land training exercises for surfing
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How to ensure you do your land training properly and not introduce bad habits

If you are doing land-based training already, are you making sure you train it properly without introducing bad habits or do you want to know how it can improve your surfing?

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The Full Guide

Are you doing land-based training to help improve your surfing?

Or are you in the mindset that the best thing to do to improve your surfing is simply and only surf?

If you are doing land-based training already, are you making sure you train it properly without introducing bad habits?

Why just surfing is a slower progression

To improve in any action or sport, you need to do more of it, become more familiar and train those movements and patterns over and over. This is true and it’s the same for any recreation or sport. 

Surfing is in an odd place though, no two waves are the same, the ocean dictates what you should do on each wave and quite often, gives less than average conditions to practice something on.

If you compare it to skating, the ramp never moves or changes, you select the ramp, bowl or section you want to use to practice on and can do it over and over, building the repetitions up very quickly.

You don’t get that in surfing, nor do you get many spots to yourself without a crowd.

In a 2 hour surf, how much of that is actually practising your bottom turn? Maybe a few minutes at best.

There is no replacing the surf and this is the best place to train but, if you want to improve your surfing quicker, that time in between surfs can be used to work on those movements and develop an understanding of how to move better and start feeling the movements.

The land-based training will give you that initial movement and feeling that you can then further work on and apply in the surf. This will increase the rate at which you progress your surfing.

What is land-based training?

Land training is all about developing that muscle memory, learning to feel the movements, building up repeat movements and asking yourself the questions of how did you move and how would that translate to your board.

Learning is figuring things out, if in a surf you only did 3 cutbacks, but in a 2 hour skate session in a bowl, you could try 30 cutbacks with micro-adjustments with each one. 

How much faster would you learn that movement and feeling?

Sure, these movements aren’t 1 to 1, there are differences and surfing is nuanced and situational, but there are also similarities and that is key.

By training these similarities and asking the questions, making adjustments, you will work through the movement, your technique and how to improve it.

Muscle memory

Muscle Memory is the ability to repeat movements based on previous training. It is the neurological pathways between your mind and body becoming more familiar with an action and this is easily trained by frequency.

If you think about working out in the gym, most beginners will see improvements in strength quickly. This initial increase of strength is becoming more familiar with the movement patterns than it is in strength.

The mind and body are coordinating better and performing with more efficiency. Whereas, strength gains are slow and take time.

Land-based training is a faster way to build some of that muscle memory outside of the surf and then perfect it in the surf.

Training without the stress

The other side of land-based training is removing the stress. Surfing can be stressful and most surfers are unaware of the tension or stress in their bodies negatively affecting their surfing.

If you watch a surfer with bad style, you can start to see where they are holding tension in where they are not moving well.

Land-based training takes the pressure out of the situation. Everything is done in your time and on your terms. 

You will be able to learn faster when you are relaxed and have fun.

Trigger words connect movement to mind

Last week I went deep into trigger words and how they are vital to your training and fixing bad habits. They are an extra layer on top and I hope you are using them properly. You can read that whole guide here.

The mistakes you may be making

This all came about from me noticing people from the OMBE community making routine mistakes during their land-based training and I wanted to fix that.

There are a few issues:

  • Going through the motions
  • Just building reps and rushing
  • Training bad habits
  • Isolated training that's disconnected from your surfing

Going through the motions

I noticed a lot of people just rushing through their land based training without thinking. Just acting and moving.

This is fine in some regards, but when learning, you need to ask questions, you need to feel things out and try differences and changes to figure out what feels best.

Training is good but if you are learning something new, you need to be actively thinking about it.

So, go back do it again but figure it out, ask questions, be curious, question how you move, how does that feel, how would this impact your board, what outcome would this action create, what micro-adjustments can you make.

If you are struggling with a movement and it feels wrong, go back and make really bad adjustments to them to feel the difference.

Example: pop up and looking where you are going

To feel and figure out the effect of where you are looking when popping up. Try doing it on land but make one change each time.

The first time you are looking down at the space between your hands or just in front of you. This is common with beginners looking down at the wave. Do a pop up and ask how did that feel and how did you move.

Then, do everything else the same except lift the chin up, look up, so the chin is roughly parallel to the ground. Do a pop up again and feel the difference in space you have to move. Ask yourself the same questions and try to make sense of it.

