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How to train for a surf trip

Before your flight

Build up your lungs. The idea of surfing is relaxing, but in action if it can be very taxing so you’ll need to up your cardio starting three to four weeks before your trip. “It’s a sport, similar to soccer in a way,” says avid surfer Justin Martin, personal training manager at Equinox East 54th Street. “You're going to paddle quickly and then you're going to paddle slow,” he explains. Interval training will prepare you for those moments where you’ll need to work hard to dodge set waves (groups of larger than the average waves of the day). Get on a treadmill, ski erg, or rower for 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off for up to 20 minutes. Longer, steady-state cardio (i.e. a 45-minute run or swim), on the other hand, will build you up for those marathon sessions when the surf is really good and you’ll want to last for several hours. Martin recommends one long steady-state cardio workout and two interval-based cardio workouts per week.

Optimize your mobility. “Spine and hip mobility is crucial for paddling and getting up on the board,” says Martin. He suggests exercises like frog with hip decoupling for opening up your hips. The world’s greatest stretch is another well-rounded exercise for mobilizing your hips, spine, and shoulders. Fifteen minutes of every workout should be mobility-focused, per Martin. Adding yoga to your weekly schedule is also highly recommended.

Improve your sport-specific conditioning. Martin says to focus on exercises that mimic what you’d be doing in the water. For example, push-up variations will help with the initial “pop-up” on your board while straight-arm pulldowns are a good choice for increasing your paddling capacity. Stick to higher rep schemes (8-12 reps) for these two moves and integrate them into your regular strength routine.

Abe Maynard, a Tier X coach at Santa Monica and surfer, says he cannot live without the Turkish get-up. “When repeated for rounds, it has you moving in multiple planes of motion, challenges your balance and stability, taxes your cardiovascular system, and builds shoulder joint stability and muscular endurance,” he says. For maximum benefit, use a weight that you can repeat for “three to four perfect reps per side, since the move takes so long to complete and you don’t want to overtax your shoulders.” It’s a great warm-up before you get into your strength workout. 

Pack the essentials. Full sleeve rash guards prevent belly rashes and sunburn, especially in destinations close to the equator where the sun is more fierce. Water-resistant sun block is a must-have, but be especially mindful not to neglect areas like the thighs and calves as those are heavily exposed while sitting or lying on your board. Maynard suggests SurfEars earplugs to prevent swimmer’s ear. 

As for your board, renting on site is a good option for beginners. A soft top longboard is ideal for new athletes. 

Before you paddle out

Prepare to get worked. No matter how stoked you are to paddle out, you can’t skimp on a warm-up. “A lot of people stretch on the beach, but you need something to get the heart rate elevated a little bit,” says Martin. In addition to a few minutes of basic bodyweight exercises, a short run or yoga flow would fit the bill, he adds. Maynard suggests the following five-minute flow: Downward Dog, Chaturanga, back to Downward Dog, Chaturanga, Crescent Lunge Twist, repeat as many times as you can while moving with your breath. 

Fuel yourself right. Eat one to two hours before a surf session so your food can digest enough to give you energy without weighing you down. “I like to have a balance of my macros,” Martin says. For him that means a peanut butter and jelly English muffin with half a banana. As for H20, it’s more about overall hydration rather than slamming water 30 minutes before you’re in the ocean. “I keep a 32oz HydroFlask with me and try to fill it up twice a day,” says Maynard. Martin likes lemon or coconut water for electrolytes. 

Analyze the conditions. “Respecting the water is paramount,” says Martin. Surfing with someone more skilled than you is always a safe idea. “They can help you find the right positions and teach you about timing set waves,” Maynard says. [FYI, all Equinox Explore trip guests will be guided by highly-experienced surfers and coaches.] Other tips include asking the locals or your guides about currents, tides, swell directions, and what’s on the bottom of the ocean (sand, rock, or reef) before paddling out. Finding a “marker” (such as an unusually-shaped rock or tree or a beach bar) somewhere on land can help you keep your bearings, says Martin.

After you call it a day

Rest, recover, and prepare for more. After a full day of surfing your muscles are depleted. Martin suggests a protein shake and a banana to restore your glycogen levels right away. He also advises getting on the foam roller or massage ball and hitting areas like the T-spine, your tensor fasciae latae (TFL) located on the outside of the upper leg, and your glutes.