We’ve all had the feeling at one point. That feeling when all you can see is whitewater and oncoming sets, and your arms feel like they can’t move. You’re trying to paddle, but you don’t seem to be moving forward, and that damn burn in your arms and shoulders just won’t subside.
Of course, the most efficient method to improve your surf paddling endurance is to be in the water, and paddle, and then paddle some more. But, for most of us, that’s not always possible. What we can do is try to mimic the biomechanics and energy pathways that paddling requires. I would also recommend just going for a paddle, even if it’s flat, and get in some on-the-water paddling time.

Here’s a good surf paddling workout for the next time you’re in the gym:

That video gives you a circuit of exercises that, when performed correctly, will drastically improve your capacity in the water. I do want to stress, however, the importance of having the necessary flexibility in your upper body to accommodate strength and power. If you’re tight, bound up, and have restricted joint movement, adding strength and power movements to limited range of motion is a good way to tear joints apart. Don’t do that. Get flexible.

Here are some great shoulder stretches for surfers:

Paddling is a combination of what we term “open-chain” and “closed-chain” movements – pulling movements to be more specific. Open-chain means you’re pulling an object towards the body, like a one-arm cable pull. Closed-chain means you’re pulling the body towards a fixed object, like a chin-up. Paddling is a combination of those movements, which is why both types are used in the workout circuit from the video. Using a combination of closed-chain and open-chain movements in a workout has more of a carryover to paddling.