Is it possible to maintain optimal surf fitness, even when not surfing?
The answer, simply, is no. Surf fitness is a unique blend of strength, reflexes, agility, and connection with nature. The more time you spend in the ocean environment, the more in tune, as a surfer, you will become.
You know what it’s like when you haven’t surfed for a while, and haven’t done anything else to stay active. That first time you paddle out, your shoulders feel like dead wood. When you spring to your feet they somehow don’t land where they’re supposed to. Little aches and pains fill the spaces between your creaky bones. Your belly protrudes a little further than it should.
In contrast, when you’re fit and well, surfing feels easy. You’ve literally got a spring in your step. Paddling out becomes fun, and you enjoy the sensation of duck-diving through waves. During good sessions you get your second, maybe even third wind. The only things that bring you back to the beach are hunger, thirst and worldly obligations.
Every surfer knows that surfing is the best exercise for surfers. But sometimes it’s impossible to go surfing. The waves are flat, or blown out, or you’re traveling somewhere far from the coast. As surfers, we feel terrible when we’ve had any significant amount of time out of the water, and we lose our edge.
Cross-training for surfers
You can stay close to optimal surf fitness by combining a number of different cross-training approaches into your lifestyle. Exercise that develops other elements of your physique and mental acuity can enhance your surf fitness in unexpected ways.
Of course, if you live somewhere epic, like Bali or Fiji then forget about this article. Go surfing and enjoy. If you live anywhere else, then cross-training through doing a number of complimentary exercises will help you build a more resilient and well-rounded body. It also gives you something to do when the surf is average.
RSI – Repetitive Surf Injury
Surfing puts a very specific strain on your body – particularly your Trapezius, Deltoid and Lat muscles. While you might think that being a surfer means you automatically have a strong back, you’re probably wrong.
Many surfers have overdeveloped, tight shoulders, extremely tight chests and unusually weak sections in their upper back. Think about it: paddling builds up muscles that are used specifically in an overhead spinning movement. Now think about the complete range of motion possible with your arms. We’re developing strength for pulling ourselves forward. It encourages a hunched posture, which can be exacerbated by a life spent in front of a computer.
Integrating a range of other movements into your exercise routine may not make you surf better, but they will keep you stronger, and straighter, for life.
Here are nine recommended exercises for surfers, both to fill the time when there is no surf, and to help you cross-train.
What do heavyweight boxers and little girls on the playground have in common?
There’s a reason why boxers skip, and it’s not because it’s fun. Skipping is a fast twitch muscle activity. You need focus and, to skip properly, you need stamina. The more you skip, the better you get. For surfers, skipping helps pull back the shoulders and properly align your physique.
It also provides an obvious high-intensity workout, with co-ordinated footwork that will pay off in the ocean.
Tip: don’t flail your arms around, the magic of skipping is in the wrists.
2. Trail Running
Road running is boring. It’s hard on the joints and uninteresting to the mind. You also breathe in car fumes, which sucks.
For many, road running is a massive turn-off, simply because it takes place on roads. However, if you live anywhere near some open land and like to run, trail running can be an awesome way to increase your heart rate and exercise your body in true primal fashion. Running fast over uneven terrain is how our ancestors used to hunt, and there is an undeniable thrill when you race through nature.
My recommendation is that you find yourself a steep hill, perhaps even a mountain. A broken, uneven path will provide enough challenge to hold your concentration. If there are trees and foliage you’ll feel great – there’s nothing like fresh oxygen to rejuvenate the body.
Tip: Make sure you have suitable shoes, as no cross-training is worth a serious injury.
If the idea of high-intensity workouts in a room full of sweaty people doesn’t float your boat, then skip this idea. Crossfit is good at raising your heart rate and getting you to perform a diverse range of power movements. It’s fast, so you won’t get bored, and it definitely gives you an adrenalin hit.
If the Crossfit crowd isn’t for you then most gyms offer high-intensity classes, like Bootcamp, Body Pump and other full body fitness group training. These are great for strengthening your ligaments and building overall stamina and endurance.
