surfer in black shorts riding a breaking wave
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Surf Training: How to Improve Your Surf Fitness

You want to improve as a surfer but don’t know how you should train? Let us help you with our detailed guide on surf training.

You might have a muscular body, lung capacity, and an awesome surfboard, but you might still feel like there’s something missing, and that’s what is hindering your improvement.

You might go on a surf trip to identify what’s missing and frequent surf coaching retreats, pestering your instructors with questions, but the answer might be quite simple: a good routine of surf workouts.

After all, surfing is a unique sport that requires crazy levels of endurance, mobility, flexibility, and strength. Without a proper surf training program, it’s quite difficult to reach the required levels. Now, let’s walk you through how you should train to improve your surfing fitness and maybe even your surfing technique.

Why Is a Surf Fitness Training Program Necessary?

Surfing engages almost all the muscles in your body. To solidify that statement, let us walk you through the process of a surfer with a board under their arm about to go into the ocean, which is more or less the case for all surf sessions, so you can see for yourself.

First, you eye the horizon looking to identify where a wave that’s suitable for your skills breaks. Then, you start paddling toward that point. If there’s a crowded wave lineup on the break, you wait for your turn in the water, and if there isn’t, you still wait for the wave to get into an accommodating position for your take-off angle.

Before you protest by asking if you’re ever going to do some actual surfing, let us tell you that the time you spend paddling and waiting may reach hours, even on a good surf session. So, you need to be ready for that.

Once you get your angles right and start waiting for the wave to pick you up, you need to assume the pushup position for a good pop-up. After your pop-up, you need to find balance on your board and sort your feet, bend your knees (sometimes even into a lunge position), shift your weight through the hips, and keep a stable upper body in order to maintain a balanced stance. Then comes the fun parts of the surfing life: turns, tricks, and aerial maneuvers.

Throughout that process, as you can imagine via our walk-through, no single muscle has a day off. If your session goes well, you’ll probably have a laugh as well, and even by itself, that’s just too many muscles. The ideal surf fitness training should focus on each of these muscle groups, barring only the laugh muscles, as you’re probably not auditioning for the role of Joker for the umpteenth remake of Batman.

So, let’s see how you can carve out a surf workout routine on your path to becoming a better surfer.

Surf Training for Beginners

Of course, what your surf training should entail depends on your skill level. For one, the learning curve differs drastically from one stage of surfing to another, and in relation, the bodily requirements of each stage change. Moreover, during the transition from one stage to another, the surfboard you ride and how you relate to it alters to a significant extent. Longboarding and shortboarding are not at all similar.

A beginner surfer is mostly expected to ride a longboard on small and mushy waves since that’s the best way to master the fundamentals of surfing. However, before learning how to achieve a balanced stance, how to generate speed down the surf line, or even how to pop up to a surfer’s stance, there are even more preliminary aspects a novice should cover. These include understanding how the ocean works, understanding how surfboards work, and understanding how their body works.

All of these aspects should naturally be part of their surf training routine. How? Let’s find out together.

Understanding the Ocean

somber image of a person looking at the ocean

The initial key to becoming a good surfer is probably developing an intrinsic understanding of the ocean. To do that, you need to have a knowledge of how waves form and break, how to read surf forecasts and be prepared for the wave conditions, and how to read the ocean from a safe distance on your shore to make the most of your surf session.

Fortunately, the OMBE crew has enough guides for you under the category of Ocean IQ. There, you can find out how and why waves form and break, learn how to read surf forecasts, have an idea about certain useful facts about ocean waves, know how to spot rip currents and stay away from the water, and take a peek at certain tips about the ocean that’ll help you increase your wave count thanks to the immense knowledge of OMBE head coach Clayton Nienaber.

If reading online guides isn’t really your cup of tea, you can also enroll in our programs on this very subject matter. Our Surf Science and Waterman programs aim for our pupils to have improved knowledge and understanding of the ocean so they can enjoy their time in and on it better.

