SURF GUIDE - CHAPTER ONE
Body Positioning & Paddling Your Surfboard
In this guide to surfing and self coaching we cover surfing best practices, how to’s & tips for new & developing surfers. Learn techniques used by surf coaches, discover common errors and clear up misconceptions.
Each chapter of the guide highlights different key areas that enable surfers to develop From how to catch more waves to understanding how to judge wave height or how to duck dive, each chapter is crammed with actionable detail to help you understand and improve your surfing.
Body Positioning & Paddling Your Surfboard
Please note this first section of the guide falls under surf science, it is only with understanding some of the science behind surfing that it becomes easier to understand many of the fundamentals in surfing.
Understanding how your surfboard works
There are three main forces that when combined result in a surfer travelling forwards in the direction of the breaking wave: Buoyancy, gravity and the hydrodynamics of the wave.
This is the amount of volume in your surfboard, the greater the volume in your surfboard, the stronger the force of buoyancy pushing you upwards and keeping you afloat.
The smaller the board or lower the volume in the board, the faster the board will need to move in order for the board to plane across a wave.
This is the fundamental reason behind why a shortboard is harder to surf than a larger board, as the surfer will need to actively generate speed to keep the board afloat due to the low buoyancy.
As the surfer drops down a wave face he / she is gaining speed through gravity pulling them from the top of the wave to the bottom of the wave, converting potential energy into kinetic energy that is then stored within the surfer as he / she compresses their body as they reach the trough of the wave.
Speed through gravity - Have you ever noticed that your board speed picks up as you drop down the wave face but will slow down if you do not project yourself back up the wave face?
These are the forces that are applied on the surfboard by moving water.
The water in the wave is moving both forwards (towards the beach) and upwards (as the wave face forms into a curl).
As these two forces are in action, gravity is then pulling the surfer down, at the same time the buoyancy of the surfboard is then pushing you up.
As water moves up the wave face and comes into contact with the surfboard rails, this water is deflected and creates the spray we can see when surfers are plaining down the line.
Another force included in the hydrodynamics of a wave and that affects your surfboard is the drag that a board has on the wave face. Drag is how water grips your surfboard and then channelled along the underside of your board.
The less drag, the faster a surfboard can go and is the reason why there is so much technology and design that goes into surfboard shaping.
Forward force is the result of buoyancy, gravity and the hydrodynamic forces of the wave combined, pushing a surfer forward in the direction the peeling wave.
This can be manipulated by the surfer when travelling up and down the wave face (bottom to top) through compression and extension of their body, ultimately generating speed. (converting potential energy into kinetic energy)
Newtons Law of Action and Reaction states that:
How your Surfboard holds on to the wave face
The design of your surfboard affects how all of these forces manifest when riding a wave.
The rail of your board cuts into the wave face, and it is the rails of your board that predominantly keep your board positioned on the wave.
As the wave is constantly forming and your board is moving in a forward direction, it is the mixture of water wrapping around your inside rail and the energy in the wave moving upwards and forwards (hydrodynamic forces) that combine to hold you in place on the wave and allows a surfer to trim down the line.
The bottom of your surfboard
The underneath or bottom of a surfboard is designed to maximise the flow of water along the length of the board creating upward lift and forward thrust (less drag).
Various design features such as concave and convex channels push the water to different areas of the board, ultimately affecting how the board reacts in the wave face.
The less of the underside of your board that is in the water the faster you will be able to go.
For optimum speed, a surfer will need to have the least amount of rail in the wave face at a 90 degree angle in the steepest section of the wave. This will allow more water to flow quicker under the board, generating more lift which generates more forward momentum (more speed).
The wave face and generating speed
Building speed through compression and extension of your body generates a lot more speed than simply trimming along the wave as you are manipulating the shape, energy or effective flow of the wave.
The further towards the trough of the wave a surfer is, the less angle or curvature in the wave - this results in slower forward force because:
- too much of the underside of your board is in contact with the wave
- there is less angle in the wave
In exception to this, bottom turns will generate the most amount of speed in your surfing as your surfboard will typically be on the minimum amount of rail at the time where your board will have the most amount of speed through gravity having pulled your board down the wave face.
