Surfing can be tough at this time of year. There’s bugger-all waves, the wind is always howling, then finally a swell pops up and … you can’t paddle.
Or you can, but not very well, certainly nothing like the wave-hungry line-up piranha you were a few months ago, after a fruitful winter. Basically, you’ve lost your surf fitness. Those past few weeks of cursing the swell forecast from the comfort of your couch and tucking away one too many afternoon beers has taken its toll, and your once powerful paddling arms have been reduced to flimsy limbs that tire easily and don’t get you into waves anywhere near quick enough. But what can you do, there’s been no surf?
Maroubra surfer and personal trainer Johnny Gannon spent seven years on tour with Taj Burrow, whipping the former world number two into the best condition of his life, so he knows a few things about surf fitness. And while he’s quick to acknowledge there’s nothing better for surfing than the act itself, he’s also got a couple of tips that can help the average working-surfing joe through a flat spell without losing too much of their edge.
Number one on the man’s list is swimming, because it’s the activity that most closely replicates the act of paddling.
‘Just start off with a one kilometre swim,’ says Johnny. ‘It doesn’t matter if you break it up, but just try get out one kilometre on the first session, and then every time you go to the pool just add an extra hundred metres into your session, so after ten sessions you should be up to two kilometres. You can do stuff like breathing every third stroke for one lap, then every fifth stroke for one lap, then every seventh stroke, so you start to do some breath holds. And that’s so good for surfing. It expands your lung capacity big time. It’s a really good way to integrate breath holds into your fitness which eventually gives you more confidence in bigger waves. But whenever you’re doing any kind of breath holds in a pool, always make sure you’re doing it with someone, just in case of shallow water blackout.’
Outside of the pool, Johnny recommends keeping yourself strong and mobile with some basic exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups and squats, as well as a few minutes on a skipping rope to get the heart rate elevated.
‘Basic body weight exercises are so good,’ he explains. ‘The pull-ups help your paddling, and the push-ups are going to help you get a strong upper body to get those nice smooth pop-ups going.’
Another activity that’ll keep you sharp, and is also a bit more fun than pumping out reps or following the black line at the bottom of a pool, is skateboarding.
‘Those smoothstar boards they’re making now,’ says Johnny, ‘they’re unreal. If you can get on one of them a couple times a week and get in a skate park or even just start going down a few slight hills and start carving and practising your turns and visualising yourself surfing it feels pretty good. You’re using your hips the same way you surf, you’re bracing your belly, you’re twisting through the upper body--it’s as close as you can get to surfing on land.’
But while these activities will really target the muscles and movements related to surfing, Johnny admits any kind of regular physical activity is going to help your cause when you get back in the water, as long as it’s coupled with a healthy diet.
‘You’ve got to eat good,’ he says. ‘You can’t out-train a bad diet. Eat good, clean, unprocessed foods as much as possible.’
And while these efforts will help you bounce back to your surfing best much faster than you usually would after a lack of waves, it’s the long-term benefits they offer that Johnny believes makes them most rewarding.
‘You wouldn’t believe the age you can surf at a high level if you’re looking after yourself,’ he says. ‘And not just training and eating good, but staying healthy and fit, sleeping well, staying hydrated—all those holistic things that make you a healthy human being. If you can keep all those things together, there’s no reason why you can’t be surfing at fifty. Kelly’s a perfect example, and he’s the same as everyone else. He just looks after himself better.’
For those in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, Johnny runs a surf specific fitness group called Ocean Gladiators with big-wave surfer Mark Matthews two mornings a week. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more info