Wide open water, bracing sea air, the thrill of chasing perfect breaks along exotic beachfronts – surfing is an attractive sport for many different reasons. It’s also pretty hard, as grommets around the globe will tell you: learning to take on white water, charge into the swell and come out the other end on your own two feet can take weeks or even months of frustrating practice.
The key to fast-forwarding through all that trial and error? Balance.
This is something pro surfers know well – the ocean is the most unstable floor in the world. Waves are unique, unpredictable things capable of chewing up experienced surfers and leaving them in a heap on the shore; but if you treat them with respect, they also reward a little hard work.
To ride this massive body of moving water, you need to be strong, flexible and secure on your board. Come white foam or high water, work on your stability, and the rest comes easy. Here’s how.
The Importance of a Strong Core
Balance begins and ends in your core. As Breaking Muscle explains, the core is an interconnected series of muscles that is necessary for virtually every movement of your body. And it can do great things, like transfer your entire weight through the single movement of throwing a punch, for example – or absorb impact and keep you upright when you take one, too.
Now, no one’s throwing punches at you in the water, we hope. But when you hit the lip, push yourself up from your chest and flip onto two feet, that’s your core at work. And when you wobble back and forth to stay upright as the wave takes you down towards the shore, that’s your core working some more.
Do that a few times, and all that work starts to add up – those core muscles will become fatigued, and you’ll start to get pretty tired.
If you want to catch more than one or two waves, take on bigger and bigger swells, or just paddle out more than a couple days a week, you will benefit from strengthening your core.
Core-strengthening exercises fall into a category of working out known as functional fitness. WebMD explains how the name refers to the idea that by training your core to work better and more efficiently, you are enabling your entire body to become more adept, or more functional, at everyday movements, from carrying a load of groceries up the stairs to bending down to pick up a child.
If you keep falling off your board and can’t stay upright for longer than a few seconds, you’re probably thinking surfers are superhuman. But they’re not – they just have very, very strong cores, capable of keeping their balance on an unstable surface at speed.
Balance Building Exercises
The good news: you can strengthen your core right now. These balance-building exercises require no expensive gym contract and no fancy equipment. Hell, you can even do them right on the beach:
Single-Leg Balance – Stand with your right foot on a soft or unstable surface, your left toes resting lightly on the ground behind you. Clench your core and raise your left knee to your waist in front of you, then lower it slowly back to the starting position. Repeat 15 times, then swap legs.
Upside-Down Bicycle – Lie flat on your back, hands resting lightly behind your ears. Bring your right knee up to waist-height and meet it with your left elbow; return slowly to starting position, then do the other side. Repeat until you’ve done 15 on either side, or 30 in total.
Tall Plank – Get into a push-up position, your arms straightened under your shoulders. Bring your feet together and clench your glutes – concentrate on using your core to hold the position. Don’t allow your back to bend! Hold it there for 30 seconds, or, if you can, a full minute.
Hip Raise – Lie on your back and stretch your arms down towards your hips. Bend your knees and bring your heels to your bum, then raise your hips until they are make a line with your chest and thighs. You’ll feel the burn in your hamstrings and glutes. Hold it there for 30 seconds, or, if you can, a full minute.
Hip Aeroplane – Standing on your right foot, stretch your arms outward, hinge forward and raise your left leg off the ground behind you. You can bend your right knee, but no more than 20 degrees. Rotate your left hip up, then close it back down and drive your pelvis down towards the opposite knee. Try for 10 on each leg.
That’s one set. Rest for two minutes, then start from the top.
Getting on the Balance Board
Had enough? Let’s look at three balance boards that will make all that work seem like child’s play.
There are many types of balance board, and they have long been used by surfers to work on their balance out of the water.
Vew-Do – This balance board works by forcing your core to activate – standing on it is an exercise in destabilising the body. In the beginning you’ll just be trying to stay on the thing, but as your leg, back and core muscles begin to adjust, you’ll feel emboldened to rock, tilt and even spin in circles.
Onnit Si Board – This one’s not for newbies. Featuring a ring around the underside which traps a urethane ball, this new balance board incorporates the entire body in an all-out effort to stay upright. But the real benefits might be mental: the beauty of this ingenious gadget is that it encourages to you become more aware of how your body moves.
Goofboard – For surfers by a dedicated surfer, this balance board replicates the feel and effect of the sport itself by making use of a rail-to-rail riding motion. A longer roller, parallel to the length of the board, results in a movement that mimics surfing – so you’ll feel like you’re chasing waves in your own living room.
Surfing is a great sport for anyone, young or old, who wants to explore their world. And if you let it, the thrill of chasing waves will take you to some pretty amazing places, local and on the other side of the sea.
To enrich the ride, work on your balance for 20 or 30 minutes each day outside of the water. That way, you won’t end up floundering in white water, wondering why everyone says life’s better in the barrel.