Is your body experiencing a limitation in movement caused by an underlying issue or are you simply doing bad technique and not figuring out how to move your body?

In search of the feeling, not the reps

Very similar and goes hand in hand with asking questions is those who build reps instead of searching for the feeling.

Those who simply rush through their training like they are ticking a box or at the gym. Sure some gym exercises are just do it and move on. But in those situations are you trying to learn something or just repeat a movement for a different benefit?

That's the difference, this is learning, not working.

Don’t rush through it to tick a box. Question the feeling and find what works best. Change up the movement to get a new feeling and try to alter it to play with that feeling.

You should be training until you can understand that feeling and how it connects with your surfing, as well as being able to replicate it in the surf effortlessly.

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

Make all your movements slow, keep making them slow until they become smooth. Then work on making them smoother and smoother. Over time they will become fast. They will get faster and faster until they feel normal and smooth.

Training bad habits

If you’re training your pop up or something else and you make a mistake. Don’t fix it, stop, disconnect from that and start from scratch again.

If you correct the mistake, you are training to fix the bad habit, not training to create a good habit. There are subtle details in that and slight differences but you are telling yourself that it’s ok to have sloppy form.

Completely disconnect from the mistakes and train the perfect form as best a possible. Make it punishment to start again and do it properly. It will force you to quickly do it properly.

Bad habits in surfing are horrible and will hold you back for a very long time depending on how well they are engrained in you.

Don’t layer new ones on top by training improper technique. It is ok to make mistakes, learn the movement and play with it, but make that mental connection. Don’t just go through the motions, ticking off reps and rushing through a movement making mistakes constantly with no learning. 

Disconnected Training

This one is not so obvious. This relates heavily to people practising their pop up and stopping, not relaxing and moving into their neutral stance.

Would you pop up on your surfboard to very sloppily stand in a bad stance? 

No, you wouldn’t. So why practice the pop up to never get into your neutral stance and train that as well.

Surfing can be thought of as a series of interlinking movements. Nothing is isolated and everything stems from your Neutral Stance.

If you train something and it links into something else, add that. Add pauses and think what would happen next after that movement and ensure you are training yourself to be ready to perform that movement.

If you train your pop up on land to keep your hands by your side, your stance will be negatively affected, you might as well be surfing with your hands in your pocket next surf. I would also be surprised to not see you doing this in the surf. If you train it at home, you are likely to do it in the surf.

Optional: Film it

Film your land-based training if you can. Ask questions and watch it back asking those same questions. If it felt awkward, it will look awkward. This will give you a feedback loop to quickly check your form, understand the movement and how well you are doing it.

What not to do

Overthink it and rush. 

Like how sleep allows our minds to sift through the day's events and thoughts, you need time to process the movement and training.

Don’t rush through it. You are training to repeat a pattern and movement, not get through a certain number of reps. The main focus is on learning.

If you find yourself worrying about every small detail, stop. Don’t overthink it. Surfing is nuanced and there is never something that is always do exactly this with your body and nothing that differs.

A common overthinking is your feet. What should my back foot and front foot be doing here? Am I too heavy in the back foot etc?

I love watching John John to answer this, he has some amazing clips at 300 frames per second where you can see this in effect. Nothing is kept the same. There are times he has next to no weight on the back foot and then later has weight on it.

It’s changing and shifting based on where he is on the wave, what he is trying to do and how his body is naturally moving to make sure he is comfortable and able to move freely during that action.

So in training, don’t overthink it all. Focus on moving freely, being comfortable and if something is not comfortable, ask questions and make adjustments.

On a side note, issues in movement can also be limitations in your body. For those, go see a specialist and work on those limitations. Don’t work through pain or limitations.  


Stop just rushing through the movements, play with them, add a trigger word, film it and be in search of the feeling and not the reps. Try to understand how this all connects with your surfing and make the micro-adjustments to change that feeling.

Don’t train the fix to a bad habit or mistake, train proper technique and just relax. Don’t overthink it.

Whatever you are training, even when skating. If there is a movement that follows the previous, link them or finish the previous movement in the appropriate stance or position to connect the movements and flow better.

I want to hear from you

Has this opened your eyes to mistakes you may be making with your training? Has it excited you to go and play with the feeling and make micro-adjustments?

I’d love to know!  You can get in touch, or submit an episode suggestion here, just click on the contact button on the In Depth - A Surfing Podcast page.

Written by
Luke Hardacre
surf coaching