Physics and Biomechanics of Surfing

Understanding the fundamental relationships in mechanics, helps form a foundation for the analysis of human movement in surfing. The main principle or law of motion I am going to look into is Newton’s Law of Action and Reaction. This law of motion is mainly applied when paddling. It helps me understand how the application of force to my arm and hand determines the speed and movement of my surfboard and this allows such movement to become more efficient. The most important skill in surfing is learning the correct paddling technique.

A good paddler catches plenty of waves while poor paddlers spend most of their time and energy missing them. I am now going to present my 1st video to you, which shows my paddling.


Show video footage of myself

My paddling technique in this video footage I just showed you contains a lot of errors:

  • Short low strokes
  • Strokes are out wide causing the board to move around
  • Angle pitch is incorrect
  • Short stroke pathway
  • Lack of propulsive forces
  • Hands not being cupped

In the video I frequently had difficulty catching waves because of my poor paddling technique.

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Short slow wide paddling strokes caused very little movement and propulsion through the water, which resulted in me falling off of a lot of waves. There are two biomechanical principles that help explain propulsive forces produced by a surfer when paddling through the water, these include:

  • Drag force
  • Lift force

Drag force

Definition: Drag force is due to pressure difference (Amezdroz, et al,.

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2010). Drag force is used to propel a surfer in water. “As the hand is pulled back in the water, the water then flows or travels past the hand and becomes turbulent at the back of the hand. This fast moving water results in a low-pressure zone at the back of the hand and a high-pressure zone in front. The hand will then want to move back into the low-pressure area.

This is the opposite direction of the force being applied; I can than apply a greater action-reaction force against the water, and the larger the paddle, the greater the effect and velocity (Amezdroz, et al,. 2010).” The angle of entry of the hand is important in improving drag force and propulsion. This is because the hand controls entry into the water and flow of water over the hand. Drag propulsion can be used effectively to improve my paddling technique, by making my strokes longer and larger, similar to the “S” stroke. Instead of them being short and wide, causing little propulsion because of this propulsion principle.

Lift force

Definition: Lift force is due to the development of high pressure under the hand and low pressure above it when the hand is pitched to the water at 40° (Amezdroz, et al,. 2010). “In surfing, water streams past the hand and can cause what’s called lift force. Lift force can only be created when I my hand is a curved surfaces designed, which gives the best ratio of lift to drag. When the water passes over the hand onto a longer surface area, the water is forced or propelled at a greater speed than it would when travelling under the hand, similar to my wider paddling technique.

The lift force is in the opposite direction of the force, this gives a surfer greater traction against the water, to catch a wave (Amezdroz, et al,. 2010).” To achieve best lift force, the hand should be angled at 40° to the water. The lift force will be evenly and smoothly distributed to both sides of the hand, resulting in maximum pressure. The longer the drag force pathway, the greater the lift force. According to Newton’s Law of motion, the forces that 2 bodies exert on each other are:

  • Opposite in direction
  • Equal in magnitude

Newton’s third law of Action and Reaction states that every force produces an equal and opposite force, which is evident in drag force and lift force, when paddling. An appreciation and knowledge for these two forces allows and helps me to develop a better paddling technique and how to improve it. The objective of paddling is to create enough propulsive force and momentum to catch a wave. Paddling helps you get through the waves without being exhausted. My video footage shows me falling off the back of plenty of waves; this was mainly due to my poor paddling technique and lack of momentum.

Highlight key areas and techniques the professional surfer used:

  • His/hers feet are together and his toes are on the end of the board whilst paddling,
  • His/hers body position is in the sweet spot, meaning no drag.
  • Paddling speed is explosive for the first 5 strokes
  • Long effective strokes from the top of the surfboard
  • He/she keeps arms in contact with water for as long as possible
  • Caught plenty of waves

The objective of paddling is to create enough propulsive force and momentum to catch a wave. By incorporating the biomechanical principles of correct paddling technique in my surfing, I will be able to improve my surfing significantly to be more fluent and energy efficient. Learning the fundamentals and biomechanical principles of surfing helps to understand our problems with our technique and helps justify and change it. Having thorough knowledge of biomechanics and its application of certain skill in surfing has helped me fix my mistakes, and this was shown in the last video.


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Physics and Biomechanics of Surfing. (2017, Jan 06). Retrieved from

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