What is the best way to become a great surfer? Those familiar with the waves and their ways will tell you to surf more, but yoga is gaining increasing acknowledgment as a surfer’s helper. The two activities might not seem like the best pairings on the surface, but closer inspection shows that they share more than most people assume.
Yoga is good for surfers for their clarity of mind, focus, balance, and healthy, lean physicality. Yoga is well suited to provide these vital characteristics to those who practice it—the goals and ideals of surfing meshing almost word-for-word with them.
In this piece, we will explore the middle ground between these two pursuits, looking at how yoga can help wave-seekers achieve their purposes. We will also delve into yoga’s specific poses and practices that directly relate to surfing culture and practice.
If you were at a complete loss as to how to describe surfing to someone, you could say it is balancing on a board – on water. The essential requirement of proper balance is aptly mirrored in yoga practice. In much the same way that you will be challenged to keep your feet planted on your board while out on the water, your yoga mat can also be a tricky place to stay upright.
Fortunately for surfers and yogis alike, balance is a skill that can be trained and honed. The tricky part lies in maintaining it for any significant period. Yoga comprises many poses and movements that serve to challenge one’s sense of balance and stability. You will need to be increasingly well-balanced as you move on to increasingly challenging postures.
What you need to accomplish this is flexibility and strength, as these two qualities will be needed when correcting wobbles, maintaining posture, and keeping everything on an even keel. This applies to surfing as much as it does to yoga.
As challenging as many yoga poses may be, perhaps the most challenging aspect of successful yoga practice is quieting one’s mind. The same applies for surfers, as you need to be wholly immersed in what you are doing for you to achieve your aims.
There is always something going on that needs your attention while on the water – you are looking out for the next swell, watching out for fellow surfers, trying to keep your paddling steady, popping up, and, finally, riding the wave itself. You can’t afford to let yourself be distracted.
This means quieting the mind and clearing it of any interfering chatter. Some people speculate that this is why younger surfers seem able to take the sport more readily than older participants.
They have an easier time clearing their mind and being present in the moment since, perhaps, there is not all that much to clear out in the first place.
Even with all the responsibilities and worries that come with life as the years go by, we can train ourselves to achieve the Zen-like state of complete immersion surfing calls for more easily. Yoga is a great way to build up this ability.
Yoga practice will teach you to focus inwards and build your inner awareness rather than rely on external sensory inputs. Your mind’s power will become accessible to you as you harness and learn to unlock it. With an increased ability to keep calm under pressure, your progress as a surfer will dramatically improve.
This calmness is what keeps panic at bay and thus keeps you safe from any incidents or accidents that could be avoided. The flow state hypothesis is a great way to explain this condition that allows for peak performance and happiness while making things look easy.
Regardless of their discipline, all elite performers can achieve this state and perform feats of skill and prowess that seem otherworldly with a calmness and composure that makes it seem like they’re grocery shopping on a Sunday morning. Even when the pressure is at boiling point and fans are hyperventilating in the stands.
Watch highlights of great athletes such as Tom Brady, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, and others in their prime if you want to see flow state performance. It is as close to a superpower as you can get without getting bit by a radioactive cockroach or whatever.
Anyway, the suitability of yoga teachings on mindfulness is well-known and acknowledged by surfing professionals such as Gerry Lopez, Kelly Slater, Greg Long, and many more who incorporate it into their training and lifestyles. This does not mean that yoga is for the pros alone – not by a long shot – beginners will reap just as much benefit, if not more, from regular yoga practice.
All athletic activities lay us open to the risk of muscle misalignments, imbalances, strains, and such mishaps. Surfing is no exception to this rule. You will find surfers complaining about and struggling with:
- Lower back pain: a lot of pressure is absorbed by the lower back during surfing
- Tight hips: Surfing calls for extensive use of the hip rotators, leading to significant tightness in this region.
- Closed chests: This causes low oxygen flow, which negatively impacts a surfer’s endurance and strength.
