Top 3 Ways to Paddle Like World Champion Kelly Slater – Surfing Paddling Technique Revealed

Hi guys, Rob Case here. Here are the top three ways to paddle like world
champion Kelly Slater. We all know Kelly is an amazing surfer. So it’s probably no surprise that he is also a
pretty good paddler. And we all know that the better we can paddle, the more waves we will eventually catch. The first technique that is very obvious in his
paddling is that he keeps his head still. His head does not sway from side to side. This may seem a bit simple but this makes a
profound impact on his speed and efficiency in
the water. Let me explain why. The biggest thing that slows us down in the
water is resistive drag both horizontally and laterally, so obviously, we don’t want to add drag, and that is what is happening when the head
does not stay still. When the head sways one way, there is another part of your body that reacts to
that motion. The back half of your body – your feet. This has been studied for decades in swimming,
and the same principle applies to surfing
paddling. Action – reaction. So how does this add to our drag? Imagine a metal rod that extends from beyond
your head down through the middle of your body
past your feet. We want to align our head, shoulders, and hips
with this rod and rotate around it slightly to remain balanced
laterally. When you sway your head and it moves out of
this plane, something on the other side of your body moves
the opposite way – action, reaction. Your head moves left, your feet will move right. This throws you out of lateral balance and
increases your lateral profile, making more form drag. We don’t want this! So the first super simple technique, is to keep
your head still while you paddle. Rotate your body around that imaginary metal
rod. This is a key technique in maintaining lateral
balance, and thus reducing drag. The second technique Kelly uses impacts both
his ability to slide smoothly through the water
with little drag, AND it also impacts the amount of propulsion or
power he is able to get out of each stroke. What he does has to do with his hand’s entry
into the water – he keeps his elbow high when he is about to
enter the water. This is a huge benefit to his paddling. And again, I know it seems really simple. But here’s the deal of why this works so well. When the elbow enters high, then it stays high
when you reach the front propulsive phase of the
underwater armstroke. Huh? In other words, it helps keep his hand and
forearm in a vertical position from the start of his
stroke. When your hand and forearm are vertical, then you are able to hold the water and propel
yourself forward with a greater surface area for a
greater length of time. If the elbow goes in low, and I see this all the
time – I don’t even need to see underwater footage to
know that their elbow is low when they initiate
their stroke – I know it’s going to be low because of the way
they enter the water. If the elbow is low, then you have less time to
hold water with a vertical forearm, if you ever get it to vertical throughout the
stroke. You might not even get it to vertical. So let me ask you – do you think you get more
propulsion from a larger surface area or a
smaller one? That’s a rhetorical question of course because I
know you all know that the answer is to have a
larger surface area. So how might you go about improving your own
paddling with this technique? Here’s a drill you can do the next time you are
out surfing – it’s called the over the barrel drill and it’s really
simple. You just imagine that your arm has to go over a
barrel when you enter the water. You can’t keep your elbow low when you are
reaching over the barrel. Keep a slight bend in the elbow as well – if you
think about it, you can’t place your arm over a barrel without a
slight bend anyways. This is going to drastically improve your paddling
and really simple to apply. The last tip is that Kelly uses a slight roll from
rail to rail around that imaginary metal rod so that he can recover his arm forward. What this does is that it one, helps the
recovering arm to be led by his elbow instead of
his hand, which is super useful in setting up the previous
technique, two, it prevents any dragging of the hand in the
water which we learned earlier is not good, and three, there is a side benefit as well that will
help increase the stroke’s power. Let me explain the power benefit really quickly. There are two descriptions of paddling that I use
in reference to the rolling from rail to rail. There is a hip driven stroke, and there is a
shoulder driven stroke. Both are useful in different situations and I
distinguish the two because of where the roll is
being initiated. I’m sure just based on the names of each of
these you can figure out what each one is. The hip driven stroke is initiated at the hips and
the shoulder driven is initiated from the
shoulders. In both scenarios, we use our core and in both
the counter-rotation of the body sets us up for a stronger and more powerful underwater
armstroke. It lines us up so that we are using our big
powerful paddling muscles in our pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi as opposed to our stabilizing rotator cuff
muscles, which we want to avoid using for power, and the rotating motion acts like a spring that is
wound up and then released. So when you go out paddling, put a slight roll in
your stroke from rail to rail. Obviously, you can’t roll as much as a swimmer
does, because you’ll fall off the board, but definitely incorporate this into your paddling. And incorporate all three techniques – head still,
elbow high (remember to enter over a barrel), and put a slight roll from rail to rail in your
paddling and you will be one step closer to
paddling like Kelly. Hope you enjoyed this – got some value out of
it. Thank you so much for watching. See you in
the water. To Get More Free Training, visit

76 thoughts on “Top 3 Ways to Paddle Like World Champion Kelly Slater – Surfing Paddling Technique Revealed”

  1. I saw ur video on how to conserve energy while paddling, I saw writing that said make a hole although it was never explained, wat does it mean?

