surfer sitting on board in sunset

Getting fit for Surfing

The best way to get fit for surfing is to go into the ocean, paddle out, surf and catch waves. If you repeat this process, your body is going to adapt to the stress you place on it and overtime you will become fit for surfing….

However, not all UK Surfers get to enjoy the lifestyle of living next to a beach, therefore a daily trip out to bag some waves is not totally realistic. The aim of this article is to help those of you who would benefit from staying in shape and training specifically in ways that are going to help you perform and enjoy your surf next time you go out.  For some people, this might mean just doing some exercise during the week to help you enjoy surfing on a weekend or for others it might mean getting in shape prior to your yearly holiday to the coast.

Surfer in t-shirt riding wave with rocks behind him

What areas of fitness are important to target for Surfing?

Like training for all sports, it is important to target specific areas of the body that are going to be placed under the most stress when you play your sport. Surfing is a combination of fitness elements as it requires cardiovascular endurance for the long paddles out back,  it requires muscular endurance within the shoulders, lats and triceps to help with the constant paddling motion, it also requires power, which is a combination of speed and strength, to help with explosive paddling to catch a wave. If we are looking to extend our performance then areas such as flexibility will help when manoeuvring your body into different positions and one key skill component of fitness for surfing, is clearly balance, as without this a ride can be short-lived as we fall off the board.

Taking all of this into consideration,  let’s discuss the way that you can improve these fitness areas. 

Three brightly coloured kettlebells

Improving cardiovascular fitness for Surfing

Swimming is as close as you can get to replicating the surfing environment.  This will specifically involve using front crawl, as you are going to simulate the pulling motion used to paddle and therefore you will engage your shoulders, lats and your triceps. Getting yourself into the habit of going for a swim at least once a week will help you stay in good condition for when you next visit the beach.  I have trained for half marathons before an expected to see an improvement in my fitness when I went surfing, however,  because this training is not relative to the sport, I did not really see too much of a gain to my fitness. Although my cardiovascular fitness was better, my shoulders still seemed to be filling up with lactic acid and had me feeling sluggish while paddling.

If swimming is not your thing, try to find ways to utilise interval training to help improve your lactate threshold. It will help your body improve its ability to remove carbon dioxide and other waste products that are built up through anaerobic exercise. Hitting a boxing bag would be a good addition to a home gym or exercise routine, as it means you can interval train through periods of high intensity punching and periods of low intensity punching with some rest,  this also links in all the muscles you’re going to use while surfing.

Swimming pool water photo

Building Power for Surfing

When I wrote about power before, it is because we need a combination of both speed and strength in order to have a strong paddle. One major factor of people not catching waves is due to a lack of speed when trying to paddle as the wave begins to form. If you are too slow while paddling in this phase the wave will pass you by. To help improve your power try and target specific areas such as the deltoids and the latissimus dorsi –  if that does not mean much to you, think about exercises where you are lifting weights above your head and also where you are pulling your own body weight up.

Power is built up through explosive actions, so doing shoulder press or overhead press and pull ups with a focus on explosive force during the contraction phase will really help increase your overall power. A key factor, if thinking that you would like to try this, is to ensure the weight you use is suitable for your fitness level,  do not start stacking on heavy weights that are going to cause you an injury. Slow and steady wins the race.

Improving Muscular Endurance 

“Right, that’s great thanks for your help, I’m going to go and improve my power by lifting weights explosively and that’s me done correct?” Unfortunately not,  surfing really does put you through the mill in terms of an exercise routine,  this is why we are always allowed a few cold ones and a Chicken Parmigiana after a hard surf, we have well and truly earned those extra calories.

However,  to really improve your fitness you need to be able to repeat the contractions over and over again. If you are somebody who does not go surfing a lot then your tolerance to repeating these contractions is going to be lower than those that are surfing more regularly. After a handful of paddles outback and a few powerful paddles to catch a wave you are going to have built up a lot of lactic acid in your muscles. This will make them feel heavy and full. You will be blaming everything from your “stiff wetsuit” to the “water temperature” in order to explain why you are now struggling to paddle back out and catch any more waves.  I’m afraid to say it is not the wetsuit, it is your fitness.  To improve this try and complete exercises that are going to repeat contractions over a longer period of time, this will build up your lactate threshold and therefore your body will be able to cope with the extra lactic acid more easily and will remove it quicker. This way you feel less drained when paddling and find that you can recover more quickly.

Circuit training and cross training are two excellent ways to help improve this area of fitness. Try and join a fitness class where someone leads these sessions, as having other people training will push you more and hold you to account, as this is one form of training that is really difficult and will make you want to give up…. but stay the course and you will feel the benefits next time you’re out on the water.

Someone about to lift a weighted bar

Better Balance for Surfing 

Now, the question is how committed are you to improving your overall surfing fitness? Balance  training is not something I see many people do as a regular activity. However, having recently had a bad ankle sprain I have needed to rebuild the strength in my ankle and in turn this hass led to improvements in balance.  Try Standing on one leg and throwing a ball against the wall in alternative hands,  this will help build your peripheral vision and also improve your overall balance. Other examples of exercises you can do: try standing on one leg and moving a football around your body with the other foot. This will help build pathways in your brain that link to your overall balance.

Flexibility for Surfing 

This type of training is something that will improve your quality of life and not only help you with your surf training.  Yoga is probably the easiest method in which you can improve your overall flexibility, as you don’t even need to leave the house. You could jump on YouTube and watch any video to help get you started. There is no secret to this, you need to stretch your muscles out to a point of contraction and then hold for a minimum of 10 seconds. If you repeat this process the range of movement at your joints will increase through the muscles becoming more pliable. The benefits to you as a surfer will mean more range of movement in your shoulders, helping for a better paddle. Alternatively you might get greater flexibility in your hips therefore helping you with your pop-up when catching waves.

Surfer about to turn into the wave

I have tried it to ensure that I don’t sound too self-righteous when writing this content as I understand fitting in all of these training types, whilst working and trying to go out and surf can prove very difficult. However these are considerations to take in if you are looking to make some marginal gains in either your surfing enjoyment or your surfing ability.

Before you head out to the water, just like any other exercise make sure you warm up! We have covered How to warm up before surfing here.

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