- Joint pains: Surfers are highly susceptible to various types of joint pain, especially in their ankles and wrists.
- Stiffness in the back, neck, and shoulders: The continuous paddling motions that surfers have to endure as they wait for the next suitable swell to make its appearance places a strain on these regions, leading to their stiffness.
These are all imbalances that make surfing more complicated and lower your performance and enjoyment of the sport. Participating in yoga is an excellent way of dealing with these issues and preventing other potential troubles.
With the added range of motion in your joints, increased flexibility, and enhanced muscle tones that regular yoga practice builds up in its practitioners, the chances of injury are greatly lessened since the body is more durable and resistant to hard knocks or harsh extensions.
Without injuries, surfing can be pretty rough on the body, depending on your level of expertise and the conditions out on the water. A tough session can cause you to wake up the next day with all sorts of aches and pains and stiffness. The time these complaints take to subside so that you feel comfortable enough to head back out on the water is known as recovery time.
Yoga is highly effective at shortening the recovery times needed after intense activity. This is not only relevant to surfers – many athletes and sporting professionals incorporate yoga into their routines as a form of physical therapy that helps prevent these ailments and make them subside much faster.
An increasing number of physical therapists who mainly focus on helping the elderly and those who have suffered debilitating injuries also make extensive use of yoga in their practice. There is steadily increasing evidence that yoga can have real and tangible positive effects on patients with limited or reduced mobility, strength, and range of motion.
Aside from these, the regular aches, pains, and stiffness of daily living can be effectively managed with a good yoga routine that will leave you feeling reinvigorated and relaxed.
The role of flexibility in surfing is vast. It might be underestimated because it is often misrepresented. Still, the essence of flexibility is more linked to an increased range of motion than being able to twist yourself into a human knot. It is about getting the most range out of your joints.
Surfers know that among the most stubborn and widespread issues they face are stiff backs, necks, shoulders, and tight hips. Yoga offers a handy solution to these complaints. Effective pop-ups and sustained paddling will require a good range of motion in the joints involved.
As you get into more technical and complex maneuvers out on the water, the quality of flexibility will become more relevant. Flexibility refers to your body’s ability to meet the limits of its range of motion without harm. Surfing is all about pushing things to the limit.
A healthy yoga routine will increase the range of motion you will be working with across all your joints and give you the flexibility that allows you to push things that extra bit further that makes for a great surf session.
With adequate flexibility, joints will be less prone to injury and will recover more rapidly from any strains or injuries that may occur. Yoga will not only increase your capacity to take on new challenges; it will give you the reserves to push through potentially trying encounters with minimal harm.
Yoga types such as Ashtanga, Yin, and Vinyasa yoga are great for those wishing to enhance their surfing capacities, as they incorporate plenty of deeply-held stretches, balance-intensive poses, and dynamic flowing sequences. They are a great warming-up and cooling-down activity for optimal performance.
Pranayama, or controlled breathing, is one of the core practices of yoga. Among its many techniques are those aimed at increasing the practitioner’s lung capacity by teaching them to breathe deeply through the nose to fill their lungs.
This capacity is useful for a surfer as it builds their endurance and stamina, which comes in handy. You have to paddle for extended periods waiting for a good break, or when you have to spend a long minute or so underwater after the inevitable wipeouts, we all learn to accept.
Another positive effect of breathing control is its ability to help a person keep a calm and steady mind in the face of fear. The natural breathing rhythm of pranayama allows you to get into a natural, comfortable rhythm with your body, and this will serve you well when you are faced with a wave you’re not too sure you can handle.
The correlation with yoga is even more direct and effective, as breathing control is a core tool used in yoga practice to achieve a meditative state, where the mind is emptied of all thought.
Surfing calls for a degree of this type of mental state, where the worries and cares of the world are removed from the surfer’s mind, leaving them free to focus all their attention on surfing.
Even though the outcome might be unpredictable, holding steady and pushing through whatever uncertainties we are faced with is what surfing is all about. This aspect of yoga practice is excellent at building up this capacity in its practitioners.
