The Physical Therapy of Surfing
A typical morning to check the surf likely looks something like this; throw your board wetsuit, wax and sunblock in the car, angle for parking once you’re at the beach, and if the waves look good, you paddle out. Sound familiar?
If you have been surfing for a while, its rare to stop and stretch or even consider any other exercise beyond getting into your suit and paddling out to the line-up. After? The challenge of getting out of your winter suit is a workout, and in the summer you’re quickly on to the next event of the day. Our bodies may be paying the price.
On occasion you will see surfers consciously stretching on the beach before or after a session, one maybe with a foam roller if he or she is extra aware of the potential for injury. Otherwise we are all so focused on catching waves that we are missing what we can do to prevent injury, create awareness around proper form and how to use surfing to strengthen unexpected muscles and body mechanics.
It usually takes an injury to stop and recognize the abundant opportunity surfing offers to keep us healthy, aligned and strong. The most common injuries we hear about are pain in the shoulder, knees and back, sometimes the feet. Without falling off a board or any other traumatic blow to your body, you can suffer an injury from overuse, improper form and lack of stretching.
Posture: If surfing is second nature, rarely are you thinking about your posture on a wave, your focus is on the ride. In our daily lives beyond a yoga class, we can focus on being conscious of our posture, keeping the shoulders aligned and balanced, back straight and not locking the knees when standing. Not only are you more presentable and confident, your body will maintain strength to keep you stable on your board in the water.
Core Strength: Maintain a strong core and your spine stays happy and mobile. We are only as young as our spine is flexible, and surfing keeps us vulnerable to improper use and stress on the spine. When your core is strong, you put less pressure on your back and shoulders, allowing for a greater range of motion, keeping you speedy and strong on your board.
Endurance: Exhausted quickly after a session? The secret is not only surfing more, but cross training. Rotating other disciplines when you are not in the water keeps other muscles fit that are underutilized when surfing. Try running, cycling, hiking, tennis and any physical activity you love to balance the repetitive motions of surfing.
Flexibility: We take our need for flexibility for granted when we are getting tossed in the waves, popping up on the board, changing direction and pushing through white water. We may not be conscious of all the ways in which we are challenging our bodies to move through every potential situation, so we have to do our best to maintain our fluidity in the water. Yoga, daily stretching and simply warming up before a session can make the difference in tearing a muscle or getting injured.
We know surfing is mental as well as physical, with its challenges and rewards the better we become. Its not only an amazing workout, its what many consider a religious experience. Why not optimize the chance to keep our physical foundation strong, to maximize all the other benefits? At some point every surfer gets injured, but we can stay conscious of keeping ourselves in top form and surfing a long as possible.