If you can’t do any pull-ups at first, quit surfing. What are you doing? That’s incredibly dangerous to be out in the ocean if you are too weak to do one pull up. You should be ashamed at your irresponsibility. Get stronger, then come finish reading.


4. Get stronger by being super negative. When doing pull-ups, focus on the eccentric part of the movement, the part where you lower yourself. The negative. Just like in life, you must focus on the negative. Take as long as you can on the way down, let it hurt, relish in the discomfort of the descent, willfully pushing yourself all the way to rock bottom. Practice this technique physically as well as metaphorically in all aspects of your life. Your highs will always be defined by your lows.

5. Speaking of highs and lows, have high elbows. Cocking your elbow high just under the water’s surface allows you to start your catch immediately without giving up any ground, utilizing the entire arm as a paddle. With your paddle engaged elbow high, you activate every muscle you’ve got, giving you much more distance per stroke.

6. Don’t pull. Rather than thinking of pulling your arm through the water, think of setting an anchor out front with that high elbow catch just under the surface, then move your whole body past that anchored point of entry with your core and God wings. It is as if crawling over fixed, floating barrels.


7. Invite more conflict and tension in your life. The more your world is crashing down around you, the more you’ll need to use surfing as an escape from your responsibilities, and the better your paddling will become.

8. Always have one arm setting up the catch out front. Don’t start your pull until the other arm is just about to enter the water out front along side it. This sets up your whole kinetic chain activating your core, enabling an accelerated pull through, and establishing the proper rhythm that makes it easy to quickly shift gears when needed.

9. To avoid “slipping” through the pull, accelerate through it. Once you set your anchor out front, the pull must get faster as it progresses so that you do not lose grip on the water or “slip” through. If your arm pull is one consistent speed, you are missing out on valuable momentum, giving up that anchor advantage. Accelerating through the pull generates powerful forward propulsion and creates “easy speed.”

10. Find your spite. What is your motivation? What fuels that burst of speed you need to catch the wave when you’re just a touch outside of everyone else, or you need to back paddle some grommet prick? I recommend holding on tight to any perceived slights or grudges in your life. Walk around taking everything personally, and take notes. Write down everyone who has ever wronged you in any way. Remember faces. Gestures. License plates. Meditate on it. Then when you need it out there in the surf, you can draw upon that well of spite to kick you into that sixth gear.

11. Be a beast in the water. If you weren’t lucky enough to have grown up right next to consistent surf, make sure you were at least a champion competitive swimmer or water polo player your whole life. Preferably college level, division one and beyond.  If you weren’t, you have a lot of fuckin’ work to do, chief. To become a maniac in the water you’ve got to swim when you aren’t surfing. All the time. Refine your technique. Vary your distances and efforts. Do short sprints. Swim mid and long distances. Do intervals. Hypoxic training. Race. You’ll thank yourself when there are waves.

12. Get the adequate nutrition. If you want to have the muscle glycogen and nutrients needed to keep the paddle tank full, eat. A lot. And make the bulk of that plants and leafy greens. If you can’t afford to buy fresh produce all the time, I’ve found any ol’ plants will do. Tree leaves, grass, flowers, bark, any ol’ mushroom you ever find growing on anything. Obviously, some plant matter takes a little more boiling, chewing, and ranch dressing.


13. Drugs. Some of the best (and worst) surfers simply fuel their paddling with lots and lots of drugs. I don’t recommend it, but I’d be remiss to exclude this one as it is incredibly effective at making you a beast in the water and in life towards your loved ones.

14. Ignore all surfing etiquette. If you want to paddle more, do it. Disregard all other humans out there. Paddle for everything and up your reps. Any wave coming your way, go. Never yield. This also leads to more fighting, which is just the best cross training.

Happy paddling!


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