Paddling: keep your fingers open, Kelly

Surfers will paddle faster if they spread their fingers optimally.

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

Interestingly, the ultimate paddling/swimming secret is in the fingers of our hands. Scientists from the University of Toulouse (France), Duke University (USA), and the University of Pretoria (South Africa) have contradicted 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.

Although spaced fingers create a greater force and not greater power, spaced fingers are advantageous.

"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, we can discover that the optimal spacing was confirmed by computer simulations of water flowing frontally.

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

"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.

So, next time you're paddling for a mushy wave, make sure you've slightly opened your fingers.