  2. thanks a lot Rob for these great videos . but could you explain a little better the slight roll technique , since is not very clear to me . what should i do to perform this slight roll in a few words ? thanks a lot again and all the best

  3. I think a lot of these techniques can be learned simply by doing some freestyle strokes in the pool. High elbow catch and rotational elements are the same. I also think that the palm facing backwards throughout the stroke is also important. You'll notice how he 'throws' water backwards on the exit of the paddle stroke. That surely shows how the whole stroke is put towards propulsion (instead of early exit from the water.)

  4. Hey Rob,

    I have a quite simple question for you: is it better to paddle with your hands slightly open (some space between the fingers) or is it better to paddle with your hands closed (no space between the fingers). I know that these techniqus have changed during the last 10 years in swimming also.

    Kind Regards,


  5. The video of the guy in the pool shows how poor arch in back and body placement on the board createa drag in the water (the board isnt horizontal) look at kellys board and feet in the water

  6. Slater does not kick, keeps the flow even. In the pool video, the guy is kicking and splashing his feet, which creates drag.

  7. You mention in the video that hip initiated rolling and shoulder initiated rolling can both be beneficial but in different circumstances… Can you explain those please?

  8. Fantastic tutorial, nice way to scaffold your pedagogy. I like the barrel role concept especially, easy to remember and visualise kinesthetically while in the water.
    I'd love to know more about your kicking technique on the board, how do you incorporate that with rule 3 and the spring coil roll? Seems like it is a more whole of body technique? <– BTW no.3 has been the most difficult for me to translate into practice, more guidance would be greatly appreciated. Again fantastic work, if I only I could buy you a beer in thanks!

  9. Great explanation… This video made me pay attention to how I actually paddle and I found sharpening my technique helped.

  10. Thank you so much for posting this. I was missing the high elbow technique and started applying it after I watched the video. Wow! Huge difference! Paddling power increased, can surf longer sessions and catch more waves. Having tons of fun thanks to the tips! Highly recommended.

  11. great vid. Does it matter the direction of reaching for each stroke? I'm working with a PT to help correct shoulder impingement in both shoulders. She is recommending i keep high elbows like you've said, but reach slightly wider then my board and try pulling more inward like a "V". I've noticed that my external rotators are very weak and I get A clicking sound in my right shoulder if I don't consistently reach elbow higher, thus firing more external rotators to keep the impingement from occurring. Thoughts? I like what you said about using pec major/lats,

  12. I'm a university swimmer and one of my special interests is hydrodynamics (and other physics associated with swimming).
    Great educational video! 😀
    I find your transfer of knowledge from swimming to surfing very smart.
    I agree with you on all points, but I do have to address the part where you ask the rhetorical question "Do you think you get more propulsion from a larger surface area, or a smaller one?".

    What may seem obvious at first is as you say "I know that you all know the answer is to have a larger surface area to hold the water and propell yourself forward". This principle would prove to be true in air, but the problem when you apply this thinking to hydrodynamics is the added resistance of the arm sticking deep into water (much denser than air).

    In swimming the relation between resistance/drag and power is 1:3, meaning that to achieve the same increased speed/performance as a 10% decrease in resistance you would have to have a 33% increase in power.
    Ex. Swimmer is swimming at a speed of 2m/s. To win the race the swimmer has to increase her speed by 0.2m/s (10%). She can either focus on her technique and reduce resistance/drag by 10%, or increase her power/effort by 33%.

    This is why deep strokes are only used by professional swimmers on shorter distances, where they are able to maintaining their increased power without fatiguing. Long distance swimmers are much better of with more shallow strokes (while still keeping a high elbow!).

    Wouldn't this apply to surfing as well, with shallow strokes for general paddling and deep strokes for those short sprints to catch waves? 🙂

    Best regards!

  13. so here im asking to surf like kelly.!! hahha i had my very first session of surfing & im in love with it ! bt i barely can swimming to be paddle out should i learn the dip stroke or not to dip . ur vid is awesome thx so much.