A lot of emphasis is put on a surfers ability in producing a good bottom turn as this will give them speed to project up to the waves face and into a manoeuvre.
Positioning and Paddling your Surfboard
Mentally dividing your board into three distinct sections, front, middle and back will help you understand the forces in play and the reactions that your body weight and wave face positioning will have as you surf.
Front of the board
The front of your board acts like an accelerator and although speed is king, too much weight over the front third will result in the nose sinking when paddling or pearling when taking off on a wave.
When paddling on flat water, too much weight over the front will cause drag as your head and shoulders are too close to the water, sinking the board slightly making you plough through water that you don't need to.
Middle of the board
This part of the board is the sweet spot and where you want your trunk weight (stomach & chest) to be when paddling.
Surfboard thickness is shaped into the middle of a surfboard, this is the best place to consolidate your weight as this keeps the board level and displaces your weight evenly across the board.
Back of the board
The back third of your board acts like a break, too much weight on the back third, your board will be sluggish and slow to paddle.
With the nose of your board too high out of the water you’ll be paddling at half speed as you create a mini bow wave under the nose of your board.
As well as loosing lots of paddle speed you’ll tire yourself out quickly.
Action: Try to position yourself so that when you lean forward and paddle the nose dips under water slightly, or if you arched your back to paddle, the underside of the nose just kisses or touches the surface of the water. This can be applied to any size surfboard.
Make a mental note, even mark your board with a sticker or marker pen with the rough positioning that your chin should be over when your board looks and feels evenly balanced.
Recognising that your weight isn't quite right is an easy adjustment to make that will have a huge benefit on both your paddling and ability to catch waves. Each time that you lie on your board, your first thoughts should be “is my weight evenly distributed over my board? Am I too far forward or too far back?
Making tiny alterations can be a matter of inches and is a constant adjustment each and every time you lie on your board.
Taking the few seconds to asses this and adjust your weight can mean the difference between catching a wave or getting no where near it.
Make sure that you address how your body position is lying both, across your board and along your board. Are your hips in the middle, legs straight and stomach flat?
If you feel especially strained or uncomfortable when paddling often a small tweak in how your body is positioned on the board will help.
Once you have your body positioning correct on the board you’ll need to think about your paddle posture and how you can use your body most effectively to paddle your surfboard.
Your body posture on the board should be neat and inline within the confines of the rails. Make sure your hips are straight, keep your legs together and your feet on the back of the board.
As you start to paddle, arch your back slightly to help engage your shoulder muscles - This posture will also help you to pivot the board and allow you to reposition quicker.
Lying flat on the board promotes the use of your arm muscles which will become tired very quickly. With flat body posture you will also find it hard to swivel your head to see what happening around you.
Do your best to make long drawn out paddle strokes and try to control your breathing just as if you were jogging.
As you paddle, make sure that your thumbs enter the water first, keep your strokes close to the board and draw the water under your board slightly, with your stroke finishing just above your hip.
Leave tiny gaps between your fingers so that water can circulate around your fingers creating a larger overall affect on your stroke.
If your paddle strokes or hands enter too wide of the board this will reduce the depth and power of your strokes and cause strain on your arm muscles.
Conserving energy - How to adjust your paddle speed
When you start to paddle it’s a good idea to slowly increase your paddle speed and to find a happy medium where your strokes are efficient and keep you moving, but not so much so that you become strained or tired after a few meters and lacking in energy to catch a wave.
Having a gauge of your minimal paddle speed and top paddle speed allows you to conserve your energy and save it for when you need it most.
Action: Make sure you use your gauge to maximise your energy levels by only paddling at the speed that is required for the situation, resulting in a longer surf session.
You can relate your paddling to setting off in a car and how you use the gears to progress your speed. Just like a car you can’t set off in top gear, slowly work your way through the lower gears of your paddling to reach your desired speed or top gear that is needed for the situation.
Apply this method of thinking to your approach through each part of your surf for a more successful surf session.
Knowing when to switch between gears is a mark of a surfer that is aware and adapting to the surrounding surf to use their energy accordingly.