With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility – What is Back Paddling?

The other day, I was with a client and we were working on techniques and concepts in the Level 2 course while in the Ocean 1 session. I noticed him take a wave and then paddle back out to the main takeoff area. We waited next to each other for a bit, then he saw the next set starting to arrive and made a move deeper in the lineup, past a few surfers who had been waiting patiently and who had not dropped in on him during the last set.

He proceeded to paddle past them, position himself deeper than the waiting surfers, turn and went.

I immediately looked at the three surfers he backpaddled. They looked frustrated and upset, as they should have.

When my client returned to the lineup, I pulled him aside.

“Great wave. And great wave before that. Listen though, now that you have efficient and effective paddling, you need to be aware of that power and balance the use of it in the lineup.”

I felt like Uncle Ben in Spider-Man. “With great power comes great responsibility.” We discussed backpaddling and he actually had never heard of it, so it was a good lesson to walk away with. He proceeded to apologize to the other three surfers we were surfing with and cheered them on in the next few sets.

This is just one example of backpaddling, and whether or not the action is deemed justified or not depends on the situation. Sometimes backpaddling is justified when the waiting surfers aren’t in the correct positioning location for takeoff and are missing waves. Or when there is a strong current and the waiting surfers in the lineup are pushed out of position. Or when locals enforce a little localism in the lineup. Or when there are multiple peaks and no individually defined takeoff zone. I’m okay with all of those scenarios.

The situation with my client was close to the first of those four– the surfers weren’t in the optimal positioning for the sets. And seeing as we were working on Level 2 content where Positioning is one concept, he was checking the box for the exercise, but as he did that didn’t recognize the social miscue of doing so. In his case, even though the waiting surfers weren’t optimally in the right spot (and sometimes they fell on takeoff), he should have been taking turns, just like in pre-school.

After our little side discussion about backpaddling, he repositioned himself deeper than everyone else (as he should have for optimal Positioning) but didn’t take waves – instead, he called others into waves until they caught a few and then he finally went on one.

This change in behavior added to the joy and happiness everyone felt in the lineup that morning.

As you progress in your own surfing journey, especially with improved paddling, be aware of that new power and how it might impact those around you. We are all mature enough to apologize when we feel we’ve made a mistake, and I hope that we are also able to accept that we won’t know everything (and therefore need to ask for help sometimes). Because if Spider-Man can figure it out, so can we.

See you in the water!


To learn more about the Level 1 or Level 2 Paddling Technique courses, or to learn about any of our surf trips, feel free to reach out on the Contact Us page. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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