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