warm up for surfing

How to Warm Up before Surfing

Ready to Surf?

Picture the scene, you’ve driven to the beach, you’ve had to climb into your wetsuit,  you’ve probably had a decent walk or jog down to the shoreline,  surely the next thing you need to do is go straight into the water and start catching some waves…well you’ve forgotten one important thing in surfing and that is to make sure that you have properly warmed up your muscles before going in to catch some waves. In this article we are going to take a look at the importance of warming up before surfing and why you should try to make sure you do it before every session.

Do I need to warm up before surfing?

The answer to this question is yes, you need to warm up before you go surfing,  just like you should warm up before taking part in any sporting activity!  I am someone who comes from a sporting background and teaching physical education has formed the main part of my career. However,  when I was younger, warming up before a football game was the last thing I wanted to do. I would grab a ball and start firing shots at the goalkeeper and then begin to play a game. This is the equivalent of grabbing your board and going straight into the sea.  Now while this is not the worst crime in the world, let’s look at some of the advantages of warming up before surfing.

Firstly, unless you walk to the beach on your hands, the key muscle groups that need blood flowing to them before you go surfing are the shoulders. Muscles are similar to blue-tac, the warmer they get, the more flexible they become. If you want a visual image, grab a piece of blue-tac and stretch it as far as you can. Now warm the blue tack up for 30 seconds by rubbing it between your hands and try the experiment again, you will soon see that the breaking point  is increased once warm. Your muscles are the exact same, if the muscles have sufficient blood running through them then the elasticity is increased meaning that you are less likely to get injured. Avoiding injury will obviously help increase your longevity for surfing and ensure that you don’t miss any time out of the water because you couldn’t spare 3 or 4 minutes to warm up the key muscle groups.

Surfing requires a great deal of flexibility. You need flexibility within your core and legs when trying to pop up, and most importantly you need flexibility throughout your shoulders in order to have an efficient paddle. Paddling is a fundamental part of surfing and if you are stiff and inflexible within your shoulders you might not enjoy your session as much as you could. Adding a stretching routine to your deltoids, triceps, lats and pectorals will help increase the range of movement in your shoulder joint, meaning that you will be able to paddle more easily when in the water. This will help in terms of paddling out back and duck diving oncoming waves and also help you catch more waves as you can paddle more freely with speed.

Another important feature of warming up comes from a more psychological approach. The purpose of a warm-up is to prepare physically and mentally for the activity you’re about to take part in. Therefore, stopping before you enter the water and completing a rehearsal of stretches will not only prepare your body physically but also get you ready mentally. This might mean looking out at the ocean and seeing other surfers to help create a visual image of what you would like to look like out on the waves. It might also be to go through some mental checks that you have made from previous sessions, where you have identified faults that need correcting. Giving yourself a few minutes to prepare works wonders before going surfing. 

What are the best exercises for surfing?

The perfect warm-up prior to any activity can be broken down into 3 sections:

Pulse raiser

This is any type of activity which will get your heart pumping blood around your body. You can be as creative as you like on this one…it might mean jogging to the shore line,  jogging on the spot, star jumps etc, etc. You just need an activity whereby your heart rate will increase so that blood is flowing more readily.


There are three main choices when it comes to stretching. 

  1. The first one is probably the easiest and that would be a static stretch. A static stretch involves taking the muscle to the point of resistance and then holding it for  a minimum of 8 to 10 seconds. Static stretching is useful as you are in complete control of the range of  movement therefore there is less risk of injury. You can also target specific muscle groups. As I have already identified, the shoulders are a key section that you need to target, therefore stretching out your deltoids, pectorals, latissimus dorsi and your triceps can easily be done on the beach. Don’t ignore your lower body either as your adductor muscles in your legs will be tested as you climb on and off your board.
  2. Dynamic stretching –  this is where you use movement as part of the stretching routine. For example rolling your arms in circular motions will help warm up the shoulders, this is also no prime rehearsal for the paddling motion you are about to commence. Another one would be side steps as it will prepare your legs muscles for the type of movements you will be doing on the board. One of the downsides of dynamic stretches could be an injury due to overstretching so make sure you build this up gradually to avoid any injuries.
  3. Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) – this is where a partner helps you complete a stretch. The idea behind this stretching method is pushing against a resistance in order to increase flexibility. One example would be by placing your leg on your friend’s shoulder, they would then take your leg to a point of resistance and hold your leg there. At this point you would try to push away for 10 seconds. It is during the contraction phase that the muscle begins to lengthen. The obvious downside of this stretching method is that it would be more time-consuming and will always rely on somebody being there to help you. 

Skill Activity

If I was relating this to football or golf then I would be talking about completing some passing or practising your swing prior to playing. In surfing, what we can do on the beach is practise the things we are about to require and that is a solid pop up onto your board. You may feel a bit stupid doing this, however it will provide a good platform to mentally and physically prepare for the skill you’re about to practise.  

surfer about to pop up

Doing all of these things before you enter the water will make sure that you are fully ready to take part to the best of your ability. You might be somebody who only surfs for one week a year, in which case, it is vitally important that you are prepared so that you don’t get injured doing something that your body is not used to doing.  Also, if you are only surfing once a year, you can guarantee that your muscles will be sore, a good warm up will help reduce some of the muscle soreness you experience and there will be less micro tears meaning your recovery the next day will be easier. Check out our article on Getting fit for Surfing so you can prep your body ready for your Surf holiday.

For somebody who is a regular surfer, this type of warm-up will not only improve your performance but increase your longevity. Flexibility training overtime will mean your muscles have a much greater range of movement and as you get older this will help you stay limber and remain at peak performance for as long as you can.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *