Getting Ready for the Winter Swell

In two weeks autumn arrives. This is the time Santa Cruz surfers begin turning their attention from the south Pacific, where summer waves originate, to more northward on the weather maps. Seasonal storms will begin to brew as the year comes to a close. Those storms that form on the Bering Sea, off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, will bring bigger waves to the west coast. Winter swells typically have more power, greater size, and frequency. If there was any time to condition for surfing it is from September to December.

It seems pretty obvious that one of the best ways to condition for surfing is to surf. Nothing can truly replicate the actions of lying on a board on the water and having to paddle against ocean currents while anticipating the proper position to catch a wave. However, what happens if you can’t get to the beach on a regular basis and you’re stuck inland, or at work, or school? How do you stay in surf condition when there isn’t any surf?

This is where land-based training & conditioning comes in. But how are you going to train? Are you just going to lift weights or go for a run? How does that carry over to surfing? Wouldn’t it serve you better if the time spent conditioning was specific to meet the needs of what you so enjoy? It is best to have a plan for surf conditioning.

First, we have to look at what a surfer needs physically to be good at the Royal Hawaiian sport.

  1. Upper Body Endurance: most time spent surfing is not on a wave but lying on the board paddling to get back to the lineup or maintain position against strong currents.
  2. Improving Spinal Motion: While paddling the spine stays in an extended position, which for most desk jockeys presents a considerable problem because the majority of their day is spent with their spines in flexion (just the opposite). Unlocking the spine’s ability to move will improve all around surf performance.
  3. Hip Flexibility/Mobility: The muscles surrounding the hips need to be flexible enough to allow the hip joints to move quickly and unimpeded when popping off the board from a lying to standing position.
  4. Breath Work: Most people do not breathe properly. Most people cannot hold their breath for more than one minute. Proper breathing (for those who press their rib cage against a stiff board) and breath holding (for those big wave wipeouts that make you wonder if you are floating to the surface or sinking to the bottom) are life preserving elements that should always be in a surfer’s conditioning program.

You might notice that the list does not include strength training. It is not that surfers do not need to be strong or should not lift weights, they should. It is just not the top priority when it comes to overall conditioning. You might wonder why I didn’t list balance training as a top priority also. The average wave ride can be measured in seconds. This means that a two-hour surf session where you caught twelve waves only required standing balance for a total of a couple of minutes. More time is spent paddling and waiting.

So if you’re getting ready for what this winter will bring to our shores consider implementing the above four elements into your current workout program. You can always join us on Monday and Wednesday mornings at 8am for our surf conditioning class. That is if there’s no surf. If there is surf, training will take place on the waves. Just be nice and give me a wave or two.

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