It was a perfect day for wave-sliding in sunny Southern California: a head-high southwest swell, almost no wind and a wide open schedule. ‘Squatting Yoda’ crouched down underneath the barrel as his board slid along the surface of the ocean. With nowhere to be, the only thing on his to-do list was paddling out, waiting for the right wave, catching it, and riding it back in — rinse and repeat — until the sun set over the horizon.

For a few lucky surfers, these conditions may be all that is needed to sustain the joys of regular surfing. For some, however, a surf session can take quite a toll on the body. I recently checked in with my surfer friends Stormin’ Normin, Mitch, Squatting Yoda, Howie, Lish, Os, Kip and Pablo, to find out more about their common aches and pains. I learned that pain or fatigue can, unfortunately, cause tasty waves to be sacrificed for the sake of rest and recovery.

Surfing can be an incredibly potent act of self-care, both mentally and physically, but also has the potential to create a slew of bodily issues. Musculoskeletal pain, strain and imbalances are especially common in the ankles, shoulders, knees and lower back. Which makes a lot of sense given my own ill-fated surfing experience.

When Surf’s Up but the Body’s Breaking Down

Technically, I have surfed: over the years I’ve had a few experiences paddling out on a surfboard while on a warm sunny beach in Hawaii or Mexico. I sat out in the water, waited for waves, and sort of rode them, although never well. Then while attending college in Santa Barbara, I lived just minutes from the beach. So I tried hopping on the bandwagon as my friends quickly made surfing one of their go-to pastimes.

Unfortunately however, dormant old injuries from high school resurfaced aggressively when I got out in the water on a board, and I quickly decided that not only was the activity too uncomfortable to keep pursuing, but it seemed like it was making these pain points worse.

My body spoke and I listened. Surfing, at that point in my life, was a no-go.

Photo: on the beach by Max Bayuk

So I turned my time and energy to yoga, which served my needs in many of the same ways that surfing served my friends’ needs: providing a meditative experience, a workout and a sense of community. The difference for me was that yoga soothed my chronic pains, rather than aggravating them. I soon became a yoga teacher myself.

Then as time went on, I began to see just how similar (and complementary) yoga and surfing could be. It’s no wonder that many surfers use yoga as cross-training for their surf practice. The strength, mobility and balance developed in yoga directly translate to movements on their surfboards.

Striking Similarities Between Yoga Poses and Surfing

From a movement perspective, the most frequent motion of surfing — paddling out — looks awfully similar to certain backbends performed on the floor during yoga, such as locust and cobra pose.

Author Max showing where cobra meets paddling out

Meanwhile, the Warrior poses in yoga practice mirror the posture of a surfer riding a wave.

Author Max shows the similarities between standing on a surfboard and warrior 2

When I furthered my education in fitness therapy by becoming a Tune Up Fitness instructor, I found even more customized ways to help my surfer friends. By tailoring specific corrective exercise and self-massage techniques to their unique surfing pain points, I’ve been able to help them do what they love — spend more of those long, peaceful days gliding on the surface of the ocean.

In my next post I will share specific exercises to help with the top two physical pains that my surfer friends suffer from the most. Be sure to tune in next week!

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