Gerry Lopez swears by it. So does Kelly Slater and Dave Rastovich. In fact, these surfers attribute the ancient practise of yoga to improving and in some cases, ‘saving’ their surfing.
It may not sound like an obvious form of surf fitness, but yoga and surfing go hand in hand. Often dismissed as only being for ‘bendy’ people, and all about throwing a few shapes on a mat, yoga is a way of life, has significant health benefits and will make you a better surfer.
Plus, to dispel a few more myths, yoga isn’t just for women or for young people. It isn’t a religion and you don’t need to attend a class.
The fact is, yoga and surfing work together to help surfers achieve a stronger body, a clearer mind and a deeper connection with the ocean.
Still not convinced? Here’s 6 ways that yoga can improve your surfing;
As we get older, our joints and muscles lose elasticity (ie, their ability to stretch into a particular shape). We spend a lot of time sat behind desks and not enough time doing flexibility training. It’s often overlooked in favour of more ‘intense’ forms of exercise that we think will work ‘better.’
Lack of flexibility is mainly why adults find it more difficult to pop up than kids so if you’re an older surfer, yoga will benefit you tremendously.
By moving regularly through a series of yoga asanas or ‘postures’, you’ll stretch out the muscles and over time, increase your flexibility and stability. This will make it much easier to pop-up and maneuver quickly and more efficiently. You’ll naturally move more fluidly rather than under tension, and greatly improve your range of motion.
Newsflash. You don’t need to spend hours in a gym lifting weights. Yoga will help you build strength, endurance and resilience. If you don’t believe us, just take a look at someone in crow posture! Or, try holding ‘Downward Facing Dog’ for a couple of minutes. Guaranteed to help build your shoulder strength and not as easy as you think!
Yoga uses every muscle in the body so you’ll effectively get a whole body workout. Your physical responses will become faster and you’ll build paddle strength. No more missed waves because your upper body strength isn’t up to scratch!
You’ll also build strong core muscles – essential for balance and those dynamic turns.
Increased lung capacity
Yoga will teach you how to breathe properly. But before you think, ‘that’s crazy, I already know how’, chances are you’re probably not doing it right.
Through regular practice you’ll learn how to slow down your breath and take bigger inhales and exhales. You’ll learn about ‘pranayama’ – the formal practice of controlling your breath which will strengthen your heart and lungs.
It will also help train the diaphragm which over time will increase your lung capacity meaning you’ll be able to handle bigger hold downs.
Yoga helps to reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure and create a calmer mind space. Through breathing and meditation, you’ll learn to focus, slow down and stay in the present moment to achieve a ‘mindfulness’ state.
Mindfulness is key to staying in control whilst surfing. So if you’re faced with fear such as bigger waves, wiping out or getting stuck in a rip, slow down, breathe and stay calm. You’re far more likely to ride out of the situation feeling fully in control than if you panic and let fear take over.
Staying calm will also help your muscles to relax and prevent a buildup of lactic acid. This creates tension and ultimately leads to injury.
Improve your balance
Here’s another myth for you. If you’re one of those people whose balance leaves a lot to be desired, you can improve it! It’s not something you either have or you don’t.
And guess what? Jumping on a yoga mat will help massively – it’s even been proved scientifically. The key is building core strength, developing power and concentration of the mind.
The more you practice yoga, the more your focus will turn inward. You’ll become more aware of your body, slowly disconnect from your surroundings and eventually still the mind. This will help alleviate any limiting self beliefs, like telling yourself that your balance sucks!
As surfers, we’re prone to lower back problems, shoulder injuries, knee and ankle problems. But the good news is that through regular yoga practice, you’ll build strength and flexibility which is essential for avoiding stiff, tight and sore muscles.
It’s the reason you see a lot of surfers down on the beach stretching before they head into the surf. Failure to warm up your muscles properly could result in injury and spell weeks or even months out of the water.
Equally, don’t forget to incorporate some yoga into your post-surf routine. This will help alleviate tension and lactic acid buildup which causes muscles to feel sore and stiff.
How to get started with yoga
The best way to get started with yoga is through a class. You’ll learn the correct alignment safely and can discuss any existing injuries with the instructor. They’ll give you modifications where appropriate and can highlight any areas of the body that you particularly need some help with.
There are lots of different styles of yoga and online videos so get some advice from a yoga practitioner before you go diving in. You may be lucky and find a ‘yoga for surfers’ class near you which is a great way to get started. Alternatively, most yoga studios do one-to-one sessions where you can get advice on yoga specific asanas or practices.
Start today and you’ll quickly feel the benefits. Stick at it and it could vastly increase the lifetime of your surfing.