As a result of improved knowledge of waves, you’ll see that your paddling technique will get better, and the time you spend paddling will be reduced. Moreover, you’ll start catching waves more effortlessly. So, spending a bit of time reading, watching, and observing will pay dividends later.

Understanding the Surfboard

surfboards in different colors placed vertically against a fence

Imagine that you’re talking to someone who doesn’t speak your language with the help of a translator, but you aren’t listening to the translator. Can we talk about any sort of communication or even a connection in this case? We fear not. Surfing without understanding your board is quite akin to that experience, as the relationship between you and the wave is totally dependent on your board.

And you know what? You can start understanding your surfboards without even getting into the water. Understanding a board means being able to interpret what it tells you. Subsequently, how you react to that interpretation determines your control of it and your balance on it. To that end, there are ample exercises you may engage in, including land drills to perfect your pop up, BOSU ball exercises that’ll improve your response to a wobbling board, and cardboard exercises that’ll teach you how to control speed when surfing.

We agree that cardboard surfing sounds vaguer compared to others, but you need not worry as we have the very program for that, too. Sometimes, simulations of surfing on land may prove more beneficial than actual surfing without being completely ready. So, make sure that you understand what you’re up against in the ocean by adding such land drills to your surf training routine.

Additionally, other land activities such as surf-skating may prove useful for mastering basic skills such as balance, generating speed, and accomplishing turns. Unsurprisingly, we happen to have a Surf Skate Foundations program as well, which can ease you into the discipline in the best way possible.

If you’re in the market for a new surfboard and at a loss what to pick, you can also enroll in our Get the Right Board program. Clayton Nienaber is an accomplished shaper who’s worked with the likes of Dane Reynolds, and he’ll surely help you make the best choice.

Understanding the Body

Having covered all the non-fitness aspects of beginner surf training, we can now focus on the body with all of our strength. Before getting into it here, though, we should refer you to our free Surfer Assessment program.

Whether you’re a regular frequenter of your local gym or you’re just thinking that you should start working on your body, our self-assessment program will give you an idea about how your current fitness and flexibility level will affect your surfing journey.

That being said, let’s get you acquainted with your body in more detail than ever.

Breath Training

breathe training for surfers

When it comes to endurance, surfing emerges as one of the most demanding sports ever, and that’s the case no matter what your aspirations are. Big wave surfers have to endure the sheer and untamed force of the ocean both on physical and mental grounds; competitive surfers need to endure the pressure of expectations, consistency, and inevitably the waves; and average surfers should endure the requirements of paddling, waiting, and improving as a surfer.

So, we can’t overlook the importance of endurance. Yet, breathing, one of the most consequential components of endurance, is simply overlooked probably because we cannot help but take it for granted. That’s even more surprising considering that surfing is a water sport in which you need to ration your breath for certain parts, like when you’re in a tube, doing a duck dive, or paddling through a hectic part.

However, with a proper breath training routine, you can work wonders in terms of increasing your lung capacity, allowing healthy blood circulation when strengthening your muscles, and alleviating stress and anxiety. So, take a deep dive into it by our guide, Breath Training for Surfers, and make sure that you add at least one or two of these breathing exercises to your daily training routine.

Exercises for Paddling Strength

person doing planks indoors on a pink yoga mat

You might become a master of wave-reading and tell where a wave will break, at what height, and with how much power; you might learn how to control your breathing and ration it to perfection; however, neither of these great attributes means that you’re not going to need paddling strength.

More often than not, we say that a good pop-up is what sets the tone of your ride. If that’s true (it is), then a good paddling performance is what determines the quality of your subsequent pop-up. Needless to say, for a good paddle toward the wave break, you need all the paddling strength you can build.

So, how can you build paddling strength? Well, the answer to this question takes us back to the basic tenets of upper body fitness: strengthening your core, back, and shoulders through simple exercises such as push-ups and plank sessions.

If you’re already fit, you can add flavor to your workout routine by moving directly onto push-up variations. For example, burpee push-ups prove even more beneficial for aspiring surfers because it’s quite akin to the movement of a pop-up. Additionally, it’ll also contribute to your mobility, agility, and athleticism.

