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What Is Back Paddling In Surfing?

A major aspect of surfing is following the correct surfing ethics, adhering to unspoken/unwritten rules, and sharing the waves with your fellow surfers. However, sometimes novice surfers violate these rules and end up ruining the fun for everyone involved. One of these violations is back paddling. 

Back paddling is when surfers intentionally try to steal waves from other surfers by paddling across the path of other surfers and trying to get closer to the breaking area of the wave. Back paddling is strongly frowned upon in the surfing community and may even infuriate some surfers if you hog their wave. 

It’s best to learn the proper code of conduct before you learn any sport, and surfing is no exception. Young surfers can unintentionally back paddle without knowing its consequences, therefore, it’s important to understand the ethics you should follow and why you should avoid back paddling other surfers.  

surfers waiting for a wave

Why You Should Avoid Back Paddling

Back paddling is heavily disliked among the surfing community, and for good reasons. The major problem associated with back paddling is that it can cause a severe collision between two surfers who are looking to catch some waves. 

Moreover, if you try to back paddle around another surfer, you will be in a very unstable position and chances are that you might fall off into the water. This is especially dangerous if you are trying to catch large waves or are surfing in windy conditions. 

Lastly, keep in mind that back paddling is considered high unethical and disrespectful in the surfing community. You do not have the right to steal waves from other surfers, regardless of whether you think you can catch them or not. Ideally, you should either surf in an isolated spot or wait for your turn to catch a wave. 

How to Paddle the Correct Way

Sometimes young surfers can unintentionally back paddle because they are not in a good position to ride the incoming wave. Therefore, it’s important to learn how to paddle the correct way so you can surf the waves with confidence.

Maintain the Correct Body Position

The first step to paddling correctly is to maintain an appropriate position on your surfboard. While paddling towards a wave you should maintain the proper weight distribution, which will help you glide on the wave effortlessly. To do this, you can keep your back arched while lying on the surfboard. 

Moreover, you can also adjust your balance to ensure that the nose of the surfboard is barely above the water’s surface. This will make sure that the water resistance is as less as possible.

Make sure that you are not resting too far back on the surfboard since that causes the nose to lift and increases the resistance provided by the water. 

Maintain Correct Arm Position While Paddling

Initially, your arms should be bent before they are deep inside the water. Then, as soon as they are fully immersed in the water, straighten them as much as possible.

This will increase the surface area of the water that you will come in contact with and give you the extra propulsion you need while paddling. A good way of doing this is by keeping your elbows as high as possible as your hands enter the water.

Make Sure Your Legs are not in the Water

Make sure that your legs are slightly lifted in the air while you’re paddling. Ideally, you would want your legs to be lifted about 6 inches above the water’s surface. Doing this will yield two benefits for you.

Firstly, this will prevent your legs from dragging your momentum down. Secondly, it will transfer your weight away from the surfboard’s tail to the middle of the surfboard. This focuses your center of gravity on the middle of the board and prevents you from falling sideways.

Additional Tips to Avoid Back Paddling

If you feel as if you are following each step in the book but still end up back paddling far too often, there’s no need to fret. Some additional tips can help you get rid of this habit permanently. 

Seek Help From Experienced Surfers

If you want to get rid of your bad habit of back paddling, you should seek the help of someone who has more surfing experience than you. Taking in positive criticism and guidance will not only stop you from back paddling occasionally but will also improve your overall surfing abilities. 

You can seek the help of a friend or pay an instructor, either way, you’ll be able to learn a ton of new stuff and tricks. Getting some outside help would also allow you to rectify your mistakes quickly and put you on the track to becoming an amateur surfer. 

Practice as Much as Possible

Practice is the key to perfecting any art, and surfing is no different.  The good news is that there are multiple ways through which you can hone your surfing skills before going into the water. 

One such way is to set your board on the ground and lay on it until you find the correct balance for yourself. You can try arching your back and figuring out the place where the board does not rock sideways too much. 

