surfer conditioning

Whether its being landlocked, drydocked, recovering from an injury, or just wanting to be prepared, I’m curious what training or conditioning methods, equipment, ideas, etc. people here are using to stay in shape for surfing.  Specifically interested in balance boards, breath holding, muscle strength, flexibility, edurance, cardio type stuff (I’m too old and brittle for skateboarding anymore, gave it up a few years back).

1) Went to largish high school in mid-late '60’s so pretty big surf crew. Almost 100% of the best were on water polo and swim teams. So swimming tops and of course crawl and butterfly. If no pool or ocean easily available,

  1. Nordic walking (with poles). I found if really push hard on the poles, strong carry over to paddling

  2. Balance, leg strength, serios coditioning…ride a unicycle. (Lot of fun as fringe benefit)

OK, thanks for the response!  I have been doing standard strength stuff at the gym, nothing too strenuous, but trying to make it regular.  Bit of bike riding and elliptical, swimming too, but the gym pool is heavily chlorinated.  I’ve got the standard balance board pretty wired, the go-fit wobble board is a 360 degrees balancer, a lot tougher than the balance board, but it just pivots around a stationery foot in the middle.  What I’m looking at is the Si-Boards model, its kinda expensive, but I could probably build something for a lot less, just depends what I value my time at I guess.

I’m not working at the coast amymore, retired now, and recovering from hip surgery. If traffic is good I’m only 90 minutes away from some good waves (Malibu, Ventura, or Kelly’s Wave Pool, depending on my mood), but still finding it hard to get out more than once every week or two.

Ish, I hate that chlorine. First time swimming in a pool after MANY years away…no googles. Got out of the water and thought the fog had rolled in very dense fog. Not unusual for where I was living. Then when I got in my car to drive home, the fog was in there too. WHAT??? Finally figured out that the chlorine had etched my corneas. Fortunately full recovery and no long term effects. Nordic walking might be good for hip rehab, I don’t know. But I have always found that after time away, or when surfing infrequently, my most limiting factor was paddle power and wave chasing/catching ability. So the swimming and pole walking were my go-to’s for maintenance. 

Yeah goggles for sure

I can smell the chlorine from here!

Being landlocked, I have to be ready to paddle out when I get a chance to get to the coast.  Last June I thought my paddling simulation exercise would be enough.  (I used to swim but also disliked the scent and feel of chlorine on my body for the rest of the day).  When I got to the coast, I discovered there is no substitute for swimming – the crawl. Paddling a longboard on flat water helps too.

  • I’ve gone back to swimming 0.75 miles three times/week – half the laps, arms only; the other half, legs only (body surf fins and a modified kick board).

  • squat thrusts

  • martial arts twice/week (balance, reflex, timing)

  • chin-ups, pull-ups, dips twice/week

  • push-ups, sit-ups twice/week

The greatest loss that takes me at least 2 weeks to recover is timing.

(BTW they make chlorine neutralizing soap and shampoo – works fairly well.)

For overall fitness I use a rowing machine regularly, but to work especially for paddling muscles indoor, you can use a gymnastic ball. I did some indoor paddling computer lessons by Rob Case and I can recomment it (Google or Youtube Rob Case Surfing Paddling Academy). Finally it comes down to paddling on the gym ball. Just lay down on one big sized ball and start the paddling movement. It helps for strength, and even for board balance. If you place a chair behind the ball, you may be able to fix your legs (and body) horizontally, then it is like lying on a surfboard. And even 5 consecutive minutes just daily paddling does help a lot. Sounds ackward, but it really helps

abs and more abs

core strength is key

A fair bit of high speed, high rep, low weight PT for the old ticker, arms and legs.

Cool thread for me to see what others are doing, and I’ve learned a few things. Was surprised to see unicycle show up, and surprised at no mention of balance boards. I also thought slacklining might be mentioned, but I haven’t tried it.

I love my balance boards. Was looking into Si-Boards, when I found CoolBoards for much less. This will be my next step in the progression. 


Never had to specifically exercise for surfing until after 70 years old. First sign of a problem was the pop-up, especially on larger waves/late take-offs. My body seemed to know instinctively that what I was about to ask it to do, in the moment, was probably not going to happen. I developed some ways to cheat on the pop-up that would work, but probably looked funky. Now, I do a simple routine of exercises including; push-ups, squats, burpees, sit-up, curls, jerks, lunges, planks, etc. (some with light barbells). I rotate thru 2-3 of these on subsequent days. As for paddling, there is really no substitute other than paddling itself. When I end a session, I always do a paddle-sprint to make sure I have nothing left in the tank. Once up and riding, my balance and skills do not seem to be a problem. But, there is nothing worse than doubting yourself on the take-off, and blowing a good wave. Hence, the exercise.

Leg lifts for lower back.  It’s amazing just watching older guys paddle.  You can tell which ones have neglected their lower back.  They paddle like they walk.  Hunched over.