Tip: Go to a beginner or intermediate class, or outside of the busiest hours.
The humble burpee is probably the single best full-body movement for surfers. You’re increasing your jump speed and strength, improving your push-up power, and learning to be light on your feet.
Tip: Try mixing forward and reverse burpees: one rep into a push-up and the next onto your back into a sit-up.
It’s an obvious complimentary exercise for surfing, and so much more. Like surfing, yoga is a lifestyle for many. It encourages healthy habits, a clean diet and a peaceful mind. Yoga is not just a passive series of stretches for babes dressed in Lululemon.
Whole battles take place upon that small rectangular mat, if you take yoga seriously. The beauty of a yogic lifestyle, like surfing, is that it can be whatever you want it to be. Downward dog can drive a man to tears if done properly, with enough intention.
Sometimes all you’ll need is some light stretching to limber up before a surf. Other times you’ll power into a series of sun salutations that will leave you exhausted. Regardless, the true spirit of Yoga is all about breathing. Breath is life and, as surfers, we should appreciate that more than most.
Tip: Yoga people are generally pretty chilled. You can join a class without worrying about your experience level, yet still reap benefits, possibly for the rest of your life.
6. Stand-up Desk
Didn’t see that coming? Standing desks are awesome and, if you’re an office warrior, will change your life. Instead of sitting down all day, hunched over a computer, developing scapula and neck pain, you’re actively up on your feet.
It seems a little distracting and unnatural at first, but once you get used to it you’ll never want to sit again. I like the Varidesk because it enables you to shift between standing and sitting as you please.
7. Wim Hof Method
If you don’t recognise the name Wim Hof, you might have seen the video of Kelly Slater feinting during some breath exercises recently. The “Ice Man”, Wim Hof, has developed an approach to health that is experimental, extreme, and certainly not for everyone.
It is, however, evidence-based and scientifically proven to work. People report improved immunity, increased energy, and better sleep. Check out the method here.
“I’m not afraid to die. I’m afraid not to live fully.” – Wim Hof.
Not much more needs to be said about that.
Yes, we said it: dancing. What is the most primal form of full body movement, besides climbing trees and running across uneven terrain? Something so primal that babies do it before they can speak, or even walk.
Humans have a weird connection to rhythmic sounds. The beat and the melody hooks us completely, so that we lose ourselves. Music is a powerful form of mind control.
It lures you out of yourself and claws its way into your consciousness. Ever had a song stuck in your head? The patterns in music transcend comprehension, willing us simply to move our bones. To dance. To swing our limbs and bob our heads.
Why after childhood and, later, our nightclub years, do we forget about the dance? Our primal ancestors certainly didn’t replace dance with sedentary nights around a television.
Dance makes you feel amazing. It sends energy pulsing through your entire being.
Tip: My recommendation is this. Don’t get weirded out. Have a shower and then moisturise your skin with coconut oil. I’m serious, this is liquid bliss for your largest organ and it replenishes then often sunburnt, salty outer layers better than anything else.
Now, before you get dressed, grab your phone and a set of headphones, so no-one knows what you’re up to. Then dance – even just for one epic tune – in the bathroom. You’ll kickstart your metabolism, stretch out kinks in your muscles, and limber up for the day.
Try it before you knock it. Or just go hit the clubs next weekend.
Save the best for last. And we’re not talking about a two stroke race to oblivion. This is the lengthy, aerobic kind. Where the goal is not release, but journey.
Start this exercise session with a long back massage (go grab that coconut oil from the bathroom). When your fingers are aching, progress into other forms of massage. Let you imagination run wild. Close your eyes and use breathing techniques (thanks, Wim Hof!) to slow yourself down and get into the flow of the experience.
Have no expectations. Try new things. If you’re a guy pick up your partner, and carry her (or him) around.
If you’re a girl, practice your squats and drive him wild.
Sexercise a great way to stay fit and happy, especially when the surf is no good.