“Surf Training” the art, the butchery, the circus tricks and misinformation.

When you think surf training, the first thing that comes to mind is usually someone mucking around on a bloody bosu ball or Swiss ball and them mimicking surf turns, balancing on a plywood board onto of a ball and then doing a ‘popup’ onto a board balanced on more Swiss balls. In reality, it’s just a bunch of circus tricks and something no high-performance athletes in other main streams would do on a regular basis and consider it their ‘bread & butter’ training. 

In some forms, yes, there are adaptations occurring there, most likely neuropathway/ fine motor skill development, which isn’t all bad, I mean, it sure as hell aint strength work which is generally misconceived here, but why not just surf to develop those motor skills, or skate if there isn’t any surf? 

Surf Training in its simplest form is very basic and is actually not that much different from any other sport in terms of primes mover muscle groups that need looking after and areas that need attention in terms of mobility and stability. Like with any sport/human movement patterns, if ya too stiff and ridged or weak, it’s going to cause issues (injury wise, biomechanically, performance wise).  

Surfers paddle loads…and I mean loads. Research has shown that for an hour of surfing we can travel between 2km -4km just paddling (few variables to take into consideration here) which is over 50% of the total time surfing, yet surfers only spend between 5-8% of the total surf time actually surfing a wave! Yet we put loads and loads and loads of time and attention to training these fine more skills that carry over like a 1-2% adaptation into performance! 

Training kept simple;
~ Press ups, pull ups – aid in paddling and popup. Stop doing push-ups with your elbows at 90* – you’re only smashing your shoulder more and not actually getting the right stimulus into the prime movers – your chest! Do pull ups from the full range = better muscular adaptions, not these halfass CrossFit weird things. 
~ Squat patterns and glute work will aid in balance – yes balance, it doesn’t need to be standing on a bosu ball that’s ontop of a Swiss ball! The stronger you are in your legs, the greater your downward force will be = greater water displacement, and will also have greater joint stability too = less likely to blow out a knee or something. Weak bums generally = back issues. 

~ Core stability – doesn’t have to be fancy, but will aid in protecting the back. Exercises like stir the pot and dead bugs and paloff presses are highly recommended. 

~ Mobility is essential to move well. Done right and it will aid in the dynamic movement patterns seen in surfing and keep you moving better so you’re not that stiff and ridged surfer trying to do a hell-mary hack, but looks like a robot and then blows a disk doing it! 

This is where the trouble/mix mash/misinterpretation of surf specific training comes into play.  

Indeed, surfing is performed in a dynamic environment, WITH the wave moving and changing shape as it goes over the reef/sand bar etc and it might seem logical to some practitioners to perform resistance training on an unstable surface to improve balance/surf skills. However, as the surfer generates and increases speed across the wave face, the level of instability decreases and instead the ability to create downwards force increases to hold the speed and turn/s. This follows a basic physics relationship, which dictates that as velocity increases, so does stability between the water and the surfboard. Without a doubt, balance is essential for the sport, however, muscular strength and surf skills that are suggested to come from the time spent training on unstable surfaces is highly questionable/debunked. You take an unstable person and put them into an unstable environment and think that will correlate to big physiological adaptions over your fundamental and well proven strength and conditioning work done on the ground (yes, the ground, as in not moving and being able to create better downwards force and stability), then you really need to look at the research out there and maybe rethink the reasons to why you are training, and what are you wanting to achieve.  

Same goes for bodyweight only exercises…there is only much resistance and adaptions that will occur here before you simply won’t make any further gains. You need resistance in order to grow and adapt. 

For specific skill work…surf, and get someone to analysis your surfing style too. You don’t need a surfboard shaped piece of plywood to stand on, on top of a roller to make you a better surfer! It’s amazing how many bad habits you develop over years of just doing the ‘same old’. Surf Skate work is another recommendation for skills/neuromuscular adaptations/proprioception and body positioning that will carry over to better surfing – and again, get someone to film and look at your technique and get some feedback from a coach.  

It’s amazing how often you feel like your much lower or performing much more radical turns than what you really are. Only to then be told/discover, well if your hips weren’t so tight, you had stronger glutes and a core, then you could compress into the turns with greater depth, force and speed and that transfers into the surfing that you actually think you’re doing. 

The most important part of any form of training is correct execution! Seek a professional who knows the sport, strength and conditioning and how to teach correct form, otherwise, consistent poor movements and execution of exercises can be more harmful than not doing anything. Quality is key over quantity!   

If you have any questions regarding these exercises, niggles or thinking … hmm maybe I could do some help then do feel free to contact me olly@fpt.co.nz I can do in person or online consultations to help out, and if I don’t have the answers, I’ll find someone who does!