Of all the skills a surfer can possess, paddling is the most important. Well, perhaps the second most important. Being able to swim could be just a smidgen more important than paddling.
Why is the paddling so important? Essentially because of the same reasons that make the three most important things in real estate, location, location, location. If you can not be in the right place at the right time, you can not catch a wave.
Dance or gymnastics may have taught you the ability to balance on the edge of a dime. But if you can not get to the wave to work your superior balance skills, it won’t make for very fun days. Frustration does not put a happy expression on your face.
Paddling skill keeps you out of harm’s way by avoiding dangerous situations.
Learning to paddle early and well will give you a leg up on most beginning surfers. The frustration that will result in many beginners giving up the sport can easily be avoided by using determination to develop this basic skill that is a backbone for everything else that you need to learn.
Paddling is much more tiring than it looks from the comfort of a beach chair. Stamina is a key factor that must be developed, and this is even more important for women because we naturally have less upper body strength than men. You will probably be quite surprised at how easily you will tire, even if you are in good shape already.
To get past the frustration barrier and develop the stamina in the muscles you need for paddling it is vital that you practice paddle. This is definitely not as exciting or glamorous as gliding down the face of a wave. But if you can’t get to the wave, tearing down it isn’t an option.
The skill is so basic that the best schools may focus on paddling technique for up to two weeks before sending you out to try to stand on aboard. Collaroy Surf School in Australia taught Pam Burridge this way, and she went on to become one of the first women to take on the big waves in Hawaii.
Learning properly will help you to avoid the paddling accidents that befall the beginner. When you build up your paddling strength prior to taking on waves the white water mishaps and dinged boards that are the bane of the beginning surfer will be fewer and further between. You will learn to recognize paddling channels and spend more time watching for waves and less time recovering from wipeouts.
If you happen to live where there are reef breaks, rocks and cliffs in your local spot the importance of learning this first becomes even clearer. What happens if you do not have the strength to paddle out through the white water before a set comes in? You will risk being tossed against those reefs and rocks. Avoiding that is a good idea.
The confidence that knowing your paddling ability is the best it can be is also important. It will allow you not only to get past the white water, get to the waves and stay out of danger, but it will also help you to remain calm and composed when faced with new situations. As a beginner not panicking can save you a world of trouble.
Additionally, if you have stronger paddling skill you will have a lot more momentum when you do catch a wave. That makes it easier to maintain you balance and you can also stand up sooner and get ready for the drop.
Watching the veterans paddle out will teach you a lot. Stop, ask them questions. Learn where the channels are for paddling out at your local beach and the tricks for identifying them on other beaches.
Paddling through gaps in groupings of surfers is always a good strategy. You never want to interfere with someone else catching a wave. This is why it is key to avoid paddling through the lineup. Even if it looks like the easiest path, this is not something you want to do. Build your skill and paddling will become second nature and help you to develop all your other skills even faster.