The benefits of surfing in winter | Living North

The benefits of surfing in winter


Lockdown has led many of us to try out new things, and one sport that has been catapulted into the spotlight is paddle boarding. We talk to Coastfit’s paddle board and surf strength coach Sam Barden, on why we should all take to the water this winter

‘Surfing and paddle boarding are more popular than ever before. In the recent (pandemic) months, with the new-found appreciation for the outdoors and nature, I have noticed more and more boards in the water’, says Sam. ‘We have the most incredible coastline here in the North East, and we are so lucky to have such outstanding beaches on our doorstep, and importantly some good surf breaks, it would be a waste not to make the most of them'. 
Sam, is the founder of Coastfit, a unique personal training service based along the Tynemouth, Cullercoats and Whitley Bay coast. Whilst Coastfit’s focus is largely on ensuring client’s bodies are functionally at their best for day-to-day activity, Sam also helps would-be surfers and boarders hone their new skills to help catch those waves. 

‘It is not just cardio that is important. Flexibility, core stability, co-ordination and power are all really important on the water – and an often-forgotten part of exercise’, he explains. ‘I use a variety of exercises including swiss balls, balance boards, bosu balls and even hula hoops to improve my clients’ mobility, core stability and co-ordination, which is not only important in order to improve their surfing and paddle boarding skills, but also for their general day to day functionality.

‘To me, surfing is one of the most rounded fitness activities you can do and it is a whole lot of fun!’, Sam assures us. Plus the mental and physical benefits of doing it in cold water (yes we know winter is coming) are well recorded. Cold water works your body twice as hard, rapidly increases your metabolism and releases endorphins – the feel good chemical. Luckily, research shows your body reacts better as it gets used to being regularly submerged in cold water, although we would suggest a wetsuit is a necessity here in the North East.

So, aside from the enjoyment (which is obviously a major pro), what are the health benefits of hitting the water? 

To help get you started, Sam breaks down the fitness components needed for paddle boarding and surfing which both require similar skills. 

‘Surfing blends cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, core stability and power to capture the ultimate high of standing on a wave and riding it.  There is no other feeling quite like it’, he says.

Fresh air
An obvious benefit of surfing or paddle boarding is that you are in the great outdoors. Being outside surrounded by nature is quite possibly the most important health aspect. Getting your feet on the sand and feeling connected to the earth (you may have heard of the term ‘grounding’). And then getting in that sea, with the vast sky above you, and catching a wave is quite simply exhilarating.  

Being out in nature is good for the body and the soul. It has both physiological and psychological benefits. Humans are meant to be outdoors in the fresh air (yes, even in the winter), not indoors with the central heating cranked up. Get yourself some vitamin D and some vitamin sea! There is a relatively new movement towards cold water health treatments. The benefits of cold water therapy include boosting the body's immune system and there has never been a more important time to look after your immune system. 

My clients are always so surprised at how tiring surfing is. A friend once said to me “surfing isn’t really exercise though is it? I mean, it’s just sitting around in the water, then standing on a board being pushed in by a wave”. This seems to be a popular opinion amongst those who have never tried surfing. It sounds pretty easy, but I promise you that surfing is physically extremely exhausting. Just try paddling on a surfboard for 20 minutes.

Top tip
Try making your cardio training surf-specific. Paddling is arm-based cardio with your arms extended above your head for a long period of time.  So, if you are training in a gym, I recommend using a versa climber. Otherwise, boxing is another great option, especially using a speed ball.

In order to surf well you must have good flexibility though the shoulders, spine and hips. When lying on a surfboard you’ll often find yourself in spinal extension, whether that's when paddling or waiting for your wave. This can be quite uncomfortable when first starting.

Top tip 
Try to do a couple of yoga flows everyday focusing on shoulders, spine and hips. The Mckenzie press up is a great spinal extension exercise to practice for surfing.

Core stability
This is the part that Coastfit can really help you with, where other sport, training and exercise may miss this crucially important bit out! Try and test yourself. Can you sit on a swissball (with your feet off the floor) without it wobbling everywhere?

Core stability is an essential part of exercise to get you that functioning body you need and that for some reason is hugely overlooked. This training doesn’t just help surfing, it helps the functionality of everything you do. Having good core control and being able to recruit your intra abdominals (the deep stuff) is one of the key foundations to strength and power. If you don’t have strong deep core musculature then you won’t have the stability or the structure to generate true strength and power and ultimately you are more likely to pick up injuries. In my opinion one of the most important muscles in the human body is a muscle called the transverse abdominal (TVA) and it is also one of the most neglected. We really are missing a trick.

Top tip 
Try lying prone (facing the floor) over a swiss ball and balance yourself without having your hands or feet on the floor. This exercise is about finding your centre (proprioception) and will force you to activate the deep core muscles, while relaxing the outer unit (the more superficial muscles). These two things are key to surfing. It’s all about balance!

Finally – Power!
Now that you have worked on your cardio, flexibility and core stability, it’s time to work on power. Why? The pop up! The move that gets you from the lying position on your board, to standing on it, in the most energy efficient way possible. Without this move you are destined to bodyboard forever, which is lots of fun, but let's be honest, there’s nothing quite like standing on a surfboard and riding the wave (sorry bodyboarders).

Top tip
Dynamic press ups are the obvious choice here, however, a lot of people don’t have the power to do this. So, to improve your push power I would recommend medicine ball power chest throws (and hey, if you can do it while kneeling on a swiss ball, now we are getting somewhere!)

All these exercises can be found on Coastfit’s YouTube channel but if you would like some help improving your core stability, cardio, flexibility and power for surfing, paddleboarding, or for general functionality, then please do get in touch with Sam.

‘Having surfed for over 15 years I can honestly say there is only one negative I can give you about being in the water, which is the getting in and out of a wetsuit. It is impossible to look cool!’.

Published in: October 2020

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