For those who can handle a two-minute plank and unsurprisingly find these two minutes to be a bore, we can recommend chin-ups and Turkish get-ups.

All that being said, you should also swim and paddle a lot, even when you don’t want to catch any surf. Not only will they strengthen the necessary muscle groups, but also they’ll improve your paddling endurance.

Exercises for Joint Health

person doing stretches by the ocean at gold coast australia

So you can paddle on for hours and still have enough strength in you to accomplish a nice pop-up in the end. Well, cheers! However, without healthy, sturdy, mobile, and flexible lower body joints, all the effort you spared for paddling might just go out of the window in the blink of an eye because ignoring your joint health is simply an open invitation for injuries.

See, despite all the flair and pomposity of aerial maneuvers and whatnot, surfing remains a subtle sport that requires you to shift your weight minimally on the board. Even when you’re doing a big turn, you just need to engage the rail with a little bit of heel-to-toe movement. Yet, subtlety and minimalism require quite the strength.

After all, you’re riding on one of the most untameable forces of nature in the shape of the ocean. Even if the small and mushy waves you ride don’t exactly reflect what the real ocean is, at some point in your surfing journey, you’ll need to somehow absorb all its pressure and force. We can even say that your success depends on how well you can absorb and re-channel the energy of a wave.

To do that, you’ll need to compress and decompress by bending your knees slightly, working your ankle joints in restrained movements, and keeping your hip strong as it’s your pivot point. So, how to make sure these lower body muscles can carry you through all the zeal and ardor of a wave? By creating space for squats and lunges in your daily surf training routine. 

Suppose your ankles, knees, and hip muscles are comfortable doing at least 10 squats or lunges in a session. In that case, you can move along with their more strenuous versions, too: Bulgarian split squats or squats you perform while holding a medicine ball to your chest and dynamic lunges. 

Balance Exercises for Beginner Surfers

woman on indo board and a tractor far away

If you ask us, laypeople should be going crazy when thinking about how surfers can gain and maintain balance. Forget about the airs; forget about all the stylish bottom turns. How can a human being stand in balance on the ocean, a gruesome force of nature that’s always moving? 

You don’t need to go into the water to understand it either. As we said above, exercising with a BOSU ball, for instance, can help you develop a novel understanding of your body. When it’s your first time jumping on these balls, they try everything to throw you off balance like a rodeo bull, but you can learn how to adjust your body to its wobbles through ample exercise. Of course, it’s nothing like being on a wave, but at least it shows you how interactive a process surfing is.

For surfers, though, there are also balance board (a.k.a. indo board) exercises, which might be more useful. These indoor personal trainers are specifically designed for surfers who want to work on their balance when the surf isn’t good or the weather isn’t accommodating.

You can also make your own balance board at home by placing a cylindrical object underneath a board. Ample practice on one will help you develop muscle memory on how to react and adapt to the unpredictable movements of the board.

Surf Training for Intermediate Surfers

The needs of intermediate surfers are understandably different from those of beginners. In the least, we need to assume that they have a basic understanding of the ocean, equipment, and their own bodies. 

If you’re an intermediate surfer, you’re probably surfing on a regular basis, so you have a certain level of surf fitness reserved in your body. Imagining that you’re on your local beach with your board every weekend wouldn’t be far-fetched.

Yet, intermediacy in surfing is quite a strange phase to be in. You’re quite capable of the fundamentals, but you also know that you still have a way to improve. Then again, you might not know where and how to move because, as the waves you want to ride get bigger and bigger, the fear and anxiety that settles into one’s heart and mind also becomes greater. That’s why the intermediate stages are where and when many promising young surfers meet stagnation.

Regardless, you need to be on the wave face. You need to look a wave in the eye and tell it that you’re going to ride it. How, though? How can you overcome that fear and anxiety? Well, we have a Surf Psychology program that might change your overall mental outlook, which might be an unconventional addition to your surf training routine. We have breath training exercises, but we already covered that above. So, what else is there?

