When I was a kid, there was one athlete I wanted to be more than anyone else: Otto Rocket. The tween powerhouse surfer, skater, hockey player, and general badass protagonist of Nickelodeon’s Rocket Power (R.I.P.), was a force to be reckoned with on a surfboard, and watching another wild child chase down his big wave dreams was all it took for me to rush to the beach, boogie board in hand.
Unfortunately, the greater New York area isn’t known for its swells, and I didn’t have a clue about how to start learning. For years, my surfing dreams laid dormant. Until now…
Surfing is Kickass, but most of us live nowhere near a decent Break. While finding the waves can be tricky, especially for those of us who live in the more than 70% of America that is landlocked and/or utterly wave-less, you can ALWAYS be physically prepared for your first surf adventure –and make it that much easier to have a good time when you get out there! We are often intimidated by the idea of surfing, and that our bodies are just not capable of such a coordinated movement. While it’s true that surfing takes more than your average desk jockey’s level of dexterity and agility (a LOT more), it’s surprisingly easy to train for. Once you break down the actual movements you’ll need for a successful day of catching waves, the whole thing becomes extremely manageable.
-The Paddle: There’s only one way to get out there, and it’s head first. When You charge aa wave, you need to make sure your paddle form is on point, and that your arms and back are ready for a serious workout.
Rows, Lateral Pull-Downs, Pull-Ups, Swimming
-The Pop-Up: Considered the pivotal movement for all surfers, the actual getting up on the board is a movement that requires serious flexibility, core, and leg strength in order to execute properly.
-The Balance: If riding the wave were that easy, everyone would do it. Making sure your legs and obliques are ready to stabilize you and a giant oblong object on the swell of a 7 foot wave means a lot of core strength (seeing a theme?), and leg training. We have some exercises that will get your lower half ready to hit the beach prepared in no time.
-The Beatings: They call them “The Breakers” for a reason. In order to get a shot at riding the waves, you have to go head to head with the surf. This means taking a serious beating every once in a while, but just makes that first perfect wave an even more special experience.
For the Pool
At the end of the day, there is no replacement for actual time spent in the water. So, if you do have access to any kind of regulation size pool, that should be your primary home for training. Make no mistake, having a good level muscular strength is key to successful surfing, but water sports call for streamline, water-ready muscles and lungs. Best achieved in the water.
Nick Carroll, a paddleboarder, surfer and oftime magazine editor has some theories that work well for anyone with access to a pool. And let me add my name to the many to confirm what he says himself for surfline.com, “this could be worth printing out and tacking to your wall”
“First things first: Pool, pool, pool. Your element is water, and the priority through this long long winter is to stay in contact with it. So let's start there.
Next priority is to maintain your paddling fitness. Given the presence of a pool, and a good approach to swim training (ie. actually DOING it, as opposed to avoiding it!), you can actually hit the water next spring in better shape than when you left it.
Get a good pair of swim goggles, a pair of swim trunks, and you're ready to go. Check out the very simple swim workout below:
THE 1500-METER SURF SWIM TRAINING SESSION
(4 - 5 times a week, all done freestyle, except where indicated)
1. Jump in and swim 400 meters, nice and smoothly, not too quick, not too slow. This is to warm up and loosen your whole body.
2. Take a short rest, just a couple minutes (2-3). Let the heart rate return to somewhere near normal.
3. Do a set of short quick sprints. You're probably swimming in a 25-meter pool, so do this:
8 x 25m, each one pretty much as quick as you can, with a 20 second break between each 25m. (Or start each 25m exactly 40 seconds after you started the last one - a 40-second "interval". Intervals keep you honest.)
4. Take another rest. That little sprint set should've limbered you up and got some heat running through your brain and body.
5. Now a set of sturdy strengtheners.
5 x 100m, smooth and strong, with a 30 second gap between each 100m. (Or on a 2-minute interval.)
6. Take another rest. That should've opened your lungs right up and got some endorphins moving. Healthy tingling through body, etc.
7. Now a finish-off power set.
6 x 50m, with a 20 second break between each. (Or a 50-second interval.)
8. Roll right into a slow "warmdown" 100m, swim very gently, 25m free, 25m backstroke, 25m breaststroke, 25m free to finish.
9. Drink a couple pints of water.
Most surfers will feel some odd muscles twitching after a couple of these session, but it won't be too bad - not as bad as if you hadn't done any kind of upper body work.
After four or five weeks at this pace, you'll be ready to tune it up a bit. Try this one out every second session:
THE 2500-METER 6-8-FOOT SURF PSYCHER
1. Jump in for the 400-meter warmup gig.
2. Rest for a minute or so, then straight into this:
3. Serious strengtheners:
10 x 50m, first five on a 2 minute interval, second five on a 1min-50sec interval. (Don't give up on number eight, either!)
4. Rest for a couple minutes, then:
10 x 50m, first five on 1 minute, second five on 45 seconds.
5. Rest for a minute or so:
8 x 25m UNDERWATER, each on 1 minute. (You can use a set of swim fins on this one -- not a bad investment.)
6. 6x50, swimming 25 free, 25 other stroke - backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly. Your choice of the other stroke. (If you can mmanage it, try to revolve twice through the three - I know butterfly is a real trick.) Each 50 on 1m15s.
6. Rest for a couple of minutes, then swim right through the remaining 600m without stopping, but doing 25m backstroke for every 75m freestyle. Slow yourself down through the last 100, down to warm-down pace.
Keep drinking fresh water a LOT during the days before and after your sessions, it'll flush out a lot of exercise byproducts and keep your muscles loose and soft. If you don't do this, you'll hurt your kidneys and liver and your recoveries will be slower.