7 Ways to improve your surf fitness

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in: Surf Industry, Other, Local sessions

Having recently written an article on surf nutrition I thought it’d make sense to continue with the health theme and reveal some hard-earned knowledge of how to improve your surf fitness with a strong focus on paddle fitness.

Paddle techniques and understanding the dynamics of the surf break are equally important. I think that knowing you have the strength and fitness you need to tackle most surf breaks, your confidence in the water will rise. 


Have you ever been so close to making it out back, and then got swept back to the inside by another set of waves? You were probably in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, if you build your fitness and endurance to enable you to paddle again after being swept back; this can make the difference between getting out back and enjoying beautiful unbroken waves or building on your white water warrior skills.

So, here are my top 7 ways to improve your surf fitness...

1. Surfing

This is a no-brainer; the more you surf, the more your body will become accustomed to the activity, your paddle fitness will improve over time, and you’ll be getting to do what you love at the same time.


This is not always possible if you don’t live so close to the beach, if the surf is flat or you have to work.

In my early days of learning to surf, I would tackle most surf conditions just for a paddle. This was regardless of how slim my chances of making it past the white water were. I got fitter eventually!

2. Paddle boarding/surf life saving

Similar to surfing, taking a large buoyant paddle board or rescue-board out in the ocean, paddling out through the waves or paddling around in the calm water will help you to improve your awareness of the waves; you’ll start finding rips and gaining a better paddle technique.

Surf life saving is a great way to train for surfing; you’ll also learn additional useful skills. Many moons ago I spent a few weeks of intense surf life saving training in Australia and learnt to be a lifeguard. My wave knowledge and paddle fitness grew dramatically in those weeks as well as my confidence; it didn’t help with my irrational fear of sharks though.


3. Swimming

Don’t just do endless lengths of front crawl, while this will improve your overall fitness; it won’t target the areas you want to improve for paddle fitness, not to mention it is pretty boring.

Hit the pool with some creativity; front crawl with a float between your legs, alternating fast lengths with a slow recovery length, this will help improve your paddle fitness and help with that extra speed required to catch the wave. It’s also a pretty good cardio workout.

4. Hit the gym

I’m not suggesting pumping iron and ending up in a bodybuilding competition, you’d have to do some serious training and eating (with the odd steroid use) to end up there. What I am suggesting is, is to start using weights or other equipment you can find in gyms to provide resistance. This will help to build strength where you need it.

Find a good coach or look online, try to focus your workouts towards the core and upper body; working on improving strength and endurance, though don’t totally neglect the legs- you will need to use these once you’re stood up.

What gym exercises have helped me with my surf fitness?

Work with the pull-up bar: pull ups, chin ups and hanging leg raises, Pushups, TRX system, Balance ball.

These can all give you a great variety of workouts.

If you’re stuck for ideas, The surf strength coach has some great videos you can do in the gym; some focus on different areas. Here’s one of his I particularly like for improving paddle fitness: 


Take a look; I’m sure you can find a workout to suit.

5. HIIT: High-intensity interval training

This is great for overall physical fitness, try and do movements that will compliment surfing.

HIIT training seems to be popular at the minute, search youtube for HIIT and you’ll find a vast number of workouts you can do. I find any routines with burpees, crawling push ups, pull ups (if you have the bar), Hindu push-ups, up & down plank and lunges work well for overall surf fitness.

6. Cross-fit.

Essentially Cross-fit is a combination of body weight training, weight training, circuit training and some damn hard work. It’s a great cardiovascular workout and usually our competitive nature encourages us to push harder and do more than those around you. You’ll probably have to join a specific Cross-fit gym, which will probably resemble a disused warehouse, but not only will your fitness improve; you’ll probably make some new acquaintances, be wary though you may get addicted to Cross-fit and forget to go surfing! This type of training is really an overall workout, which will improve all over fitness not just paddle specific exercises. There’s usually an obscene amount of pull-ups so it will always get my vote.


7. Yoga

Yoga improves overall strength and flexibility; it isn’t just good for getting your stretch on, it can be a great resistance workout too!

There are some really challenging positions and moves that require a great deal of strength and stability, so this will definitely help with your surf fitness.

Yoga will also help you to focus and breath deeply, which are excellent additional benefits to your surfing and life in general.


These are only my top 7 training methods to improve surf fitness; there are many more ways to improve your level of fitness. Anything that gets you moving and sweating when you can’t surf gets my vote. If you want to improve quicker or you are struggling getting through the white water then it may be worth investing in one of these training methods.

How to improve your surf through fitness.

How to improve your surf through fitness.

Learning surf specific paddling.

Learning surf specific paddling.

Surf paddle training, great for when it's flat.

Surf paddle training, great for when it's flat.

Surf specific surf training in the gym.

Surf specific surf training in the gym.

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