Admit it — you’ve dreamt of trading in your day job for the beach, spending your days as a chillaxed surf bum or babe playing in the waves. But while surfers appear low-key, their sport is anything but a laid-back affair. It’s a physically demanding activity that requires training in order to perform well.
The Science of Surfing
Recent studies conducted at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand found that surfing requires a high-level of aerobic endurance as well as muscular power. Researchers followed 12 competitive surfers and learned that they spent the majority of their water time engaged in low-intensity paddling (54 percent). The remainder of their time was spent maintaining position in the water, high-intensity bouts of all-out paddling to catch a wave, riding a wave and post-ride recovery.
According to Adam Rosante, ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer, celebrity trainer, wellness expert and surfer, to perform well in the water, surfers need three things — endurance, power and core balance. But here’s the tricky part: “Training for surfing is different to other sports being as we train on land to perform in the water,” says Wes Berg, pro surf trainer and professional Ironman triathlete. That means that our dry land workouts must be designed to translate to movements in the water.
So you want to be a surfer or maybe just look the part? Luckily, surf-specific training programs are more popular than ever. Not only will these tools, apps and workouts get you ready to ride the waves, they will help your body perform better in real-life situations and improve your coordination, strength and endurance.
1. Pro Surf Training App
If you want to be a better surfer, try training like a World Champion. Joel Parkinson, 2012 ASP World Champ and currently in the number three spot on the World Tour, and his long-time trainer Berg have created the Pro Surf Training App, available for iPhone and Android devices. The workouts are based on Parkinson’s actual training program for the 10 unique stops on the ASP World Tour, each requiring a different fitness level depending on the location and types of waves. The duo took these regimens and combined them into 30 different programs with over 150 surf-specific exercises. Some of the moves include cable reverse wood chops, medicine ball slams and tosses, and squats while standing on a stability ball.
Their goal was to create an app that would make surfers of all levels and abilities fitter and stronger. The result? Workouts that prepare you for different wave types, from big barreling waves to waves that offer uber-long rides, while improving agility, power and functionality. “All the movements we do in the gym are done the same way as you would on the board so each exercise easily transfers to performance in the water,” says Berg.
Using everything from free weights, to exercise balls, to bodyweight exercises, the workouts include a lot of cross-pattern exercises, where your arms and/or legs cross from one side of the body to the other, to help surfers maintain their flexibility, range of motion and coordination — areas that surfers often neglect in their training. For example, Parkinson replicates many of his signatures turns, from huge powerful turns at the bottom of a wave to elegant, sweeping ones that almost look like a figure-eight, using a cable cross-over machine. The 40-minute to 1-hour workouts include a balance of cardio and strength training with high-intensity sessions that build core strength, leg power and balance without creating extra bulk.
When his pro surfer friends asked him to create a workout to improve performance in the ocean, Rosante was more than happy to help. In 2013, he developed WaveShape, a free online 45-minute high-intensity, full-body workout, in collaboration with the Calavera Surf Team. Surfing involves movement in multiple dimensions — front and back, side-to-side, and pivoting — and the program is designed to boost functional strength and endurance to execute these actions. While he expected maybe 300 people to sign-up, a few thousand joined in on the workouts from around the world. Now, he’s gearing up to launch WaveShape 2.0.
Rosante developed 12 brand new workouts that fall into one of three categories — endurance, power and core balance. The program is organized as a four-week challenge; the routines get progressively harder as the weeks go on. The “endurance” workouts involve bodyweight exercises performed for 30-second intervals followed by a short rest period. Think HIIT with squat jumps and surfies — a pop-up/burpee hybrid. The “power” workouts include moves like a cross-body clean and press and the paddle out, which simulates a paddling motion using a dumbbell and while holding a push-up position. These exercises help develop arm and leg strength you need to get out in the waves. The “core balance” workouts hit every single muscle in your abs, not only to help you better balance on the board but to generate explosive turns in the water. Sample moves include butterfly sit-ups and bird-dogs.
Bonus: The workouts are fast and efficient. All workouts range in length from seven minutes to 20 minutes.
3. Indo Board
Take a wooden board, a foam roller-like tube and two inflatable air cushions and you can recreate the feeling of surfing but on land. That’s what Hunter Joslin did when he made his first Indo Board. Now, it’s a versatile cross-training tool favored by professional surfers including Courtney Conlogue, currently in the number eight spot on the Women’s World Tour. The board lets you perform exercises “that are beneficial to the types of movements that we are doing in surfing” over and over again, says Joslin.
The most important movement patterns for surfers to work on, according to Joslin, are core stabilization and torso rotation, particularly for advanced surfers who are performing moves like a carving 360 turn. Performing standard exercises like squats, lunges and planks on the Indo Board forces you to work harder than you would on solid ground. To maintain balance, you must “incorporate the stabilizers in the ankles and knees, which are rarely engaged in traditional training forms,” says Joslin.
If stand-up paddleboard yoga is more your thing, you can work on your skills with the Indo Yoga Board. Compared to the traditional Indo Board, the Yoga Board has a longer wooden deck or platform as well as an added rocker on the bottom, like you’d find on a rocking chair, to create side-to-side instability. It will challenge even the most experienced water-born yogi.
4. SURFSET Fitness
If you can’t surf on a regular basis, why not create a machine that lets you surf on land? That’s what Mike Hartwick and Bill Ninteau did, two of the brains behind SURFSET Fitness. Essentially, they placed a surfboard on top of inflatable stability disks. Now, SURFSET classes are available in 200 locations across seven countries.
SURFSET is a full body workout that mimics the mechanics required for surfing. The classes allow you to practice these movement patterns on a replica of a surfboard so they become ingrained into your muscle memory. The desired result? When you pop-up on your real board, your body will remember what to do. “The instability of the board means that you’re constantly engaging your core, and everything stems from there,” says Ninteau, including your proprioception or your body’s awareness of itself in space.
With summery tunes and surf movies projected on the studio wall, SURFSET transports you to the beach while you work through plyometrics and high-intensity intervals or challenge your core with Pilates and yoga-inspired moves. SURFSET is in the process of rolling out innovative programming updates to further challenge participants and make them more fit.
These workouts will prepare you for the physical demands of surfing. Now all you have to do is watch the surf report and hit the beach!
originally published June 2014. Updated August 2015.