3 essential physical skills for surfing

Boys surfing

You love the ocean and the adrenaline-charged feeling of carving fresh lines down a wave. It makes you feel alive.

Your joy of surfing began as a 5 year-old mucking around in the whitewash on summer holiday. Now, 10 years on, you’re actually pretty good.

However, as you progress, you’re compelled to want more.

You want to surf better every time you go out and someday, hopefully, you’ll surf professionally.

So, what do you do? Surf more.

Research studying top adolescent surfers suggests they spend 90% of their training time ‘free surfing’ with no formal instruction or feedback from a coach.

‘Self-determined’ practice is a critical ingredient in an effective learning environment. Sometimes the best kind of learning happens when you get your butt kicked by a wall of water after getting it wrong.

However, as it turns out, there’s more to elite surfing that just time in the water.

Getting off your board

Surfing is an athletic sport and requires surfers to execute complex manoeuvres in highly unstable and changing environments.

To accomplish this you need highly tuned physical abilities which are best developed on dry ground.

Surfing-1Here are 3 of the essentials:

1. Mobility

Poor range of motion in your joints stops you achieving the basic body positions crucial for surfing.

For example, tight hips can restrict you from holding a strong, balanced position on the board. Tight shoulders will limit your ability to develop a powerful paddle. You’ll never develop a powerful paddle with tight shoulders

2. Sensorimotor skill

Sensorimotor skill is critical for balance during radical manoeuvres that involve unstable positions.

What is sensorimotor skill? It includes two parts:

  1. Receiving sensory input and information from your body (e.g., your eyes) and the environment (e.g., the size and power of a wave).
  2. Organizing and processing information received from your sensory system to produce an appropriate movement response (e.g., the exact moment to carve out a turn).

Yes, your sensorimotor skill will improve with surfing alone. But you’ll adapt faster when challenged in ways that take you to the edge of your current ability.

Gymnastic exercises which disrupt and then restore your state of balance – like a forward roll to squat hold or jumping and spinning with your eyes closed then landing in a stable position – are excellent at developing your sensori-motor system.

Surfing-33. Strength

Research shows that surfers with greater lower body strength have better turning manoeuvre performance on the wave. So, spending time strength training will help you increase your score during competition.

What’s more, a strong body is more physically robust, so including some strength work in your surfing regime will reduce your chances of getting injured and missing vital time in the water.

Develop your body physically

The best surfers in the world spend time developing their bodies out of the water to maximise their performance in it.

To keep progressing, regardless of the level you’re now at, you need to do the same.


Farley, O., Secomb, J., Parsonage, J., Lundgren, L., Abbiss, C., Sheppard, J. (2015). Tracking 6 weeks of training/surfing lessons of adolescent competitive surfers: just what are these young surfers up to? Journal of Australian Strength & Conditioning, 23(6), 95. Retrieved from www.ebscohost.com 

Secomd, J., Farley, O., Lundgren, L., Tran, T., King, A., Nimphius, S., Sheppard, J. (2015). Associations between the Performance of Scoring Manoeuvres and Lower-Body Strength and Power in Elite Surfers. International journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 10(5), 911-918. Retrieved from www.online.sagepub.com