Secondly, if you have access to a swimming pool, you can use it to improve your paddling skills. Generally, practicing will allow you to have far greater control over your surfboard and will end up improving your confidence when you go out to surf.

What are Some Common Surfing Etiquette

Most of the time these novice surfers are not aware of the common surfing etiquette. As a consequence, not only does this end up irritating veteran surfers but also make you a risk for yourself and others in the sea. Therefore, new surfers should follow some essential guidelines while surfing.

Observe the Right of Way

The surfer who is closest to the wave’s peak has the first right of way. This implies that if you and another surfer are paddling towards a wave and the other surfer is closer to the wave than you are, then you should stop yourself and allow that person to ride the wave.

Moreover, to observe the right of way properly, don’t attempt paddling into a breaking wave by cutting off another surfer. This is because if the surfer riding the wave makes an unexpected turn, they are going to run directly into you.

Observing the Right of Way in A-Frame Waves

A-Frame waves are the ones that break in both the right and the left direction. The good thing about these waves is that two surfers can ride the same wave if they go in the opposite directions. However, these waves can sometimes cause surfers to violate the right of way. 

The most agreed-upon way to ride these waves is by continuing to go in the direction you were initially traveling in, without crossing the path of the other surfer. In the case an A-Frame wave closes out (such that it breaks in on itself), it’s best to bail out as quickly as possible. This is because a closeout wave is dangerous and can cause a strong collision between the two surfers.

Avoid Dropping in on Other Surfers

You should avoid dropping in on other surfers at all costs since it’s a very unethical practice. Dropping in on other surfers is closely related to back paddling. It means that you are about to take off on a wave that is about to be ridden or is already being ridden by a surfer that has the right of way. 

Dropping in obstructs the progress of the surfer that has the right of way. It is not only a selfish act but can also be quite dangerous for everyone involved. Therefore, unless you want to make other surfers angry at you, try not to drop in on surfers that have the right of way. 

Don’t Ditch Your Surfboard at Any Cost

When a wave becomes too large for you to handle, your basic instinct is to throw the surfboard away and bail out. However, you should never throw away your surfboard like this. 

Surfboards are quite heavy, and throwing them away can be highly dangerous if you are surfing in a crowded location. Moreover, if you keep bailing out in challenging situations, you’ll never learn how to properly ride these waves. 

Unfortunately, there is a chance you might slip off your board from the pressure of the wave. To avoid such a scenario you have to maintain proper control and grip on your board. Also, make sure to wax your board regularly as it will help you improve your grip and overall balance. Moreover, remember to keep the board in close contact with you as well.

Avoid Collision With Other Surfers

While paddling, you should keep in mind that there are other surfers around you. It is your responsibility to ensure that you do not get in their way or end up crashing into them. If you are trying to catch a wave make sure that there is no surfer ahead of you. 

Otherwise, you must withdraw your attempt to avoid accidents and potential injury. Never forget that the person nearest to the wave has the first right of way.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Should I Do if I Accidentally Back Paddle Someone?

The first thing you should do if you unintentionally backpaddled another surfer is to apologize to them straight away. These are just good manners and help keep things friendlier out there in the ocean. 

Is Snaking Similar to Back Paddling?

Snaking is not similar to back paddling, but both acts are disliked in the surfing community. Snaking occurs when a surfer intentionally steals a wave from another surfer. Back paddling is less deliberate and often occurs because of the lack of experience of the surfer.

When Should I Paddle Towards a Wave?

The correct time for you to paddle towards a wave is when the wave is approximately 5-6 meters away from you. However, you should only paddle towards it when there are no other surfers ahead of you. 


Back paddling is heavily disliked in the surfing community as it’s not only disrespectful to the other surfers but also quite dangerous. Therefore, you should avoid back paddling at all costs. Moreover, with patience, discipline, and respect for other surfers, you’ll be able to climb up the ladder and become a professional in no time!

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