Surf’s up dude!
What do people picture when the word surfing comes to mind? Lean, tan dudes with long hair in Hawaii and Southern California? A long day spent at the beach? Salt water and sand in your hair?
What about a full body workout and a difficult test of one’s mental endurance? In fact, surfing entails a lot more than sitting in the ocean on a colorful board all day. Perhaps surprisingly for some, the activity takes a lot of mental and physical capacity.
“It’s a holistic workout,” said James Wu, a fifth year kinesiology major. “When you paddle out, you’re working your arms. You engage your calves when you stand up, and you’re working your lower body and utilizing spatial awareness with your arms when you balance on the board. You’re also engaging your core to generate power and direction when negotiating the waves.”
Surfers must have a lot of power and muscle tone to succeed in the water since they’re working their arms, shoulders, back, core, and legs.
“Paddling, catching a wave and riding a wave are all very physical,” said Giovanni Pasinato, a 21-year-old surfer.
The activity lends itself to more than just the physical muscle toning, however. Surfers also have to deal with being in the water for long stretches of time, which includes having a strong heart and lungs.
Alain Bourgault, a surf instructor at Cal State Fullerton, agrees that surfing works on more than just a few specific muscle groups.
“I think surfing in general is a well-rounded activity,” said Bourgault. “Basically, surfers, to me a lot of times, are the people that are in the best shape because it’s not only cardiovascular, endurance … you also have the anaerobic portion where you have to paddle quickly to get a wave or get out of the way of a wave.”
The amount of time spent in the water, which for surfers is generally large chunks, has a physical effect on the body as well.
“I surf between 2-3 hours; these hours are spent constantly balancing, which keeps your core engaged,” said Pasinato.
Another physical aspect of body fitness that surfers perfect through their activity is flexibility. A lot of the maneuvers that a surfer engages in when catching and riding a wave require some sense of body movement and twisting.
“Flexibility is key,” said Bourgault. “When I’m working with the beginners I’m trying to get them to do that pop-up, and the pop-up involves where you’re kind of doing a push-up and then you move into a lunge position… and people have tight hips, especially the guys… and getting that foot underneath your chest and far enough forward is really tough.”
Physically, surfers must be in good shape to succeed, and the activity itself will help build the body for endurance. Yet what makes surfing a truly well-rounded exercise experience is the fact that it builds the body for mental endurance as well.
“The mental comes in from fear. The fear comes out more so on bigger days. Also, keeping yourself in the water is a mental drain,” Pasinato said.
That fear manifests in various ways for surfers. Whether it’s the fear of drowning, fear of sharks and other critters, or being out alone with essentially only foam and fiberglass supporting your body; surfing can be mentally as well as physically draining.
“It’s hard for some people because you go from a safe position on your belly to your feet and it’s a hard transition,” said Wu.
Half the battle for surfers is overcoming those fears and building their mental strength. It may get easier the longer one surfs, but it will never be a piece of cake.
“Either you’re committed or you’re not, and it will throw you down, beat you up, and question you, ‘Do you really want this?’” Bourgault said.
Of course, all of this would mean nothing if surfers did not consistently get back in the water as much as they do. Bourgault talks about the fact that surfing can become like an addiction, and people will often spend hours all day every day, sacrificing work or family to catch that wave. While some do not go to that extreme, the benefits of surfing do come out of doing the activity often.
“Like any good exercise program, whether you’re losing weight or getting stronger or better at those skills, you have to do it consistently to obtain that,” Bourgault said.
Consistency is the key to building a good mental and physical foundation that surfing really requires. Inside and out, surfers are constantly working their bodies in various ways.
“I think surfing really lends itself to a lot of the activities that keep you healthy. It’s almost like a full body type of work out. Not so much building a bunch of muscle strength, but more muscle endurance, and flexibility, and also aerobic capacity,” Bourgault said.
The ocean is powerful and commands a certain type of man or woman to scale it. The activity gives a lot to the body, but it commands a lot as well. For those willing to put in the work, it is certainly worth the reward.