Your time out on the water will usually be composed of 10 percent wave riding and 90 percent paddling as you wait on the next set of breaks. All the paddling, pop-ups, board stands, and maneuvers you will go through call for exceptional reserves of physical strength and endurance.
Not to mention the hassles of getting back on your board every time you wipe out.
Compared to many other sporting activities, be they on the water or out of it, surfing calls for a high physical fitness level. Getting in good shape for the water is best done out of it, where yoga comes to the rescue.
Hatha yoga, or physical yoga, is the modern yoga practice that emphasizes postures, breathing, and movement. The popular types of yoga you will encounter in the Western world are covered under this umbrella and include such examples as Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, Bikram (Hot) yoga, Iyengar yoga, and more.
For the most part, these modern iterations of yoga offer us a comprehensive, full-body workout. When we execute the poses, maintain our body alignment, and move from one posture to the next dynamically, we call into action muscles and muscle groups seldom utilized in our ordinary day-to-day routines.
Surfing asks the same of us. A good surfing outing will leave you feeling the burn in muscles you did not even know existed. As in yoga, surfing calls for total body engagement because one cannot rely on sheer momentum to keep them up top. Every tiny movement must be carefully controlled to avoid a sudden dip under the breaks.
The correlation here becomes apparent when we consider the muscles and physical resources used in both activities. The small stabilizing and balancing muscles we recruit to achieve complicated flows and power-hungry postures are quite often the very same ones we make use of while atop our boards.
Getting these muscles used to such exertion makes them stronger and more capable of tackling the often unpredictable surfing nature. You will be able to surf better, longer, and more robustly due to regular yoga practice. Who wouldn’t want that?
Yoga as a whole has plenty of benefits on offer for its practitioners, but certain poses are especially helpful to surfers. You will find that yoga is highly effective at activating and exercising specific muscles or muscle groups, which is advantageous when increasing specific capacities and capabilities.
Even as you go over the poses we will cover here, remember that this is not an exhaustive list and that different postures might better serve different people. Use this shortlist to spark your yoga journey. You won’t regret it.
This pose is great at lengthening your spine, shoulders, as well as the left and right sides of your body.
- Start on all fours. With your hips directly above your knees, stretch your hands out on the mat in front of you. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart.
- While exhaling, move your hips back towards your heels up until your navel is approximately above your knees. Your arms should be fully activated during all this with your elbows off the mat. Your forehead may come down to the mat, where you may place a towel, block, or cushion for your comfort.
- On your next inhale, raise upwards gently while shifting your hands towards the left side of your body, all while keeping your torso entirely centered, and rest in that position. You should feel the right side of your abdomen being stretched out.
- Hold this pose for 2 to 3 breaths before resuming the neutral center position before repeating the process on the other side of your body.
Remember to hold the neutral position for at least three breaths before engaging one of the sides, as this will give your chest and rib cage ample time to experience the full stretching and lengthening effects of this pose.
This is a beneficial pose for surfers, as its movements so closely mimic the pop-up phase of any wave-catching endeavor. It specifically works to lengthen the calves and hamstrings while giving the shoulders, hands, and arches of your feet a workout.
You will also have strength built up in your upper body, legs, and arms, as well as experiencing relief from fatigue and back pains.
- Start by getting onto your hands and knees atop your mat, with both knees directly underneath your hips. Your wrists should similarly be pace underneath your shoulders at shoulder-width distance apart. Spread out your fingers with your index fingers parallel and with your toes tucked under.
- Take in a deep breath and as you release it, gently raise your knees off the mat. Do not fully extend them but keep them slightly bent as you go on to raise your tail bone towards the ceiling. Keep up your deep breathing cycle.
- On an exhale, push your knees back using the force of your quadriceps so that your heels are pushed back onto the mat. At this point, you should feel that your entire leg muscles are activated, but be sure not to lock your knees fully. You can keep them bent a little bit if you tend to over-extend them.
