Physical Activity - surfing“Life is just like surf. It comes up, it goes down, but there’s always something happening.” –  Gerry Lopez, Pipeline master The Way of the Surfer 2003

Surfing is an ancient surface water sport in which the surfer rides on the forward face of a wave moving towards the shore. Waves suitable for surfing are primarily found in the ocean, but can also be found in lakes or in rivers in the form of a standing wave or tidal bore. However, surfers today can also utilize man-made waves created in artificial wave pools.

The term “surfing” refers to the act of riding a wave, regardless of whether the wave is ridden with a board or without a board, and regardless of the stance used. The concept of surfing is simple, but the practice is not. Surfers sit in the surf line, an area of open water where waves break as they near a coast. There, surfers wait and watch waves roll in to shore assessing them for ride-ability. A wave must be strong enough to ride, but not dangerous enough to toss the surfer as it breaks. Surfers must be able to ride and safely exit the wave—not too close to shore or rocks. For river waves or those at artificial surfing facilities, surfers watch waves develop and jump right into the breaking wave.

Surfing can be accomplished using the surfer’s own body to catch and ride the wave or surf boards of varying lengths and even inflatable mats.

Surfing is a challenging sport that requires endurance, upper and lower body strength and also good flexibility. Surfing is not for the faint of heart and should only be attempted if you are an excellent swimmer, don’t panic in big waves and after you’ve had a lesson or two!

Health Benefits

Cardiovascular health.  Surfing is a phenomenal cardiovascular workout. You are continually paddling to catch waves and even after riding a wave you are paddling back out to the surf line. When you’re surfing, you’re constantly moving for your entire session, resulting in an excellent extended workout.

Unlike most cardiovascular workouts however, you will not feel winded because of the resting period between waves is low impact.

Burns Calories.  You can burn a great deal of calories while surfing. Surfing may help you lose weight and keep it off. A 150-pound person burns approximately 214 calories per hour surfing, according to Glamour magazine’s online health calculator.

Muscle Strength and Tone. Surfing requires (and supplies) a significant workout to the upper back, shoulders, lower back, neck and legs and your core muscles. Your upper back and neck muscles assist in keeping your chest up off the nose of the board, so you can be more efficient as you paddle. The low back muscles work hard to support your entire upper body as you paddle. Your triceps and chest muscles are the ones that will help you push up quickly to your feet when you get up on the board. Finally, your legs are the power house that gets you up to your feet fast and helps you carve your turns.

Since it’s a low resistance work out, it’s phenomenal.

Improves Balance. Excellent balance is essential to successful surfing. Balance is something that can be practiced and surfing is a great way to do that.

Improves Reaction Times. Getting up on the board requires an explosive movement to hop to your feet and then stabilize and react to the wave or other surfers that may be near you.

Mental Benefits. Regular surfers are strong proponents of the mental benefits of surfing. Being outdoors and active have both been shown to be good for our general well-being but surfers claim to also benefit from the experience because it puts you in a peaceful state of mind.

A study conducted at California State University, Long Beach bears that out. They found that 30 minutes of surfing led to an increase in positive feelings, a decrease in negative feelings, a reduction in fatigue and greater feelings of tranquility.

Another benefit is a true understanding of being/living in the moment. In the moment of riding a wave you have to be more present than you are at any other time in your life because of the danger of the sport. Take your mind off the wave or the ride for a split second and you could be seriously injured or even die.

Some individuals claim surfing is a big confidence builder. You are essentially riding one of the earth’s major forces, the wave, and often you have no idea what the ocean will throw at you. That ends up translating into other areas of your life and as a result you become more confident.

Getting started

Surfing is a challenging sport involving the ocean and big waves. You should be a strong swimmer with respect for the power of the environment you are in.

There are many dangers in surfing including:

  • Sharks (yes it does happen)
  • Rocks, Reef and Sandbars – which can cause cuts, bruises, broken bones and even death.
  • Drowning

Because of the dangers involved in this sport it’s wise to take a few lessons to teach you the physical mechanics of the sport; help you learn to read the ocean and identify the safe and dangerous spots; teach you general surfing etiquette and to have a guide on your first adventure on the waves.

In addition, an instructor will help you choose the right board for your ability and body.

Wear a wetsuit if necessary to keep you in the water long enough to learn.

Staying Safe

Here are some tips to follow before you hit the waves:

  • Never surf alone.
  • Look for any restrictions on the beach and follow them.
  • If you are a beginner, stick to breaks with a sandy beach.
  • Wear a leg rope tied to your surfboard if you are a beginner.
  • Make sure the top of your board is waxed up or has some form of grip and check your leg rope is in good condition.
  • Wear sunscreen – even on cloudy days.
  • Watch the area before you go in to see the best place to paddle out and how other people are handling the surf.
  • Warm up before entering the water.

If you live near a coastline, want to get in shape, and find bliss at the same time, surfing might be for you.


Martin Frank, Shi Zhou, Pedro Bezerra, and Zachary Crowley, Effects of Long-term Recreational Surfing on Control of Force and Posture in Older Surfers: A Preliminary Investigation, School of Health and Human Sciences, Southern Cross University, New South Wales, Australia

National Geo Education