Cross training - surfing

I'm always looking for other ways to keep fit, outside of standard training, and when I moved down to Phuket I was reminded as to how good surfing is as a form of conditioning.

I've been surfing (more specifically bodyboarding) for nearly 20 years now, mostly in the cold waters of Cornwall, UK. After moving to Thailand, I didn't get many chances to surf... Bangkok doesn't have many waves, but I did manage to get a few surfs in, the best being in Bali about 4 years ago.

Moving down here to Phuket was great, because I moved down at the end of the low season, and my first week here had a solid swell rolling in. My first dip in the water had me a little worried, as I wasn't sure if the muay chaiya training that I'd been doing would be enough for me to charge the surf like I used to (in my younger days;) but, I was pleasantly surprised. My cardio was up to scratch, and all the chaiya guard/elbow training had left my arms and shoulders in pretty good shape. My legs were strong as well, which is important for bodyboarding (we wear flippers to help paddling the shorter board) and it all added up to me having a GREAT time and surfing the best that I had done in years.

After a week of this, I was pleasantly surprised that not only was I able to surf consistently well, but it had also picked up my fitness level a lot, maybe an additional 15% on my cardio. To anyone training in high heat, you'll know how valuable this can be, especially if you're wanting to last those extra rounds.

So, why do I think it's such a good form of training? Well...
  1. It's fun! There aren't many sports that constantly make you want to keep pushing yourself. In surfing this works on several levels. First you have to paddle out through the waves to get 'out back' depending on the conditions this can take as little as a minute to 10 minutes. Once you're out there, you're paddling around looking for waves, and trying to position yourself for the best ride. Catching a wave is not easy, and you can expend a lot of energy just trying, and riding the wave can be very extreme, physically and mentally. If you're unlucky, you'll get nailed in a bad wipeout. AND THEN... you have to paddle out again to get out back again. So, you get out back and you think "ok I'll have a little break", but then a nice wave comes through, and before you know it, you're paddling for it, riding it, and then back to the inside with another long paddle out ahead of you! This can go on, and on... but it's just so damn fun you can't help yourself!
  2. When surfing you have to learn to control your breathing, and mix the heavy exercise with holding your breath for long periods. 10-15secs of holding your breath may not sound bad, but it can seem like eternity when you're getting thrashed under the water after paddling your ass off. This exercise/breathing mix does wonders for you lungs and cardio system.
  3. No mattter how much your arms/legs ache you have to keep pushing yourself... either to avoid getting pummelled in the paddle out, or catching the next choice wave. Great for conditioning. Also, due to the posture you hold whilst padding the board, it's a great ab/back/core exercise.
  4. The water keeps you cool (this is taken to the extreme in cold places like the UK) which means that it's hard to overheat. Your body's temp is kept to an acceptable level and you can keep pushing yourself.
  5. It's great for the soul. Surfing can be very relaxing and a great way of getting back to nature, and out of the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
  1. Inconsistent surf. It's one of th biggest curses of the sport, and I'm feeling the hurt right now. There hasn't been a good wave in Phuket for over a month now, and I'm really missing it. I'm very jealous of guys who get to live in places that get surf all year round...
  2. Surfing in cold contries. I learnt to surf in Cornwall, UK, and went to university in Swansea South Wales whic is even colder. It take real commitment to get a cold, wet wetsuit on and torture yourself for several hours in icy conditions, but I think this is a testament to how much fun surfing is. Also, I think the additional effort required to paddle with a wetsuit and the cold water itself actually makes surfing in cold conditions an even better for you than in warm waters. Just don't forget to bring a thermos of hot soup for after ;)
My friend Genny, likes to surf in the low season and train at Tiger Muay Thai in the high season (when there's no surf) to keep good shape, all year round. Teaching muay thai is a part of my life, and so I have to balance this with the surfing, maybe replacing one of my training sessions with a a surf session (doing 2 muay thai sessions AND a surf session in one day is pretty hard core!).

How to learn?
Being a long time bodyboarder I reccomend learning to bodyboard first, and then moving on to 'stand up' surfing when/if you feel the need. The reason for this is that like in fighting, 50% is physical training and 50% is mental. The mental side of surfing is learning how the waves move, form and break, and I feel that learning this is much easier on the bodyboard (the initial learning curve is less steep). But, at the end of the day, it's up to you, so just remember to go with the flow!

Do any of you guys have interesting cross training methods? I'd love to hear, and I'm always up for something new.

Thanks to Nopstar at mymuaythai.com for giving me the idea for this article.


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