Surfers aren’t just made in the ocean. Whether you’re new to surfing or you’ve been catching waves for a while, there’s always room for improvement.
How can you optimize your time out of the water to become a better surfer the next time you paddle out? It all starts with creating healthy routines and sticking to them.
As it turns out, achieving optimal surfer fitness begins with a strong foundation, focusing on the basics, and then incorporating some specific fitness routines into your day. Here’s how to structure your lifestyle so that you can surprise yourself with your skills during your next surf session.
Sleep is essentially the bedrock of any healthy lifestyle. No matter what sport you play, what your hobbies are, or how you like to spend your time, you need to stick to a consistent sleep schedule so that you can perform at your best. Surfing is no different. In fact, sticking with a healthy sleep schedule is probably more crucial for surfers than some other athletes. When you’re out in the ocean with the waves crashing around you, you need to be alert—if you feel like you can’t focus or concentrate because you’re too exhausted, you could end up in trouble when you misjudge a wave or two.
So, what does it really mean to get quality sleep? These days, it’s harder than ever because so many of us are connected to our smartphones, tablets, and laptops throughout the day. All of this technology emits blue light, which disrupts melatonin production. Melatonin is also known as “the sleep hormone” because it actually is what causes us to feel drowsy as the day winds down. But when we’re staring at blue light late in the day, it tricks our brains into thinking that it’s still afternoon. Therefore, we don’t get enough melatonin flowing in our systems, and we end up feeling wired when we try to go to bed.
How can you ensure you get quality sleep, even if you need to use your laptop or smartphone throughout the day? Start by figuring out the right bedtime. If you know that you need to be in bed by 10 PM in order to get eight hours of sleep, make sure that you turn off all of your devices by 9 PM and spend the last hour before bed on any activity that doesn’t involve screens, like reading or writing in a journal.
If you know that you need to frequently work late, or you’re the creative type who tends to get inspired late at night, try a pair of blue light blocking glasses. These glasses block the blue light from screens from entering your eyes, which means that your melatonin production can go on undisturbed, and you’ll still feel sleepy when it’s time to go to bed.
And finally, it helps to stick with waking up early even on the weekends. After all, if you want to be one of the first ones in the line up when there’s a swell rolling in, you can’t afford to sleep in and miss that chance!
It may seem like surfing is all about your body, but this is a sport that demands mindfulness. Think about it—you need to be aware of your body in relation to the board and the wave at all times. You need to be alert and on the lookout for the next good wave and start paddling at the right time. And you want to be present and in the moment, going with the flow—not distracted by your thoughts.
Yes, it’s important to take care of your body if you want to improve at surfing. But you also need to practice mindfulness. In some ways, surfing itself can be a meditative exercise—when you’re riding a wave, it can feel like everything else just disappears, and you have to focus on that one thing. But it also helps to start practicing meditation when you get the chance.
Just spending ten to twenty minutes in meditation can be enough to start seeing the benefits. After you’ve committed to that for a while, you can try it twice a day. If sitting in silence leaves your mind wandering when you first get started, try following along with a guided meditation. This might make it easier to stay focused on your breathing.
The perfect time to meditate? After you wake up to get focused and start your day, and before you go to bed so that you’re nice and relaxed by the time your head hits the pillow. This ties right into that healthy sleep routine!
If you want, you could also try meditating just before paddling out. If you find that your mind is often wandering when you first get into the water, it might help you clear your head of those intrusive thoughts and get into the right mindset to catch your first wave of the day.
Strength and Flexibility
Surfing and yoga go hand in hand. If you’ve ever needed an excuse to sign up for a beach yoga class, this is it.
At first glance, it might not seem like surfing and yoga really have anything in common, but the truth is that practicing yoga on a regular basis can actually really help your skills on a surfboard. Yoga helps you work on your balance and posture, improve your breath control, and expand your range of motion. Most importantly of all, yoga improves your flexibility, especially in your hips and hamstrings. These are areas where many people feel tight or stiff, so focusing on yoga poses that emphasize your hips and hamstrings can be a game changer!
For newcomers, yoga might look difficult. But the truth is that no one comes to a yoga class to be competitive. They’re coming to clear their minds and focus on improving on their own skills—don’t worry, they’re not checking out other people and drawing comparisons on their poses! A beginner yoga class is a safe, relaxed environment to work on basic poses and gentle flows, and you can always ask for help or take a break if you need to.
