Paddling: keep your fingers open, Kelly

Surfers will paddle faster if they spread their fingers optimally.

Paddling faster has a competitive advantage. You'll catch more and better waves. There are several paddling tips and techniques to get your surfboard moving more efficiently.

Interestingly, the ultimate paddling/swimming secret lies not in our hands, but our fingers. Scientists from the University of Toulouse (France), Duke University (USA), and the University of Pretoria (South Africa) have discovered what seems to contradict common sense.

"A larger paddle means a larger force exerted on the surrounding water body, not a higher efficiency", explains the paper published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

"The explanation is that the greater force lifts the body higher above the water line, and this leads to greater swimming speed, which is in line with the rest of the constructal law design for animal swimming."

In the paper "The constructal law physics of why swimmers must spread their fingers and toes", published in 2012, optimal spacing of fingers when paddling is explained by the data collected after researchers used computer simulations of water flowing frontally.

They found that optimal finger spacing is in the 20%-40% range. In other words, the total force is 53% greater when the fingers are well-spaced.

"The optimal spacing is twice the boundary layer thickness of one finger. The speed advantage comes from the greater force, which lifts more mass above water," the study concludes.

"It is a counterintuitive idea, the fact that you should paddle with a fork, not with an oar. It's like having an invisible web," adds Adrian Bejan, one of the study's contributors, and professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University.

Slightly opened fingers move you and your board through the water faster and with more efficiently, so the next time you're paddling through a mushy, difficult wave, spread them out some.