Is Surfing Good Exercise? We Investigate
Whether you’ve tackled the waves before or you are just curious, there are many reasons to consider adding surfing to your active lifestyle. Not only is exercising outdoors incredibly beneficial,1 spending time being active in the ocean comes with its own powerful perks for mental health.2
From observing surfers, most people can tell that it takes an epic amount of balance and core strength to accomplish taming the waves. It can seem like a daunting form of exercise, but like anything else, with practice, it becomes easier. And all that practice? It helps build strength, endurance, coordination, balance, and more.
To find out more about how surfing can boost your fitness routine, mental health, and general well-being, we spoke to surfer and personal trainer Sara-Clare Lajeunesse.
If you’re a curious beginner, you might have some anxieties about exercising in crashing waves. Lajeunesse understands that completely—before trying surfing, she’d never even been in the ocean. “I had always dreamed of the ocean both in a loving and terrifying way. After my first paddle out, I was hooked! As the waves hit my face, I instantly knew why people who surf plan their life around when they get into the water next,” says Lajeunesse.
The Mental Benefits
The mental and therapeutic benefits have been studied widely and include reduced anxiety, depression, and PTSD symptoms.3 For Lajeunesse, riding the waves is also meditative.4
“Honestly, it’s one of the best ways I can think of where you truly have to be in flow state. Flow state exists in other sports, but not like this. In surfing, if you are truly not in the moment, you will miss the wave, bail, and fall because you were not adapting to the wave changing. Every wave is slightly different, even if you are surfing a reef where it breaks consistently,” explains Lajeunesse.
Just as in daily life, success with surfing requires constant adaptation, perseverance, and patience. “You can control some things but not all. Adaptation is key. Learning this lesson helps a lot with stress levels in all other aspects of life. You learn when to dig in and push to get what you want, like catching a wave. It’s not always going to be easy, and even when you have given it your all, sometimes you miss it. The wave rolls right under you, and you watch it go on without you. That doesn’t mean you should give up trying; it just means it wasn’t your wave to ride, but you need to keep driving forward with your goals and keep trying to catch one,” says Lajeunesse.
The Physical Benefits
The physical benefits of surfing include wicked core strength, balance, and coordination. “Beyond that, the physical benefits I see in surfing are the suppleness, stability, strength, and endurance you need to have to accomplish the task. It burns just as many calories as a gym session, and it’s a low-impact total body workout,” explains Lajeunesse.
Adding surfing to your list of fitness activities is an excellent all-around choice for all types of goals. “Surfing is literally the best anti-aging or longevity exercise you can do for your body,” she says. Each component includes:
- Paddling: cardio and endurance
- Riding the wave: balance, flexibility, and stability
- Pop up: strengthens your pushing muscles
- Getting to your feet to riding the wave: improves your squat and lunge muscles
Beyond the benefits you can reap for progressing your fitness goals, surfing also reveals weaknesses that you should address. “Surfing exposes mobility issues in the overhead position, the squat lunge stance, foot and ankle issues, and core stability. If you have ever looked up the floor to stand test, this is the ultimate version of it,” says Lajeunesse.
The Final Takeaway
So if you are looking for an all-around exciting, meditative, and challenging way to change up your fitness routine, surfing more than fits the bill. “Surfing keeps you young in body and mind; that’s why I teach it at every retreat we have,” says Lajeunesse.
What’s more, spending time in the ocean can bring you closer to nature and what it provides for us. Lajeunesse is passionate about protecting this sanctuary for the body and mind: “The ocean produces over 80% of the oxygen we breathe and controls the climate with the water currents. I’m a huge advocate for environmental protection, and if we don’t protect our oceans, we will have no Earth to call home.”