Let’s find out!

Surf Trip

person sitting on the roof of a car with a surfboard in foggy weather

When we were intermediate surfers, most of us had day jobs that took up the entirety of our weeks, and on the weekends, the most feasible option was visiting our local beach. We understand that not everybody has the means to bid farewell to their mundane life, albeit for a while, but if you have, just do it and go on a surf trip. Although the familiar things (like shores, waves, and faces) give us comfort, the longer you stick around in your comfort zone, the harder it’ll be to fight fear and anxiety.

Surf trips are essential for surf training primarily because you’re going to have to surf different waves. Similar to surfboard experimentation, experimenting with waves will also make you a better surfer. Even surfing in bad conditions might improve your skills in unimaginable ways.

Furthermore, visiting a surf camp or two, experiencing different schools of surf coaching, and getting in touch with the surfing community are key to understanding the learning curve and surfing progression. Even better, you can find more insight and encouragement through your communication with others. As a result, surfing might gain a new meaning for you.

There are also many meditation and yoga sessions in the daily life of surf camps. These sessions might further ease your mind and help you overcome your fear and anxiety.

Mobility Routine

person jogging by the sea during sunset in spain

No matter how much you’re in the surf, you still need to have a mobility routine that’ll keep you and your lungs in shape. However, you don’t need to do any high-level cardio as if you were preparing for the Olympic games either.

Jogging between half an hour and an hour, swimming, or doing some high-intensity interval training should ensure that you’re maintaining a required level of form for you to continue surfing.

Additionally, some stretches that may alleviate pain, minimize injury risk, warm up your muscles before a surf session, and improve your mobility overall are recommended. You can even enroll in an aerobics class for this particular purpose.

Strength Exercises

Again, assuming that you’re already strong enough to paddle to catch an unbroken wave, you shouldn’t focus on strengthening your body too much. After all, we don’t want you to be a body-builder. We want you to be a good surfer.

When you’re an intermediate surfer, one or two fitness sessions for the upper body and one or two for the lower body will be enough for you to maintain your shape and endurance.


person doing yoga on an empty beach and before a forest in Philippines

As we said above, fear and anxiety are the main causes for intermediate surfers to question whether they’ve hit a permanent stop in their surfing journey. So, exercises that aim to improve your focus and shoo the tension away become all the more important during this phase.

And what better discipline offers that than yoga? What’s even more amazing is that yoga isn’t only a process of mental self-discipline. It’ll also contribute to your mobility, flexibility, strength, endurance, and balance, which are all important components of a confident and competent surfer.

So, lose no time to take a look at our thoroughly put-together yoga guide and make sure you include at least some of the poses listed there in your daily surf workout routine.

Surf Training for Advanced Surfers

an advanced surfer doing an aerial maneuver

Well, if you’re already an advanced surfer who takes their board into the ocean on a daily basis, what can we tell you? Should you ever find yourself on the Gold Coast, you should come visit us and tell us all about it! No, we’re only joking. You should obviously come and visit us, but a good surf coach always has something to say.

Advanced surfers deal with really powerful waves, right? Also, they’re busting airs and performing incredible twists and turns. Tackling powerful waves means that taking care of your joint health is even more important than before, and to continue pulling off twists and turns, you need to make sure that you have great spinal mobility and strength.

To these ends, you need to maintain a healthy routine of lower body stretches, upper body fitness exercises, and, inevitably, yoga sessions. Unlike intermediate surfers who don’t surf everyday, you need to engage in these activities everyday as well.

Of course, you cannot be expected to possibly fit everything into the limited space of one single day, but a bit of everything in accordance with your needs everyday would do wonders for your joint health, mobility, and endurance.

Wrapping Up…

It’s no coincidence that most of your surfing idols have amazing bodies. After all, surfing requires a lot: strength, endurance, mobility, flexibility, balance, a nice hairdo, and so on. So, if you want to make sure your surf fitness is on par with your idols, start training before it’s too late!

Written by
Nico Palacios
surf coaching