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What is Surf Training? Part 2 - Training for Skill

Paul Norris, founder of Surf Ready Fitness, looks at the importance of training with a coach and why quality over quantity is imperative - Surfing.com

In part 1 of Surf Training, we looked at what defines surf training, what it isn’t, and discussed why it’s important to have a basic understanding of the movements we need to surf and how to perform them with correct joint positions on top of the importance of starting with a goal in mind. Now, we’ll look at the importance of training with a coach and why quality over quantity is imperative.


When I first started surfing, I was a kook. No lies there. It was hard for me to figure out the ocean, rip tides, swell and wind directions, and low and high tides. Mother nature had it out for me! In surfing, there are so many factors that are simply out of your control. But, after logging more hours in the water, I was able to read the waves correctly, I knew where to sit and my surfing improved because I was developing the skills the sport demanded of me.

This is largely due to the SAID Principle, which is an acronym for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Which means when the body is placed under some form of stress, it starts to make adaptations that will allow the body to get better at withstanding that specific form of stress in the future - in short, the body is always trying to get better at exactly what you practice. This principle can also be applied to learning motor skills like hitting a tennis ball or playing the piano. Practicing that motor skill should make you more efficient at that specific skill. But, you have to keep in mind a couple of factors that affect your results: the right amount of stress as well as the specific stress to ensure carryover to your sport or activity.

Practicing any sport for an extended period of time will scientifically improve your motor skills. No amount of gym training should take the place of surfing because that skill is built in the water, not on land.


So then how many hours do I need to log in the water to get better at surfing? Malcolm Gladwell gained notoriety by popularizing his rule of 10,000 hours, which states it takes that many hours of practicing a specific skill to master it. So, am I saying that if you’ve logged 10,000 hours in the water then you will surf like the greatest surfer of all time, Kelly Slater? Perhaps, but probably not. There are a lot of other factors that contribute to performance, like genetics, conditioning, and mental confidence.


But, I’ve got good news. Gladwell’s theory has now been debunked largely because it was based around the quantity of hours, and not quality. Recent studies have now shown that if your time spent practicing is more deliberate, then you may see a quicker curve in skill acquisition. So, if you practiced a skill for three hours by yourself, or three hours with a coach who was providing feedback on technique and form, you would get more out of the session with a coach. In short, more deliberate practice with a focused goal will provide quicker skill acquisition.

Logging hours in the water will improve your surfing, but the best way to get better at something is doing activities recommended by experts to develop specific abilities, identifying weaknesses, and working to correct them.


In the next part of this series, we’ll look at sport specific training and the carryover to surfing, and provide more clarity on this. Until then, consider reevaluating your goals (paddling endurance, bigger airs, more drawn-out turns or just staying pain-free) and what specific activities will help you reach that next level.

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