How to Surf Better

Expert advice and drills to enhance your surfing skills and enjoyment.

Surfer on the water.

The best surfer is the person having the most fun.” Or so says surfing legend Gerry Lopez. But to get to the point where you’re riding on the crest of a wave and having all that fun, surfing requires a lot of focused effort.

Paddling your surfboard out past the break zone and catching a wave demands core and upper-body strength. Bursting in one fluid pop-up motion from a prone position to standing on your board entails explosive power, flexibility, mobility, and fine-tuned balance.

And then the fun kicks in. As the Beach Boys rejoiced, “Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world.” Mount Everest may be technically higher, but so far no one’s been inspired to sing about the sheer joy of climbing it.

Pro surfing coach Ximena Reynolds, a Life Time trainer in Rancho San Clemente, Calif., describes surfing simply as “addictive.” Which is all the more reason to hone your conditioning for it, whether you live close to an ocean, near one of the new-tech wave pools, or landlocked far away — but with a surfing safari on the horizon.

Many people have viewed surfing as purely recreational, but in truth it’s a complex, demanding sport. “It has taken years for surfers to understand the importance of training out of the water to stay strong and prevent injuries,” Reynolds says.

“There are two methods of training for surfing that are very effective: functional training and Pilates,” she notes. “Both methods work for the high-level competitive surfer or a beginner surfer who is trying to improve their surfing.”

The following drills can help you catch that wave.


Surfing Drills

Ximena Reynold

Life Time’s Ximena Reynolds is center, with two pro surfers she is training

Side planks on beach
Side planks (Drill 1): Your oblique abdominal muscles are key to your core strength; side planks build your obliques, which don’t get worked during typical ab exercises like crunches.

Pop-up on beach
Intro (Drill 2): Your pop-up is key to catching a wave. Reynolds suggests incorporating three exercises to improve muscle endurance and strength, which you will combine into a superset: pushups, either full-body or on your knees; planks; and squats.

Plank in gym
Plank Option 1 (Drill 2): Move into a plank to build core strength.

Plank with stability ball
Plank Option 2 (Drill 2): You can also do planks with a ball under your feet to build core stability.

Pushups Option 1 (Drill 3): To build the core strength needed for paddling your surfboard out beyond the break, pushups are ideal — and you can progress them to TRX pushups.

TRX pull in gym
Pushups Option 2 (Drill 3): Pulls are essential to balance the push effort in pushups: TRX pulls are a great way to build the needed shoulder and upper-back strength.

Bosu in gym
Bosu Option 1 (Drill 3): Bosu squats build strength in your lower body, core, and upper back, which is all essential for riding a surfboard. Begin by doing squats with the Bosu stable with the flat surface in the floor.

Bosu with ball upside-down at gym
Bosu Option 2 (Drill 3): Progress to doing Bosu squats with the ball flipped over, which requires dramatically more balance and hence input from your stabilizing muscles.

Rotational pulls
Bonus Option 1 (Drill 3): Riding a wave requires stability in all planes. For a bonus functional workout, rotational pulls are ideal for building core strength and stability.

Rotational pulls with Bosu upside-down
Bonus Option 2 (Drill 3): You can progress the rotational pulls by performing them on an upside-down Bosu.

This originally appeared as “Catch a Wave” in the June 2020 print issue of Experience Life.

is an Experience Life deputy editor.

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