- Focus on your arms as you activate your outer arms so that your weight is transmitted to the ground through your index fingers’ bases. Hold on to this pose for a minute or so while breathing continuously and deeply into your rib cage.
A good part of surfing calls for significant back strength and endurance, as one needs to do a lot of paddling to catch the sometimes elusive breakers that make for good surfing. The average person uses these muscles very little in their day-to-day activities, but yoga can help activate them and get them strong enough to help while on the water.
- Start by lying down on your belly with your hands placed right beneath your shoulders. Your legs should be stretched out straight behind you, either touching together or placed at hip-distance apart.
- Activate the muscles running along your back, your buttocks, hamstrings, and calves to raise your legs into the air behind you as you simultaneously raise your chest upwards so that your heart is facing the wall in front of you.
- Keep your chin up as you balance in this position for about 15 seconds. Bring your body back to the prone position and start again.
Once this pose starts to become easy for you, increase the challenge by holding it for more extended periods. You could also try a variation of it known as the Superman, whereby your hands will be stretched out in front of you rather than at your sides – just like Superman.
This pose is effective in stretching and strengthening your upper back, shoulders, hips, and calves, as well as lengthening your spine. Shoulder and neck tension will be relieved as your shoulder blades are drawn closer together, your torso range of motion is improved, and your chest opened up.
- Start by standing upright before your yoga mat. With your hands on your hips, place your feet wide apart with their edges in parallel.
- Take in a breath and elongate your body as much as you can, running from your hips to the top of your head.
- With your exhale, hinge forwards at your hips so that your chest comes towards your knees. You can keep your knees slightly bent as you do this, but be sure to keep your torso elongated.
- Have your hands now touch the mat and rest there between your spread legs and underneath your lowered chest. Should this be difficult for you, use yoga blocks or a couple of books to make up the distance. The idea is to have your hands resting somewhere stable without too much strain.
- Now, take your left arm and place it at your centerline, right below your sternum, although still on the mat or prop. Take a deep breath and stretch your right arm upwards, letting your shoulder lead the direction up towards the ceiling. Lengthen this motion through to your fingertips as you keep your arm in a vertical position.
- As you let out your breath, bring your right arm down to the center point. Raise your left arm now in the same attitude as you just did with your right arm, keeping sure that your twisting on both instances is taking place in your torso rather than in your hips. Repeat the sequence five times with both arms.
- Proceed to bring both arms to resting position at your center point. Squat down gently with your heels turned in slightly and your toes pointed out towards your sides. Bring your hands up to your hips.
- Now, in tandem with your inhale, lift your torso upwards slightly, keeping your spine elongated and straight. Your hands should now be brought to rest slightly above your knees with your wrists facing out.
- After a breath or two, let your left shoulder drop towards your center point as you exhale, again making sure that you twist with your torso as your hips remain steady. Exhale as you return to the neutral position and repeat the sequence with your right shoulder.
Note: These postures may be practiced daily as warming up and cooling down techniques to aid your surfing outings. They are great ways of generating a bit of heat and readiness for the challenges to be faced out on the water. Be careful not to push yourself and your body too much. Listen to your body and pay attention to your breathing as you assume these poses for the best and safest results.
Those old enough to remember will tell you that surfing used to have a rather unpleasant reputation among polite society. Surfers were thought of as jobless, unwashed bums who spent all day doing a lot of nothing at the beach, eating just about anything that came to hand.
During the 1960s, the hippie movement, which readily adopted yoga and its teachings, began to influence surfing culture. Surfers began to care about nature, their bodies, and their minds. They found a spiritual meaning to being out on the water and began exercising. It is fair to say that yoga might have saved surfing, and it continues to do so today. Give it a try for yourself.
- Wikipedia: Yoga
- Do You: Why Yoga and Surfing Go Together
- Yoga Journal: Yoga Poses for Surfers
- Surfer: Better Surfing Through Yoga
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