In addition to trying to look good while I am up on the board, lately, I have been training myself to be a better paddler.
When I started surfing, I was so weak of a paddler that practically everyone passed by me. Older people, kids and women... I was so embarrassingly bad. Not only that paddling only for a few minutes caused so much pain in the muscles that I had to stop. I was just completely out of shape in terms of paddling.
As I surfed more I have been able to get to the average speed but it was still not good enough to be with a group of more experienced surfers. I was always left behind when they all moved from one peak to another.
Now I am at a level that I can keep up with others in most sessions.
But when I am in Santa Cruz or Trestles there always are people who are significantly more stronger than me, and many of these people look smaller and thinner than me and so I wonder where these muscle powers are stored. They take waves and while I am still paddling out they are already at the lineup. Amazing!
Without some power, it is difficult to hit the "outside." My experience with this is that there is some threshold of speed that you need to attain, and here is what I mean.
When paddling in the inside part of the ocean, there are more white water breaks, and the water seems to flow back towards the beach. I've seen some beginner surfers from the side that they are continuously paddling but they are staying basically at the same spot or gradually going backwards. I am sure that they do not realize that they are retreating instead of moving forward. I've seen this happen to me a lot at Montara or Ocean Beach, for example, when I am paddling for a while and when I look back I am basically at the shore! Nevertheless other and better people do make it to the outside. This is not to mention how far up and down to the side of the beach I have drifted.
So I must conclude that when you are a waker surfer, you cannot even overcome this initial part of the game of getting out. This is even without talking about turtling or duck diving. They do help but without some basic power to overcome the speed there is nothing you can do, but get back to the car and go get a cup of coffee or a glass of beer instead.
As far as the paddling technique goes, my experience with it is that it can be used to generate more efficient paddling but still without the muscles to support the power you cannot paddle fast enough. In addition, improved techniques will begin to utilize more and other parts of the muscles that you have not used much so far yet (unless you swim hard already.) Given the muscles though the "better" surfers palms are nearly closer to the center of the board under water, not directly under the rails. Watch some under water videos of pros paddling out. Another things you notice is that when you begin the stroke put the palm in the water from thumb first. This will get your hand and arm faster in the water at the point where your muscle power is the least from the leverage point.
Some additional findings are that smoother, slower and big stroke paddling gives much less fatigue and often I can move faster in the water. Especially I have been working so that the same amount of power is continuously applied while altering hands, this way I am preserving any gained momentum.
Also this is especially true with short boarding. Dragging the feet in the water can generate additional resistance. I try to make sure that my feet are out of the water. I use one of the legs to prop up other slightly. That's get tiring so I alternate the legs.
Watching strong and good surfers, they really look nice, natural and confident paddling and I am trying to get to that stage.