Fit to Surf

The Surfer's Guide to Strength and Conditioning by Rocky Snyder

Rocky Snyder FIt to SurfCopyright© 2003 by Rocky Snyder.  All rights reserved.
You must cite the author and source of this content if you wish to use or reprint it in any form.

Endurance Training

A surfer requires not only flexibility and strength for heavy paddling, but also muscular endurance to maintain stamina for an entire surf session.  In creating an effective endurance program of cardiovascular activities, four elements are critical.

Increasing or upgrading any one of these elements will increase the demands placed on your body as it works to develop the cardiovascular fitness essential to endurance. These elements are:

  • Frequency:  The number of times the endurance exercise is performed in a particular period of time.
  • Duration:  The length of time it takes to perform the exercise.
  • Intensity:  The effort level reached during the exercise.
  • Type:  The choice of exercise performed in a workout.

The following are cardiovascular exercises that are either specific to surfing or can serve as cross-training activities (such as stair climbing or running).  The detailed programs to chapter 9 include these exercises and offer recommendations on duration and intensity of the workouts.

It's helpful at this point to understand the overload principle – the general idea that by overloading or exhausting muscles in a careful, systematic manner, physiological changes will occur that make the muscles stronger and more durable.  A man who performs as many push-ups as he possibly can each day will eventually grow stronger, because he has regularly taxed his muscles to a point of fatigue.  This principle will come into play as you develop a program of increasingly rigorous endurance activities.


It may sound obvious, but to become a stronger paddling machine, a surfer needs to paddle.  A simple way to vary the intensity of your paddling workouts is to use boards of different lengths.  A short surfboard is less buoyant than a longer surfboard, creating more drag as you move through the water and requiring more effort to paddle.  For training, you can start with a longer board and progress to shorter boards to increase the intensity of the workouts.


Resistance Paddling

Get a plastic bucket with a sturdy handle, or use a large coffee can.  Drill holes in the container until it looks like Swiss cheese.  Simply tie the container to your ankle leash. The bucket adds tremendous resistance as you paddle your board.  The fewer holes you drill, the more resistance you'll feel as you work to paddle against the dead weight of the water-filled bucket.

Partner Towing

With a surfing friend, take turns towing each other on the surfboard by holding onto the other person's ankle leash.  You can count the number of strokes and then switch leads when you reach a particular number.  You might also choose to change positions after an interval time of 1 to 5 minutes or a distance of 50 to 150 yards.
When the weather turns nasty but you still want a paddle workout, you can make use of a rubber resistance band (preferably one with handles).  They're available at sporting goods stores. Secure the middle of the band to an immovable object (such as a table leg) a few feet off the ground.  Hold on to both ends of the resistance band, kneel or lie face down on a flat padded bench, and mimic the motions off surfboard paddling.  The farther the bench is placed away from the band's point of attachment, the more resistance you'll be working against.  Check for wear in the band and replace it if  you find  any tear or abrasion; you don't want it to break, snapping back at you.


Swimming is a great cross-training exercise for surfers – and if your leash snaps or you're not wearing one, swimming can become very important!  It may be a good idea to take a few lessons at your local swim center if you are unfamiliar with proper form.

Underwater Swimming

Surfers should be able to hold their breath underwater for prolonged periods of time, especially when surfing bigger waves.  It is important to train the lungs and the mind to be able to stay underwater, without panicking, while swimming back to the surface. Wear a watch to keep track or your times when swimming underwater.  Start with intervals of 15 to 30 seconds and slowly add more time with each workout.  For safety, make these sessions close to shore or in a pool.

Other Methods of Endurance Training

Stair Climinbing

Cross-training with stair-climbing machines at health clubs can provide a good workout.  But if there is  a long flight of  stairs in your neighborhood – preferably of wood rather than unforgiving concrete — try going up and down these for an endurance workout. When climbing stairs, maintain the same form as in running or walking:  stand tall.  Walk slowly on the  way down to allow  your  body and heart rate to recover.

Walking and Running

Whether you walk or run doesn't really matter: you'll reach the same destination eventually.  It jus might take more time if you walk.  They are both good choices as part of an endurance training routine. Whichever you choose, stand as tall as possible.  Keep your head over you shoulders; chest up, and hips tucked under.  Let the arms swing freely forward and backward, and keep your fee pointing straight ahead.

ROwing Machine

Indoor rowing machines such as those used at commercial gyms provide a great full-body workout and a terrific cross-training exercise.  Be sure to maintain god seated posture at all times.  Use the legs as much as possible, because they have the body's biggest muscles.  Exhale when pulling the handle inward.
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