It used to be easy – I could surf twice a day on my shortboard and never get tired; My lower back didn’t hurt; and I was skinny!
I started surfing at the age of 16. In my hometown of Bournemouth, the surfers I hung out with were athletes who also either played football, rugby or ran 10km half marathons when they weren’t surfing.
During those years I never realised that staying fit and in-shape and being able to move would ever be a problem, but as I got older I realised that things were getting harder…
When I turned 30, after 15 years of surfing, I noticed that things have changed….
My boards are thicker and wider.
After a long and strenuous surf session, my lower back hurts.
At 5”9 and 13/5 stone, it is harder for me to surf my 9’4″ than it was when I was 18 and I weighed 9/5 stone and rode a 6’6” board.
The key to surfing well into middle age and beyond isn’t just an innate talent for surfing and catching waves that only gifted surfers ride (although of course that helps). The key to surfing as long as you can is staying fit Surfers like Mick Fanning, Kelly Slater, Laird Hamilton and Gerry Lopez have incredible staying power, not only because they’re skilled surfers, but because they also have amazing fitness.
Now I’m not talking about half-hearted fitness like putting in 20minutes on a cross-trainer once or twice a week – I’m talking about active exercise that works the core, and builds strength and endurance, so that surfing is fun and you can get the most out of your sessions on the waves. The more we can cross-train and combine strength, core and aerobic activities, the better we’ll be prepared for when the swell comes our way.
So what do we do to stay in top shape and ready for the swell to come along? Here is a list of my favourite activities for getting, and staying, ‘surfing fit’:
1. Swimming: It seems so basic, but few surfers, with the exception of lifeguards, seem to understand how helpful swimming is for surfing. You work your entire body and the same muscle groups as those used in paddling. It is also an amazing aerobic exercise program which in turn will help you when you having to duck drive or roll a board when your paddling back out.
2. Weight-training: As we age, our muscles atrophy and require weight training to maintain their strength. Resistance training also helps us build and maintain balance, as well as a defense against injury and stress.
Body weight exercises such as press ups, lunges and squats are some of the best exercises you can do, not least of all because they can be done anywhere. However, they are very sagittal-plane-dominant exercise (i.e. they’re all up/down or forward/backward motions) and if you look at surfing it’s all about rotation from the pop-up to the top and bottom turn. Consequently, putting your body in different positions and moving around in all planes of motion (think side-to-side and twisting movements) is the key to great movement and staying supple.
3. Balance training: lots of people train on the floor, but as a surfer we know that surfing doesn’t have a stable floor so there are many pieces of equipment in the gym that can help you….using things like bosu ball or Indo board as you perform your exercises will give you that same instability feel that standing on a wave will give you.
The Indo board (see my previous article) makes for a great warm up, it offers many unique balance challenges which will get your body prepared for the workout ahead.
So join the gym, jump in the pool, find a yoga class. Whatever you do, the only way to continue surfing and stay in the water is to stay active.