Keep the extra weight off with disciplined eating and drinking. I can’t exercise hard enough to drop weight if I’m pounding the beef burritos and IPA’s. Don’t forget to stretch. Mike

Hey Mike, a wise man once told me, you can’t out run your fork, haha.  

I like it, Huck. Funny. Mike

On another note. I’m about your age. I can get into the pool, but it aggravates the shoulder impingement. I used to run, but that aggravates the knees and low back. Now I walk hills, hike, lift weights/light weight more reps. I do push ups, crunches, leg lunges, and a bit of stretching. Plus, I don’t eat as much Mexican food as I like or drink as much beer as I want. I’m definately slowing down in terms of reflexes, etc. I can’t pop up quick enough at times and seem to have lost some paddle power burst. Work gets in the way and the short days make it harder to get in the water enough and stay fit. But, I’ve had a pretty damn good run at a surfing life and don’t have much to complain about. Still stoked. I’ve got my personal building where I can make a board I know I’ll enjoy plus a couple of beauties from Bill T. and a cool speed egg twinzer channel bottom a local shaper made me that i’m having a blast on. Stoked. Mike

Long time orthopedic surgeon wrote book on DIY solution to shoulder impingment. I used have my sleep disturbed by shoulder pain. Now I do dead hang from pullup bar for cumulative total of about 2 minutes/day and no pain! I still can’t do heavy kettlebell snatches but aside from that, my shoulder is good!

Shoulder Pain? The Solution and Prevention with Dr. John Kirsch, M.D.

Thanks to everyone who replied in this thread, lots of good info and food for thought.  I know nobody who isn’t going through it wants to hear about the aches and pains of getting old, but nowadays even the younger guys are training for the surf, especially if they’re nursing an injury.

@rooster good post, I thought you were a good bit younger than my 64 years, but maybe its just those youthful good looks, ha.  I’m not complaining either, ok maybe a little, but yeah I’m grateful for the health and the waves I’ve enjoyed, I’m pretty sure I got my fair share and then some.  But since retiring a little over a year ago, I’ve had to deal with several health issues, including replacement of my hip joint, which was a full year in recovery.  And they tell me the other one is just as bad, but for some reason I haven’t experienced any pain in it yet, so I’m not gonna sign up for that again, not yet.  I’ve had some digestive issues too.  Intermittent fasting and OMAD (one meal a day) protocol has been a big help for me, I’m not the “diet” type, but I dropped 25 - 30 lbs around the middle that I needed to lose, and I could probably afford to drop another 5 - 10 anyway.

Some days I think I just need to hang it up, but then other days I just load up the board and go.  I do have to stick to longer boards on smaller days, just not nimble enough otherwise, on a little bigger days I can still ride a midlength, my shortboard days are pretty much over for now.  Getting back into longer boards is one reason I’m refurb’ing a couple 9 footers that I wore out, maybe post up in the E&B folder if I get motivated.

I would love to buy a few customs, but I spent a decent wad on a wood blank that I never finished and on buying back a wood board I had traded away, and I have a couple dozen boards anyway.  I still find myself browsing craigslist, cuz if I found something cheap enough I think a new addition to the quiver might put a little spring back in my step, who knows.  I saw a longboard quad I liked recently, and sent an email to inquire, but no reply. Shoot, I have a short longboard Stingray gave me that I’ve barely even dinged yet, and a big quad on loan that I intended to ride and review but then came the hip surgery.  

I don’t run anymore since hip surgery, and I don’t walk a lot like I used to.  My wife bought me a “Teeter” inversion table which has pretty much eliminated back pain for me.  I swim, bicycle, lift a few weights, ride the elliptical, hit the speed bag, ride the balance board, and oh yeah, surf once in awhile.  One of these days I may find I just can’t paddle out anymore, but not yet thankfully.

Good thread.  Thanks for starting this Huck.

I’m 68 and coming to the end of my shortboard days.  I’m fighting it, but it is inevitable.  It’s the pop up that will stop me.  Ideally, I would be doing pop up drills a couple times a week.  But life gets in the way.

My fitness regime is swimming on a masters team, lifting weights, my VASA swim trainer machine, and power walking (can’t run anymore).

As my shortboard ability dimenishes, I’m frantically working on a refinement of Greg Loehr’s Millennium “big guy/old guy shortboard”.   I may report on it later.  Here is a pic of an 8-5 I built as a tribute board for Davo Dietrich several years back.  It’s too long but was a great board for getting in early with a stable platform for popping up while still maintaining some maneuverability. Thick, pulled in tail, shortboard rails, 2 plus 1 fins.

all the best


Here’s my interpretation of the same concept: lots of foam for paddling, stable for popup, basically a shortboard plan shape on a longboard blank, at 7-10 I can’t call it a “shortboard”, but a little more performance oriented than a standard midlength.  On days 3 foot and up with a little push, works great (I’m still getting to know it), but under 3 foot (which is pretty often lately) I need a longer board.