Updated: Apr 29
In an endeavor to be as fit as we can to surf, we ask the experts about the benefits of their sport. In this issue we talk to swimming instructor Kate Sparks, and ask her about the benefits of swimming for surfing.
We spend 85% of our time paddling whilst surfing, this is what fatigues surfers the most. A strong paddle can get you out of trouble in a rip and also to outer reef breaks far from shore, with enough energy in reserve to have an explosive session and make it back to the beach again.
Swim training is also your weapon against fear once you’re back on your board, as when you take off on a wave confidence is key. If you fully back yourself that the wave you go for is going to be yours, it most likely will be. Being a strong swimmer helps to crush those doubts, as you know that you are physically capable of swimming back to shore and taking care of yourself.
I’ve created a mini training programme that’s designed for the pool, but elements could be taken into the sea, lake or any body of water suitable for swimming.
Warm up with 5-10 lengths of mainly front crawl, as this is the stroke most like paddling a surfboard - strengthening the back, shoulders and triceps. You can also include backstroke to counter the muscles used in front crawl and butterfly to push yourself! Try to only use breaststroke as a treat if you are tired, as this stroke is least similar to paddling.
Try each of the exercises below for 1-4 lengths, depending on your swim fitness level, focusing on technique and keeping a steady pace. Break up the drills with 1-4 lengths of solid front crawl focusing on power and speed to give your session the combination of slow and fast exercise (interval training). We naturally do interval training when surfing, with bursts of dynamic movement when catching a wave coupled with periods of gentle movement around the line up between sets. This will increase your lactic acid tolerance, allowing you in time to work harder for longer resulting in a higher level of aerobic fitness.
Using hand paddles increases the resistance of your arm pull and allows you to develop increased upper body strength and makes you think about your technique. The extra surface area of the paddle highlights any crooked arm pulls.
Ankle Swimming Elastic
Using ankle elastic restricts your feet and causes your lower body to sink into the water, causing a drag. This extra weight makes you work harder to pull yourself through the water, engaging your arms, chest and your core muscles, which are heavily relied on in surfing. This exercise will make paddling your board afterwards feel like a dream, as the exercise is very challenging.
Closed Fist Freestyle
With your closed fist there is less resistance and therefore you are forced to fire up your stroke rate, swim more effectively and make more use of your forearms to become more aware of your length of stroke and engage your core muscles.
Warm down with a couple of lengths of head up front crawl to mix it up, followed by a blend of your favorite stokes (even if that is breaststroke), so that your last memory of your training session is a good one.
Swimming really is the best way to stay surf ready and is also the perfect exercise during pregnancy and coming back from injury as you’re weightless in water, the pressure is taken off your bones and joints allowing you to have a proactive recovery. As an adrenalin chasing surfer, swimming can admittedly be a bit dull and you may find your mind wanders, however it’s a great time to practice visualization – a key tool to improve in all sports. Really imagine yourself paddling and catching the best waves, or what your top turn might look like. Whilst you have all those fantastic feel good endorphins racing through your body, you can inspire and motivate yourself to take your fitness and surfing to the next level!
Common Front Crawl Mistakes:
· Bent knees while kicking - this error increases resistance and takes more effort, instead kick from hips and keep legs straight with small, fast kicks.
· Swimming flat (with belly button facing the floor) - you should be rotating slightly side to side as you swim to reduce the strain on your shoulders and improve momentum through the water. This technique also crosses over to paddling a surfboard!
· Pulling crooked – make sure you pull straight with fingertips facing the bottom of the pool, to maximise water displacement.
· Looking forward – unlike in surfing, in swimming you want to be looking down to the line on the bottom of the pool, this will make sure your hips don’t sink too low and improve how steam lined you are.
Sea Swimming Safety:
· Check the local weather conditions, sea state and tide implications.
· Understand the swimming zones at your local beach.
· Try to swim with a buddy, but if not tell somebody you are sea swimming and the time you expect to return.
· Swim with a safety buoy so other water users such as jet skis and boats can clearly see you. The safety buoy doubles up as a dry bag and its useful for on a long swim to bring along snacks!
Article as seen in issue 68 of SurfGirl Magazine