How to Paddle Out when Surfing

You've got your board, your wetsuit or board shorts, wax, leash, sunscreen, your ready to go! Now... How do you go about actually getting out to the waves?


  1. 1
    Watch the waves first. When experienced surfers go to their favorite break for a session, they will generally spend some time on the beach watching the waves and see which peaks are working best, which waves seem to have the best shape and the most juice for the best rides. They are also looking for the easiest way to paddle out. No one wants to waste a lot of energy getting TO the lineup, the lineup is where you want to use that energy!
  2. 2
    Look for channels. Some beaches have well defined "channels" that will actually help you get out to the waves. A channel can occur when the incoming water needs to go back out to sea, the forces pushing the waves to shore will also push the water back out. This will create a channel you can use to facilitate reaching the "outside" waves. Most places don't have well defined channels, but they are there.
    • Any water moving to the shore has to go back out. Generally channels will be found away from the peaks. The peaks are the water rushing in, so the water rushing out would have to be elsewhere. Sometimes there will be long stretches of green water between peaks. Somewhere between the peaks is where you will find the channel.
  3. 3
    Paddle strategically. So you've spent some time watching the waves, determining where the peaks and channels are, now you want to surf. Assuming you've spent some time on your board in the pool, on the lake, the golf course lake, wherever, and you've found your "sweet spot" for maximum paddling efficiency, you're going to want to paddle out to the lineup and catch some waves. You're maybe thinking "Gee, those waves look a bit powerful, wonder how I will get through all that white water?" There are many techniques to choose from.
  4. 4
    Paddle toward the wave at full space, if the waves aren't very large. When the nose of your board just about reaches the onrushing white water, lean back and lift the nose of your board slightly by grabbing the rails. Be careful not to let the wave take control of your board and slamming it back into your face. What will happen is the water will lift the board due to it's buoyancy and you will pass over. You may have lost some forward momentum, but this can quickly be regained with a couple of paddles.
  5. 5
    Try a duck dive maneuver if you are paddling out and the wave is just about to break in front of you. A Duck Dive is pretty much what it sounds like. It's kind of funny to see how much like a duck diving a surfer looks when they make this maneuver. You're paddling out and the wave is coming toward you. You know you aren't going to make it over, and you don't want to take the full brunt of the onrushing white water. Lean as far forward as you can, pushing the nose of your board down, under the wave. The idea is to pass below the forceful part of the wave. This requires some practice and can be intimidating. As with all skills, the more you work at it, the better you will be. Duck Dives are generally performed on short boards. A longboard is not conducive to duck diving due to it's length and the additional buoyancy that length represents. It can be done, but there are more efficient ways of passing through a wave on a longboard.
  6. 6
    Dismount if you're paddling out and a particular large set of rogue waves comes upon you. Because your board is so very hydrodynamic and will go through the wave like a hot knife through butter, dismount and take the tail of your board firmly with both hands. Extend your arms to full reach and lift the tail, forcing the nose down into the water as the wave is approaching, submerge yourself behind your board and allow the wave to pass over you. It is critically important that the board be facing directly into the wave, or the wave will push the board in one direction or another, and good luck holding onto it.
    • While not for the faint of heart, this technique works exceptionally well in all types of surf. True, you have to dismount and then remount, but with time, you will learn how to pull the front of the board down so that as the board rises, you will be in the proper prone position using the buoyancy of the board to get you started on your way back out to the lineup.
  7. 7
    Hug your board for a no-nonsense way to get through the waves. Seriously, wrap your arms around your board and let the wave pass over you. Your body will act like a sail, it's not nearly as hydrodynamic as your board, so you will get pushed back somewhat, but you will also pass through the wave. Exercise caution, don't allow the wave to lift the front of your board drastically and throw you off.


  • So you've dropped in, shredded the lip, pet the cat, got barreled and came out the doggie door, but there's two more waves in the three wave set! Sit on your board facing the beach with the nose out of the water, pointing to the sky. The wave will catch you and carry you a bit, but it will release you before long and you'll be ready to paddle back to the lineup.
  • Your board is very hydrodynamic and can easily pass through water, at the proper attitude. Never think about having your board perpendicular to the beach and in the water between you and the waves. Your surfboard will make a perfect sail, and when the wave comes in, you're going to be the mast that gets broken.
  • When you and your friends are going out to the lineup, never go in single file, one ahead of the other. Keep some space between you as you head out because if someone loses their board, even with a leash on, it can travel a pretty significant distance and cause injury to someone following to closely. Things like that aren't supposed to happen when we're having fun!
  • Just because there's a set coming in, doesn't mean you have to paddle out right away! Often it's better to wait for the "lull" between sets of waves. Believe me, it's very disappointing when you've worked your tail off to get to the outside, and the lull hits with no action for twenty or thirty minutes. At least you'll have time to catch your breath!


  • In So. Cal. Sting Rays are a menace during the warmer months, generally March through September or so... As you walk to the lineup, shuffle your feet in the sand as much as you can. This gives the Ray notification that something is coming their way, and they will probably move. They are not aggressive toward humans, unless stepped on! As you walk out to the lineup, you may also see Leopard Sharks. They are smaller, generally 2' to 4' in length and completely harmless to humans, even if stepped on. They are spotted like Leopards, and are truly very pretty to look at.

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Categories: Surfing