How to Train to Get the Most Out of your Surfing

Surfing is one of the world’s most enjoyable sports, being extremely popular as both a profession and recreational activity. However, it is also considered one of the most physically demanding.

While surfing has a cool and laid-back approach from the outset, competing at the elite level requires your body to be in peak physical condition – and it doesn’t just involve surfing waves.

For many, a surfing lifestyle seems easy where you spend as much time in the water as possible. While important, more research has gone into training approaches outside of the water to increase the performance of elite surfers.

Understanding effective training approaches to surfing will help surfers achieve more in the water and help prevent injuries associated with the sport.

Exercise Right had the chance to talk to Pere Campistol and Dr Steven Duhig. Pere Campistol is Sports Scientist following his passion of contributing to the surf community by researching and developing training programs to enhance performance and mitigate the risk of surf injuries. He’s been working as a surf coach and training surfers using dry-land techniques. Dr Steven Duhig is a Lecturer and researcher at Griffith University, Gold Coast. He currently convenes Sports Coaching and Exercise Prescription and Programming with his research focusing on sports performance and injury prevention.

Both Pere and Steven have been contributing to the surf community by researching and developing training programs to enhance performance and mitigate the risk of surf injuries. They have endorsed the use of dry land and breathing techniques to help surfers become both physically and mentally ready for the demands of the sport.

More recently, Pere, Steven and co-founder Martin Salinas have started developing THE SURF PENTAGON. Their mission is to create an ecological system through the delivery of passionate pedagogy, fostering evidence-informed and integral experiences to enrich the performance of the surf community. The platform will provide a progressive learning system targeted to surf coaches and surf-enthusiasts.

If you’re a surfer wanting to become more efficient in the water or just curious how an elite surfer train, hear what our experts have to say.


The experts advice to surf training:


Should a surfer look beyond the water and spend time in the gym or going for a run?

Absolutely 100% for getting in the gym but a BIG ‘it depends’ for the run. We know the numerous benefits associated with strength and power training, not only for performance but also injury prevention – so this type of cross-training will allow you to surf better and more often. Now, running is a great form of exercise and we don’t deny is also a fantastic way to clear the head BUT long distance running will likely increase ankle stiffness which isn’t desirable for surfing – probably no harm if you’re going for a couple of 4-5km runs each week but just be mindful. If you’re trying to improve your fitness, then we’d suggest focussing on the energy systems and mode of exercise related to surfing.

For example, we’ve got a sweet little drill called ‘Beachies’, which is geared toward what you might experience when paddled out at a beach break, it involves:

5 x 5s paddling/swimming efforts then duck dive

Rest 10s

20s all out tethered paddling/swimming

Rest 20s

2 x 15s (120% MAS), 15s (70% MAS)

The MAS is the mean aerobic speed determined from a 400m time trial. You divide 400m by the time taken to complete (in seconds) then calculate either 120% or 70% of this value. (e.g. 400m time =380s, MAS = 400m/380s = 1.05m/s).

What are some training specifics surfers should consider?

We focus on 5 foundational aspects when developing/ensuring our surfers meet an adequate level for their goals/ aspirations:

Breathing techniques – How we breath (mechanics), utilise diaphragmatic an intraabdominal pressure for trunk stability purposes, respiratory muscle training to reduce metaboreflex (i.e. Improved paddling endurance), up and down regulation of psychological and physiological states using different breathing techniques and surf specific breath hold drills.

Mobility and stability – Do our surfers have the required range of motion to perform well? We identify potential mobility and stability issues that may compromise performance. For instance, a surfer may have good chest flexibility, but they also need to be able to control the shoulder through circumduction due to have to control the board when propelling through the water (reduce surfboard drag).

Energy system development – We make sure we’ve prepared our surfers for worst case scenarios. You can use your own experience in addition to the scientific literature to decide which energy system you should target. This component is especially important for those not fortunate to live a stone’s throw from the surf – be sure to get wet and train with the right mode of exercise to prepare for your next surf trip.

Resistance training – Don’t worry about trying to look like Hercules. You should be aiming to get a strong relative pull up (females>1.3; males>1.4 – relative pull up formula = (external load + bodyweight)/ bodyweight) to improve paddling and shoulder health. Strong and power legs will also improve your wave speed and throwing buckets of spray, squat and countermovement jumps and isometric mid-thigh pulls have been associated with higher scores in competition.

Paddling technique – We recognise that everyone has their own style but there are certain aspects of paddling technique that will make this strenuous activity, easier. Make sure you focus on minimising drag (mobility and stability can assist this) which is easily done by correct board positioning and ensuring you direct your force generation in a horizontal manner (pull the water to your toes, don’t push it to the floor).

How does a surfer better manage their recovery and injury prevention? Is stretching and strength training the key?

We encourage the 4 R’s; refuel, rehydrate, rest and regenerate. It is also worthwhile you implement a surfer monitoring system, accurately track training and surfing loads (e.g. training volume, session RPE and surf duration). Be willing to adjust daily training intensity or volume or even allow a day of complete rest when performance declines or the surfer complains of excessive fatigue, establishing open lines of communication is key to receiving this information. Be sure to individualise your programs as we all respond differently.

Does a surfer benefit from flexibility and mobility (e.g. Pilates or yoga) to help manage injury prevention?

Injury prevention is a tricky one given its multifaceted nature. We’d suggest injury prevention should be approached using ‘Goldilocks zone’, if there’s not enough or too much flexibility/ mobility then you likely increase the risk of injury. Our advice is to know the demands of the surfing such as required joint range of motion and angles which require strength. For instance, can they get in to (mobility) and out of (strength) a deep squat with a dorsiflexed ankle, flexed knee, internally rotated and flexed hip and flexed trunk.

Need help with your training?

An Accredited Exercise Physiologist can assist you by guiding you through an individualised, safe and evidence-based exercise program to “bulletproof” your workouts. Get in touch with your local exercise expert today by clicking here.

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Written by Exercise Right staff.

We have partnered with Nike Australia Pty Ltd for this article series.

The views expressed in this article, unless otherwise cited, are exclusively those of the author, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA). ESSA is a professional organisation committed to establishing, promoting and defending the career paths of tertiary trained exercise and sports science practitioners.

Nike had no role in the collection, analysis, or interpretation of data or research or the writing of this article.