Global Surfing Paddling Technique Expert
Creator of the Surfing Paddling Academy and XSWIM Surfing & Paddling Fitness Program
“Don’t keep this a secret! Feel free to pass this on to anyone you feel you could help.”
landratten.org: Hi Rob, first of all I want to thank you for providing landlubbers like me with valuable advice to catch more waves. I tried it and I can testify that it helps a lot!
Rob: I live in Northern California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. I just moved back after being away for 18 years. Started surfing here, and have surfed around the world, including Mexico, Australia, Indonesia, South Africa, East Coast U.S., and Hawaii. My original background is in swimming and water polo. I started swimming competitively when I was 3 years old, and was on and off my whole life. I didn’t really like staring at a line all the time. So when I came across water polo and surfing, swimming then gave me a purpose. I started surfing 23 years ago, right around the same time as water polo, and haven’t stopped.
landratten.org: Your YouTube videos have reached an impressive number of people, including myself. How did it all start?
Rob: Just about 16 years ago, I had an experience at Ocean Beach San Francisco where I had trouble paddling out (it was in the 10-15 ft range). I spent a good 45 minutes paddling and going nowhere. I went in, thinking that I’d call it a day. Then I thought I’d give it a different try, this time consciously changing my stroke to my long distance stroke (from swimming), and I was out in 20 minutes. Honestly, I don’t know if I got out quicker because of the stroke or not, but it got me thinking, so I started researching how swim technique could transfer over to paddling. So that’s what I researched and used. Then in the past few years I’ve been sharing what I learned with others and it’s been helping a lot of people, which is pretty cool.
landratten.org: What is the number one paddling-mistake beginners make?
Rob: You’re going to make me choose just one? Everyone is different when they’re beginning because they bring different past experiences with them. I think one big one I see with brand new surfers is not using their entire forearm and hand when paddling. That being said, another one is not keeping that forearm and hand as vertical as possible throughout the stroke (to maximize surface area). And yet another one is the lack of understanding of how drag affects efficiency and speed – I see a lot of beginners (and experienced surfers) who can improve how streamlined they are when moving through the water. That’s where most efficiency gains are – by reducing resistive drag. That’s a common misconception – thinking that they need to paddle harder, when in reality, they need to paddle smarter. You can be the strongest person in the world, but if you’re adding a lot of resistive drag to the equation, you’re not going to go anywhere.
landratten.org: What is the number one paddling-mistake experienced surfers make?
Rob: A lot of experienced surfers have figured out a feel for the water, but they haven’t figured out what makes them move through most efficiently and injury free. I see a lot of arms moving and a lot of effort, but not a lot of gain. So it goes back to streamlining your body and board and understanding how drag affects you positively and negatively. Like I said before, improving that streamline is key.
landratten.org: In your videos you show highly skilled pro surfers doing it wrong. Why do some of the pros put more effort in improving the paddling technique than others?
Rob: It’s just now being thought about. Before, we were all taught to dig deep and paddle fast. There wasn’t much thought put into it. Now there’s a movement for more research. I’m working with two researchers at Cal State San Marcos on the techniques I teach so that we can put them through a more academic rigor. Pros are trying to find out any little competitive advantage they can because at the level they are at now, every little bit helps. It might mean the difference between making a heat and not. One wave, one extra turn could make the difference. But those who aren’t working on it will catch on soon. They’re working on other aspects of their success – heat strategy, riding technique, etc. Those are typically the ones that they want to perfect first. It’s more a preference of what they want to work on rather on what they need to work on. And again, everyone’s background is different. A lot of the Australians come from a swimming background and already have that feeling for the water. Others have never worked on technique in a pool (with and without a board). They just surf really well!
landratten.org: I am not living anywhere near the sea and winter temperatures don’t allow paddling on a lake or a river. How can I prepare for my next surf trip?
Rob: Hop in a pool. The paddling technique principles are similar to swimming. If you can become efficient without a board, once you get a board underneath you, everything become a lot easier. There are definitely differences (which I’ve outlined and what I’m working with the Cal State guys on), but if you can’t get out and surf, then a pool without a board is the next best thing. That’s why I created XSWIM (my surfing fitness workout for a pool) and why I created a pool version of the paddling drills in the Surfing Paddling Academy. I know that not everyone can make it to the ocean. I even created a dryland portion of the paddling drills also, but those are for a worst case scenario. There is a big difference in learning how to “feel” the water and the only way to do that is to get into the ocean or a pool.
landratten.org: Thanks for your time!
Rob: Absolutely, I hope it helps. Like I said, that’s why I do this. All I ask is if it helped you, pass it on to others. Duke Kahanamoku was a great ambassador for our sport and all he did was go and share it with others. So go live like Duke.