We hate to say it, but for you to surf to your full capabilities, you'll have to put in a little work before you hit the surf. Of course, we're talking about exercise! Surfing is meant to be fun and it is, but if you want to maximise your enjoyment and increase the speed that you improve—and escalate the time that you can spend in the water—then you are going to need to do a little work.
Here are main areas that you'll need to work on, it's a good idea to assess your surfing fitness before you start, and keep track of your progress as you work out regularly.
A warm up should prepare you for the strenuous activity of surfing. By warming up with dynamic mobility exercises, you can improve your performance and guard against muscle injury. Warming down with some static stretching can leave you refreshed and ready for another session the following day.
Core stability training will play an important part in your overall fitness program. Core muscles are the foundation for the body's movements, will aid overall performance, improve balance, and will prevent against injury.
There are many exercises that can be done to improve core strength, many are simple to do, and do not require any equipment. More advanced core exercises do involve the use of exercise equipment such as medicine balls or swiss balls.
You need to have good upper body strength to even paddle out to get a wave—no mean feat on a day when you might have to spend at least 10 minutes paddling against walls of white water. You then need the strength to paddle into the waves and the strength to push up onto your feet, then the strength to... You get the idea; surfing can be damn hard work.
You'll need decent lower body strength when you are up and riding. If you ever hope to pull critical maneuvers, big turns and huge airs (or even just surf a decent length wave), you'll need to strengthen and condition your lower body. We're talking anything below the waist!
Simple exercises like squats and lunges are a great place to start. There are also some great tools that are really effective for this type of exercise. Balance boards and bosu boards are superb, and will combine well with balance training programs.
To perform well at any sport, good flexibility is essential. Surfing is a very physical sport, making flexibility all the more important. Touch your toes, do a bit of yoga, or do anything else that will help. Being flexible—and warming up before a surf—will reduce the chance of sustaining a muscle injury during your surfing.
There are several different types of stretching that will benefit your surfing, and can be used for warming up before exercise, cooling down, preparing for a surf, and improving your range of movement.
If someone hears "stretching", this is the form most people would picture. Static stretching involves easing into a stretch position and holding it for a set length of time.
Also known as static-passive, or relaxed stretching. It involves assuming a stretch position and holding it with some other part of your body, or with assistance from a third party such as a personal trainer.
Using the momentum of the body or a limb and moving beyond the normal range of movement. Great for the pre surf warm up, but must be done with care.
Plyometrics is the term used to describe the type of exercise that will increase speed and power of movement and muscle contractions, and provide the explosive power to perform big surf moves. A plyometric exercise is one that will enhance your explosive movements, examples include jumping, bouncing and multi-directional drills.
Swimming is a superb exercise for a surfer, not just because a surfer is participating in a water sport. It's well know to target all the main muscle groups and is also a fantastic aerobic exercise (see below). It's great for upper body, lower body, core and toning. If you had to choose only one thing to keep you in shape, swimming would be a great choice. It's also very low impact, so ideal for those new to exercise.
Aerobic (or cardiovascular) exercise includes such activities as swimming, cycling and jogging. It conditions the heart and lungs, and will help improve overall fitness, muscle tone, can lower blood pressure, strengthen bones and even lessen depression (during those flat spells!). If there's not enough reason there to do some, perhaps we should mention that it will make you a more dynamic surfer.
Effective aerobic activity involves exercising with your heart rate between 60-80 percent of your maximum heart rate, for 40-60 minutes, 2-4 times a week. Use a heart rate monitor to ensure you get the best results.
If you've ever surfed, you'll realise that balance is an essential part of the process. Fortunately, it's something that you can work on between sessions. It can be tricky, as some of the equipment you need to use is unstable by design. The exercises involved in this type of training will also strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings, joints, and improve paddling. That's on top of your balancing skills!
You might be surprised that your surfing performance can be improved by undertaking some breathing exercises and techniques. With the right training you can increase your lung capacity, increase oxygen saturation to muscles and vital organs, and benefit from improved mental acuity and concentration. If you are considering big wave surfing, take a look at these:
Here are a range of exercises that target specific areas of your surfing, and can be used to assess how your surf training is progressing. If you are looking to improve one part of your surfing, check back here.
A good level of overall fitness is desirable for a healthy lifestyle anyway, so use surfing as an excuse to start getting into shape and living more healthily. You will feel and look better for it, you'll sleep more soundly, and you'll look a much better in your boardies, bikini or Speedos.