Surf Fitness; Why and How

Posted by James Marshall on

I am a big advocate of surf fitness. Those that know me well could play some clever word games with that opening sentence, as they know I don’t always practice what I preach. But what I do know, is that preparing your fitness levels out of the water, in order to maximize enjoyment in the water, is a surefire winner.

I haven’t always lived near consistent surf so as a result my fitness levels suffered. This really hit home when a pumping swell and great winds come along, but I was knackered after 30 minutes…you know the feeling; noodle arms, lazy paddling into waves, and barely being able to stand up, let alone surf a wave well.

Not the time for surf fitness to be failing you - James Mitchell drops into solid Nias.

This problem was exaggerated when I lived in London, and had two weeks near surf each year. My fitness was lacking (and many nights in pubs likely didn’t help either) which made what should have been an annual highlight, an annual let down in many ways.

Lesson One – Get in shape!

At first, I learned that being in shape, - any sort of fitness - would help the situation. If you’re active and moving, you’re in a better place already. Take the stairs, walk to work, go for a run - it all helps! But then I learned to get a bit more targeted, and this is where I noticed a step up.

Lesson Two – Tailoring your fitness routine

I then started to think about the types of fitness that could help my surfing, and doing some googling (there are loads of good resources out there, some of which I have linked below). This started to manifest itself in better paddling fitness, better balance (I started riding out of moves I would have normally given up on) and better strength when pumping and driving the board around.

Five tips & suggestions for surf fitness

Here are five dry land fitness tips to ensure you’re ready to surf your heart out when the flat spell ends, and swell arrives. I am no personal trainer, and these are some things that worked for me, but play around with it, have some fun and above all, listen to your body.

  • Cardio; running (ideally sprints or hillwork) or swimming will help your lung capacity and help you paddle out of the impact zone, or around that long point break. Improved lung capacity can also help you manage oxygen usage in long hold downs.
  • Plyometrics; High Intensity interval training (HIIT) seems to be all the rage at the moment, but I think it makes sense for surfers too because it mimics the intensity of paddling into a wave, surfing it, then having to bust your way back out through the breakers to sit out back and gain your rest. Think of circuits including push ups, jumping jacks, squats and dips.
  • Resistance training; No need to bulk up if you don’t want to, but some resistance training in the arms, shoulders and legs will help your paddling, pop ups, and wave riding.  I recommend Joel Parkinson’s surf fitness app which divides training into body parts, wave types, etc. Resistance training will help give your metabolism a little kick too. A winner all round.
  • Core; Everything starts at your core – get this right, and you will be amazed what else falls into place. Improved balance is only the beginning; much of the strength in other parts of your body is better utilized if your core is in tip top shape. Try incorporating swiss balls or bosu domes to your normal abdominal workouts, and see how you get on.
  • Stretching; I try to do some stretching (mainly yoga) every morning. As you would have seen in my blog post about yoga, there are many benefits and some high profile names who swear by it, so maybe you should too. Flexibility and supple muscles will help you recover from both surfs and your workouts. Check out Lucy Foster Perkin’s Youtube series on yoga for surfers – with routines from 10-35minutes long. I reckon it’s awesome.

What other fitness tips, tricks or hacks do you have?

Thanks – talk soon,


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