So, I’m thirty something and I don’t surf as often as I used to or would like to. I do try and surf every good swell, but when they are a couple of months apart it means that my fitness can seriously decline and I get really frustrated not being able to catch all the waves that I want, and surf for as long as I want to before the old rubber arm syndrome sets in.
So these days I try and keep surfing fit throughout the year, especially during winter when it is very tempting to skip that cold, borderline surf and go to the pub instead, via the pie shop.
I’m no expert on fitness, but after twelve years living away from the coast I know what works for me. Maybe it will help some of my fellow weekend warriors.
I do a lot of swimming, and for me it is one of the most important ways of maintaining fitness. It doesn’t use exactly the same muscles as paddling, but it helps, keeps you supple, and gives you added confidence in the water – especially when it’s big. I will generally swim for an hour at a time and make sure that I vary my session between stamina and speed. It’s all very well being able to swim at a steady pace for an hour but what really helps is if I incorporate some short sprints – the equivalent of the burst of energy that you need to paddle into a wave. We all know that feeling when you are in position for the set of the day and you haven’t got the power to get into it. Each session I build up the number of sprint lengths that I do until it forms the core of my session. This increases stamina and makes you a stronger paddler for sure. If recent studies are correct then it will also help you live longer. Apparently regular swimmers live on average five years longer than non swimmers – even more in the event of a shipwreck.
A friend of mine that is into competitive kayaking put me onto this very simple core strength exercise which I have found very useful because you can do it anywhere, it only takes a couple of minutes a day, and it doesn’t make you sweaty. It’s called The Plank and I have since discovered that it is used by all sorts of sporting and fitness disciplines. Lie on your stomach on the floor as if you are going to do a press up. Raise yourself onto the tips of your toes and your arms so that your forearms are flat on the ground and your elbows are at right-angles. Keep your back straight, look down, and don’t forget to breathe. Hold the position for as long as you can – which may be twenty seconds initially, but you will quickly notice that you can keep it up for longer periods. This exercise is very effective for me and I have really noticed an improvement in my surfing strength and endurance. Another positive side effect is that it helps to keep your stomach flat – a difficult achievement when there are over 30 candles on your birthday cake!
I always thought that Pilates was some weird celebrity fad that people like Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow were into – like bulimia and adopting foreign babies. I went to an introductory session at my local community centre after I had some back problems and my doctor recommended it. It wasn’t weird at all, just some gentle stretching and strength exercises which made me feel unexpectedly relaxed and pain free. It helped somewhat that the female instructor had one of those unfeasible 36-24-36 Jessica Rabbit figures – and she is in her mid forties. After a few sessions my back pain disappeared and I felt more flexible than I ever have in my life. I am now a total convert. I can’t really pinpoint a specific area, but overall it just makes you feel younger – not look younger unfortunately – you’ll still look like Peter Stringfellow’s left testicle.
Cycling, running, and other painful stuff
I cycle to work every day so am pretty fit for cycling. I thought it would help my surfing fitness but I am positive that it hasn’t. If I don’t do the other exercises as well then my surfing fitness goes downhill fast. I did a half marathon a few years back and it was the same thing. At the height of my running fitness I couldn’t surf for more than half an hour without feeling knackered. It also ruined my knees, chaffed my nipples and wore all the hair off the inside of my thighs. I’m not a running fan.
If you are really dedicated…
If I am going on a big expensive surf trip and the surf is rubbish in the weeks before I leave then I will make sure that I do a lot of paddling anyway. Even if I am away from the coast I will find a quiet and unpolluted bit of river and paddle for an hour. The funny looks and smart comments from the bargers and fishermen are a small price to pay. If you are paddling fit in a wetsuit then it’s like surfing Viagra to paddle out in board shorts at some tropical surf break. Just don’t forget the sun cream…