  14. Thanks on the insight,I been surfing for 40 year's and Keep learning new stuff every day,there is science to Kelly's approach to paddling.Paddling is so underrated in the importance of getting good.

  15. Very well explained. Thanks for the tips. I was waiting for the underwater visual of a low elbow entry just as a comparison to the right way to do it….

  16. Haha this is literally the same techniques my swim coach would drill into us at practice. Streamline, hip rotation and high elbow

  17. Interesting on the roll… will be cognitive of that next surf. How about "recovery/glide?" For endurance, it's important with a swim stroke.

  18. i came across this series on you tube. Id love to send it to my grandkids. actually
    everyone, anyone can learn or reinforce technique..woth the views

  19. Thanks for posting this – I never realized I was doing it right – so that's why guys complain I catch all the rides – ha!

  20. One thing that went unmentioned is how Kelly points his feet back. This reduces an enormous amount of drag and allows his feet to float and glide vs. pushing water.

  21. That is great technical advice and I will apply that to my swim & surf paddling machine routine, since I cannot get to the water very often. I found a way to stay in shape for my annual surfing vacations, which are now much more fun. Have you ever heard about the vasa swim trainer? It works great and helps me stay totally ready to paddle out and catch a lot more waves every session. here is a link about it.

  22. Great video Rob. I transitioned from bodyboarding to longboarding in my 30's, so these videos help as I consider my paddling as the worst aspect of my surfing.
    Also I work at a university and make instructional videos and your videos are very impressive.

  23. Great video and I paddle using all of the 3 techniques…but at 5'3" I'm never going to paddle as fast as someone with 'just' decent technique and longer arms. It's simple physics, my arms do not go as deep into the water. It's the same as paddling a Kayak with a shorter paddle.

  24. @4:30 That is not paddling on a surfboard, it's more like swimming. The back has to be arch for stability. Kicking is used only when propelling/catching a wave. You'll only need two or three kicks the most. The kick does not not really impulse, but make your body lean forward when required. It's all about momentum.

  25. Nice vic. But isn't rolling and head still is an opposite action? I am not sure how to roll and head still together. ofcourse, it is slight roll but that looks super hard to me. haha

  26. Super helpful!

    I've noticed a possible 4th point. Kelly arches his upper-body, curves it towards the sky – rather than keeping his chin on the board.

    The good surfers where i go all do this, it's quite difficult to master, though.

    Perhaps thats a new vid for you:)

  27. Would keeping the elbow high cause a lot of internal rotation of the shoulder, which places pressure on the rotator cuff? The hip/shoulder driven stroke reduces the pressure on the rotator cuff, right? Also, would keeping your back arched reduce pressure on the rotators (even though you are using more energy)? Thanks.

  28. This taught me a ton about paddling. Your board matters a lot too.. if you are a stronger swimming you could still use a surfboard with less volume, however it takes more effort to keep a good paddle when you don't glide on the water as well and you should always get the board matched to the waves/skill you are at and the amount of volume necessary to get good float. I think that watching how his legs move to the swaying of his body taught me a lot about keeping a straight line, it gets harder in chop to do the same but counter-balancing with my foot is something I didn't really understand. I also used to think that only big guys with michael phelps type arms and bodies could paddle fast, boy was I wrong. There are plenty of little guys out there with really good float that glide through the water with good technique and form and proper volume to their boards. I thought that having small/average sized hands made a difference but really it doesn't when it is all about the technique and your physique/stamina to be able to keep up the form/plank position and straight line.

  29. Unless you believe that by creating a back and forth you're actually doing a fish wiggle which is increasing your speed which is I think what that dude in the white jersey was doing your theory does not include the fish wiggle

  30. Does having a relatively bulky upper section (delts, traps, pecs) and/or or broad ribcage detract from ability to paddle? I have surfed many years, can do lots of snappy and powerful turns, but ive always felt that im not a good paddler, despite being very fit, i can swim okay, and can surf well. I cant seem to figure out what the issue is.
    5'10 and about 175 lbs. I ride around 31 to 33 L boards.
    Thanks for the video.

  31. Does anyone else have the same problem as younger years I used to paddle with my body flat as possible including my chest & never used to hinder me,but now my sternum hurts when I do that so I crane my back so only my tummy touches the board..but with my chest neck & head raised up,i seem to lack any drive & comfort in my paddle.even when I go for a wave,instead of putting my chin down and digging low,i stay craned because of the sternum pain and end up missing every wave.

  32. I came here thinking what can they tell me, probably a waste of time

    Like 30 seconds in and my mind has already been fucking blown with the head part

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *