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Best swimming exercise for surfing

Surfing is one of those sports that requires you to be at the right time at the right place, and that is an issue for most of us. Career, family, studies and often distance make it hard to be available when all conditions come together. I’m not even talking about flat summers and rough windy winters here… When you have not even a single wave to grasp for days or weeks or even more. That’s why you need to train and have a swimming exercise that fits surf requirements.

When finally your schedule and mother nature plans are matching, you need to be physically and mentally ready if you want to enjoy it at least a little. Otherwise your session might just be a long suffering that will only end when you will get back on shape. Which will probably be during the next session or the one after. So instead of lying on your couch and binge watching surf videos, if you don’t want to miss the tight windows of opportunities it would be clever to kick your lazy ass and go hit the pool. 

Don’t worry, we are not talking about super hardcore training here (you won’t need to walk under water with a big stone, although it looks epic on video). This is just simple workout to keep your body running and avoid to lack confidence (and breath) on the D-day. Big waves surfers probably have top training but they require another kind of dedication. I’m talking to the like-minded people here (=the lazy ones) who don’t really enjoy swimming nor working out that much. Besides, if you have a job, family and so on… you probably don’t have time to spend 5hours of work out per day. Or playing russian roulette at Teahupoo (Yes, that’s my excuse).

I used this exercise myself for a few years while I was 7hours away from the closest decent break, so if worked for me, it probably will for you as well. All you need is two hours of your time per week and a good motivation goal, like not dying on your next session for instance.

If you can’t paddle in the ocean for a few weeks or months, unless you live in the middle of nowhere, you probably can swim in a pool. Sure, it won’t be the same as a real surfing session, but it’s better than nothing.

My work out program consists of two main parts, that are combined together into one swimming session to make it simple and fit with tight schedules and/or laziness.

1) Enhance your stamina

First, you need to work on your endurance. Best way to do so, is simply to swim as much as you can handle at a quite low pace, but for a long time. If you can reach 1km in less than 30 min, that’s already quite a good start, even if that doesn’t make you the next Michael Phelps. Sorry bro. Try to set higher objective every time you go (100m more per session for instance/ or 1 min less). You will be surprised by how quickly your body adapt. Especially if you were a regular surfer, your body will probably helps you a bit. 

Front crawling is of course the best way to do it as it will reproduce your paddling movement, but you can switch if you feel tired with another swimming technique. The idea is that you stop as less as possible. Besides, it is a very good exercise to anticipate any likely leash snap (and you won’t be able to rest on the edge of the pool when that happens). So if you are tired, just imagine you just broke your leash and you have no choice.

Most of surf sessions last around 2 hours, but you probably won’t last that long in the pool if you swim constantly, usually in 40min or an hour you already had a nice one, you are either tired enough or bored to death. But the effort required in the ocean is not as smooth as a swimming in a pool, that’s why although just swimming it’s a great start to improve your stamina, you also need to train to manage your energy and your recovery time. And that’s what the next step is all about.

2) The burst of energy  

Paddling out is not as straightforward as going from one edge to the other in the swimming pool. Especially if your break doesn’t not have the comfort of a wide channel (such as beach breaks)… Chances are that you will have to duck dive, sprint, get pounded, sprint again although you are already cooked and so on… until finally you can rest a little at the peak. It can take time, often more than you would like. Even if you are surfing reef breaks or point breaks, you will get caught at
some point anyways. So, you can use this technique too to get you out of the way as quickly as you can.

This technique is pretty straightforward and should be included in your stamina training. The deal is simple: you take as much breath as you can handle, you dive and swim slowly underwater (breaststroking) as long as you can (it’s not a competition, no need to die here) making sure you are moving forward. When you start to get out of breath, you pop up gently and take one little breath. Then, BOOM, you start front crawling like a mad man (full speed) until the next edge. When you’ve reached the edge, you swim again at your normal endurance path for another pool length.

Not clear? Ok short example:

Let’s say your pool is 50m long (Olympic pool). You have been swimming for 10 pool length, so around 500m at endurance pace, good warm up.

  1. Stop a minute to take a full breath at maximum lung capacity.
  2. Swim calmly underwater for -say- 25m (that would be a very good start if you are not used to it).
  3. Pop up (when you are out of breath) and swim 25m as fast as you can until the edge.
  4. When you have reached the edge, go for another length at a normal pace (recovery speed).
  5. Repeat this either in the row, or spread throughout your overall swimming work out depending on how bad you like to hurt yourself.

Why should you indulge yourself such a suffering?

This exercise is teaching you many things. First it will make you familiar with your breath holding time and feelings. If you can swim underwater actively for 25s, you can probably take a beating of 8 seconds. Most wipeouts are a lot shorter than that, so you know you can make it… always good to know. Second, it will teach you what it feels like to be in the rush, and how your body is reacting to it. You will experience heart beat, control your breath and stress and so on. For example, it’s normal that you feel a bit dizzy or even a little high when you pop up.

Then, on an anatomic point of view your lungs holding ability will increase, which is quite useful. Your explosive strength will also greatly improve. Since you are training to sprint out of breath, it will seem easier next time when you will be normally breathing. It will also make your body switch between high energy bust and active recovery, which is what most of surf sessions are about! To simulate even more the surf session effect, you can do a few pushups when you get home. Little cherry on the cake.

I’ve been personally using that technique for a few years when I was away from the ocean for my studies. With two sessions of around one hour per week, I could keep up my surf sessions (even in winter). When I got back home I was almost not feeling any difference compared to when I left. I’m not a charger so I don’t really need more for the kind of waves I’m surfing. But everyone is different, maybe some of you will need more than that, and others less.

Give it a try and let me know how it worked out for you in the comments!

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Passionate surfer, and travel bug, I believe that good advices will not only benefit from the one who receives it but also to the one who gives it. The surf community might be evolving rapidly, it's still up to us to make it better or worse. I like to discover new places and uncrowded spot, as much as I like a perfect session at home with my friends. Except that I also have a master coffee in degree drinking. Or the opposite. And it's not looking to be any better in a foreseeable future!

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