Long gone are the days when athletes competing at the highest levels of their sport could surf more. It takes only a glance at Instagram to see that they have strict strength and conditioning plans. These are top-level athletes, a stark contrast to the fast-paced and casual lifestyles of many pro surfers in the early 2010s. While 99.9% of us won’t be competing against Italo next season, it is clear that learning from top surfers and doing some surf-specific training can significantly improve our surfing. For average surfers who don’t get in the water every day!
Unfortunately, surfing-specific training has a poor reputation. Has a poor reputation. A quick Google search of “surf-specific training” will show countless articles suggesting complicated exercises. Many of these are often done on yoga balls or Indo-boards.
Although these exercises may seem very interesting and surf-specific, the truth is that they are not. It’s common to believe that gym exercise must be similar to sport. However, this is only sometimes true.
What is surf-specific training exactly?
It doesn’t matter what level you are at; implementing some form of training from each of these five facets will help your surfing. Use these five facets to improve your surfing.
StrengthFirst, we must be strong as surfers to produce intense bursts of paddle power that allow us to catch waves. Strong legs are essential for powering through turns and discharging water once we’re riding. It’s vital to strengthen our joints and the smaller stabilizer muscles surrounding them. This will make the joints less susceptible to injury and better at absorbing impact – such as freefalling from an 8ft high lip like Gabriel Medina.
Our favorite exercises…
The simple pull-up is the best for the upper body to build functional strength. If you need to make the movement more difficult, bands or pull-down devices can be used. Those with more experience can also add weight to make it more challenging.
You’ll spend most of your 2-hour surfing time in an awkward position. This is why developing a solid posterior (the entire ‘backside” of your body) is essential. The Deadlift and its variations are the best for this.
Higher loads and lower reps are better for strength training. Always use controlled movements and a strict form.
Many of us have strength imbalances in our bodies, which is when one side is stronger than the other. Regular footers who surf at right-hand point breaks and are strong on their back feet will notice that their right leg generates most of their power.
To counter this, any surfing-specific program should include a range of unilateral (one-sided) exercises to “rebalance” the body. You can think of single-legged Romanian deadlifts, Bulgarian split squats, and single-arm rows. These are great for improving balance.
It’s impressive to have a 1.5x bench press and 2x squat. If you can’t perform the hundreds of repetitions required for a day on the beach, your newfound strength ‘gainz” are pretty useless.
Our shoulders must be able to contract and not become too heavy to propel us through the water, even if we paddle for extended periods. This can be achieved by ensuring that we are not only doing high-load, low-repetition work but also light-load and high-repetition work to allow our bodies to adjust and become used to contracting. Supersets can do this, a series of exercises followed immediately by another without resting. One of our favorites is to perform a “pull” movement and then a “push” movement. You can do Gorilla Rows (pictured) and push-ups while your hands are still on the kettlebells. Your hands should be raised so you can ‘dip’ lower. This will increase your range of motion and stretch your chest at the bottom.
You can only have solid and athletic muscles if you surf enough. Cross-training or conditioning is essential. These longer and slower pieces aim to increase your aerobic output (exercises requiring oxygen to fuel the muscles). This increases the body’s response to long paddling trips at your favorite point breaks. You can also do shorter, more intense, and anaerobic bursts (exercises that are not oxygen-fueled). For example, sprint paddling to catch waves. Combining both is crucial to develop a surf-fit body capable of enduring long sessions and not feeling exhausted after each paddle-out.
If you train at home, combining exercises that increase heart rate quickly (such as squat jumps or burpees) with an ‘active recuperation’ position (such as the Plank) is a good idea. This will allow you to recreate the highs and lows of catching a wave, paddling back, and then sitting down in the line-up.