So, what yoga poses should surfers try to incorporate into their flows? Poses that are all about balance can be quite challenging, but they are also some of the best for surfers to practice. For instance, Warrior 3 can be an exceptionally difficult balance pose for many people, but if you can master this, you can definitely handle balancing on a surfboard!
Incorporating some spinal twists into your yoga sessions is also good for your flexibility. These poses are also relatively easy and relaxing, and they’re great for cooling down at the end of a class. Finally, poses that open up your hips are also crucial. Pigeon pose, lunges, and even warrior poses all fall into this category. When it comes to yoga, just let yourself go with the flow (literally) and see what your body needs.
Another major benefit of practice yoga? Getting the opportunity to practice breath work. For examples, methods like alternate nostril breathing can really calm you down if you’re feeling stressed.
Today, there are even retreats that combine yoga and surfing. If you want to spend a week or so totally honing in on those skills in a beautiful, tropical location, that might just be the perfect getaway. Don’t have the time for it? Well, a little sunset yoga on the beach after a surf session is never a bad idea, either.
When you think of workouts that might help you later in the water, using a fitness ball is probably the last thing on your mind. However, a fitness ball can actually be a great tool for workouts that help you improve the skills you need for surfing. You can use a fitness ball for abdominal conditioning and target your core. This isn’t just key for strengthening your abs—it’s also totally essential for maintaining good balance. You need a strong core to keep your balance on your board.
Fitness balls are also fun for a bit of cardio when you’re landlocked. Working out on one naturally helps you practice balancing. There’s no water or board needed for this, and it helps mix up the usual cardio and bodyweight exercises. If you’re getting a little bored with your typical workouts, try bringing a fitness ball into the mix and see if makes your fitness routine more engaging.
The best thing about jogging? Anyone can put on a pair of sneakers and head out the door—you don’t need any fancy equipment to do it. Jogging will improve your cardiovascular health, strengthen the muscles in your legs, and helps you work on endurance and breath control. However, jogging may be an easy way to workout, but it’s actually not the best workout for surfers.
What’s the problem with jogging? Well, it actually has to do with the amount of stress it puts on your joints. Running can definitely stress your ankles, and you might not want to risk that if it could bother you while you’re surfing. Want to try a workout that won’t put any stress on your joints while still helping you get fit? Go swimming instead!
If you don’t have the chance to get in the water, you can always hit the gym. Certain exercises are great for helping surfers work on target muscle groups. If you’ve never tried weight training before, now is the time to start! Start with lighter weights, and then work your way up to heavier weights and more reps over time.
Working out with dumbbells and kettlebells is highly recommended. Unsure of where to start? You can book a session with a personal trainer, or you can try out a few of these exercises—don’t be afraid to ask for help! Swings with kettlebells can be intense, but you’ll definitely strengthen your arms. Lunges with dumbbells, dumbbell push ups, and alternating dumbbell presses will also emphasize your arms and shoulders. After a workout like that, you’ll definitely want to mix it up with leg day!
When it comes to nutrition science, it can seem like there are new, contradictory studies coming out every single day. That’s why it’s best to start with the basics, and then figure out what works for your body through a little trial and error. Looking for one thing to cut so that you start feeling more energized and athletic within a few days? Start by ditching sugar.
Refined sugar has essentially zero nutritional value—it’s just empty calories, and nowadays, it seems like it’s added to almost anything you can find packaged on a grocery store shelf. Refined carbohydrates aren’t exactly healthy, either. Sure, having a slice of pizza or a bowl of pasta every now and then isn’t going to hurt (especially if there are plenty of veggies involved). But for the most part, refined carbs like white bread have been stripped of all their nutrients during processing, and consuming them will give you a short burst of energy before a crash that leaves you feeling bloated and sluggish. That’s definitely not how you want to feel when you’re in the water.
And there can even be sneaky sugar in whole wheat products: the whole grain bread from grocery stores often contains high fructose corn syrup. Getting in the habit of reading labels can help you choose the most nutritious foods with the least amount of additives and preservatives.
