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What is Surf Training? Part 4 - Surf Training and How it Relates to Us

In part four of this surf fitness series, Paul Norris looks at how training relates to us and what we’re doing in the water each time we paddle out - Surfing.com


In the first several parts of this Surf Training series, we established that performing the actual sport of surfing will make you a better surfer due to skill acquisition. And as you progress, training with coaches and trainers can help you develop those skills even faster. We have also learned that sport-specific training will not substitute time in the water, but it can be enhanced by utilizing movement patterns specific to the sport.


Now we will look at how training relates to us and what we’re actually doing in the water each time we paddle out.


If you break down the actual sport of surfing, more than 50 percent of your time spent in the water is paddling, around 30 percent of your time is sitting, and just a measly 10 percent is spent on your feet. So, when I hear people recommend surfing as the only way to get better, I cringe, because it depends on who this statement is directed towards. There are so many questions that need to be answered first.


If we’re looking at time in the water and more than 50 percent of it is spent paddling, then should our surf training workouts be focused on improving our paddling technique? If you’re a beginner, it definitely should make up a large portion, on top of learning how to duck dive, where to sit, and how to read the waves. Remember, the goal is to move up the skill ladder. So, if you’re efficient at paddling, that means you’re catching more waves and spending more time working on your skill.


So, in this situation, YES, just surfing will most likely have the largest benefit for skill acquisition and will produce the best results. Now on the opposite side of that, if you’re an intermediate to advanced surfer with a high skill set, then NO, just surfing isn’t the only way to get better at surfing. Here’s why: Surfing to the best of your ability comes down to how well you perform movement patterns specific to that sport.


The pros who I work with already have high skill acquisition, are great paddlers, and most likely have a high fitness level; their movement patterns are already dialed in. But some of them have tight hips, lower back pain, and nagging shoulder injuries. So, if we corrected some of these issues holding them back, they are then able to focus on improving skills without hindrance.

Once we build a solid foundation, we sprinkle in proper strength and conditioning methods, which will help improve skill acquisition. See where I’m going with this? I’m not saying everyone who surfs needs to be weight training or throwing medicine balls around, but we may have some limiting factors that with just some small tweaks will produce positive results almost immediately.


Remember, the goal is to move up the skill acquisition ladder and there are a lot of ways to approach this. For the novice surfer, just surfing will provide the quickest results, but once we’re ready to take off the training wheels, we must do an honest assessment of our strengths and weaknesses and areas that need improvement. Do we have any nagging injuries, what’s our mobility like, and where does our fitness level fall? Performing “surf specific” movements in the gym may have little carry-over if the athlete doesn’t have a solid foundation to start with. That’s why I continue to preach why less could most likely be more for a lot of people.


In Summary


I’ve been training surfers for more than 15 years - kids, moms, dads, groms, weekend warriors, qualifying series athletes, plus a handful of World Tour competitors, and if I’ve learned anything from my experience, surfers further up the skill ladder can make immense progress with sport-specific training. It prepares an athlete to compete in their sport of choice and this type of training should mimic the movements and skills required for the particular sport, and therefore should be different from sport to sport. It involves looking at the requirements of the sport and more specifically the demands it places on the body.


People will have different interpretations of “surf training” or “surf fitness,” but at the end of the day it comes down to what you’re doing outside of the water to improve performance. Surfing is a dynamic sport, so you need to look at the stresses it places on the body and train for those movement patterns. Remember, we’re not training the actual skill of surfing in the gym, we’re creating a foundation so you can maximize your time spent in the water.

There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to this. Each person has different factors at play so you must evaluate where you’re at with your surf fitness and build a solid foundation from there. So, if carrying a heavy rock underwater or sprinting up the beach and then paddling around the lifeguard tower has helped you catch more waves, thus improving your skill acquisition, I’m stoked for you! And to the cereal-eating, TV-watching-while-balance-board-training surfers - hey, it’s better than nothing right? Just don’t spill the milk...


I hope you enjoyed reading this What is Surf Training series and gained some valuable insight into sport-specific training and how it applies to surfers regarding their individual skill sets.


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