So, what should you reach for instead? Try starting your day with healthy fats and protein to feel satiated and energized for a longer period of time. Whether you prefer a plant based diet or a more flexible approach to food, protein and fats are a great addition to any breakfast. Whole fruits and veggies are also key. Incorporating lots of green vegetables into your diet packs a strong nutritional punch, and eating whole fruit is the easiest way to satisfy your sweet tooth without giving into those sugar cravings.
Juicing is trendy these days, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Juicing means you’re basically flooding your body with fructose, without all of the fiber that makes whole fruit so healthy and good for digestion. Sticking with whole foods is your best bet.
When you’re cooking, choose oils like olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil. This will help you incorporate some more healthy fats into your diet—and yes, eating some saturated fat as part of an overall balanced diet is fine. One of the biggest breakthroughs in nutrition science over the past few years is the realization that fats are not as unhealthy for people as previously thought, so feel free to load up on avocados—contrary to popular belief, the fat you eat is not the fat you wear.
Today, dietitians are gaining a deeper understanding of the importance of gut health. When your gut microbiome is out of whack, it can affect your digestion, and unfortunately, most of us have some work to do in this area. Taking antibiotics or eating a high sugar diet can both have negative effects on your gut microbiome—and let’s face it, most of us have done both of those things at one point or another. Our goal is to “feed” the good bacteria, and we can do that by consuming fermented foods. Think sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha (without any added sugar), or yogurt and kefir if you eat dairy. Adding a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water with lemon can also be an easy way to work some probiotics into your diet.
And if you can afford it, try to eat organic when possible. It may not make a huge difference in the way you feel day to day, but it’s better for our bodies and the environment, so it never hurts to make that effort.
Proper Rest and Recovery
Sometimes when we fall in love with a sport, we end up pushing ourselves too hard. And we don’t realize it until it’s too late—we get injured, we feel burnt out, we realize that our aches and pains just aren’t going away. That’s why it’s so crucial to get proper rest and recovery between surf sessions. Sure, sometimes you’ll be on vacation, and you won’t want to miss a single day of perfect waves—that’s totally understandable! Every once in a while, you do get a string of perfect days in a row when it feels like the ocean is just calling you, and you know that you need to take advantage of them.
But when you have the chance to rest and give your body time to recover, you should take it. Surfing can be tough on your body, especially if you have a rough day and wipe out a few times! This is why it’s so important to prioritize getting enough sleep each night. Feel like you need to take a nap in the middle of the day after a morning session? Go for it! A quick, 20-minute nap can work wonders, and you’ll feel refreshed and ready to go back out again when you wake up.
And finally, it’s also important to take full days off from doing anything physical sometimes (aside from gentle yoga if you’re in the mood). You need to give yourself enough rest in order for your muscles to repair and strengthen. So if it’s a rainy day and the ocean is flat as a sheet of glass, sometimes it’s best to just accept it for what it is and take the time to chill.
What if you won’t have the chance to surf for a while, but you don’t want to let your skills get rusty? There are a few ways that you can essentially “cross train.” Cross training refers to playing two different sports that utilize similar skills and muscle groups. You get a little more variety in your routines, you get to improve at two different sports, and you also improve your surfing skills even when you’re surrounded by land for miles in all directions. It’s a win-win situation.
If you live near the mountains, snowboarding is the obvious choice for cross training. Skateboarding is another great option, which you can do almost anywhere! Not into any “board sports” besides surfing? That’s okay—you’re definitely not out of cross training options.
Going swimming at a local pool a few times a week can help you improve your shoulder strength—paddling can be a little tougher than it looks, so practicing can make it easier. And if the waves are flat, that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck on dry land all day! Why not give stand up paddle boarding a try?
And if you’re feeling really ambitious? SUP yoga is on a whole new level when it comes to improving your balance skills. Yes, it’s possible to do yoga on a stand up paddle board, so if you want to cross train while focusing on your flexibility, too, this is the best way to do it! Be warned—you might feel a little silly and wobbly at first, but if you put in a good effort, you’ll get the hang of it.
At the end of the day, there is simply no better way to improve your surfing skills than, while, surfing. Yes, it can be intimidating, especially when you’re a beginner. Nothing, however, beats the full body conditioning of a surf session. You get the shoulder workout, practise jumping to your feet, moments of flow state.
So the next time you’re wondering whether or not it would be worth it to paddle out, stop thinking and go for it. The best way to become a better surfer is by surfing whenever you get the opportunity.