Riding the waves: yoga to improve your surf (part I: pre-surf)

Updated: Feb 18

Yoga is often toted as surfing’s sweet companion, but there’s a reason they go hand in hand beyond both promoting wild hair and worry-free lifestyles. Dive a little deeper and there’s plenty both have in common: requiring strength, balance, flexibility, focus and a connection to the natural ways of the world. Both surfing and yoga contain physical and spiritual elements, each of which can lead to a clearer mind and stronger body. This blog forms the first of two parts, delving into how the connection between these two disciplines can improve your surfing.

Pre-surf: yoga to prepare you for the waves

Good surfing requires moving the body into positions with agility and without strain. There’s a plethora of benefits to be had by integrating a yoga practice into your lifestyle, but there are several ways yoga can specifically help you move better on your board.

STRENGTH - Surfing is a full body sport, activating the large muscles needed to paddle and pop up along with finer muscles used for balance and control. Yoga utilises both large and small muscles making it a great way to build strength and stability to fluently ride waves while this diversity of movement also reduces the potential for injury.

FLEXIBILITY - There are (as yet) no points to be gained for riding the waves while doing the splits, but range of motion built through yoga is hugely helpful in moving with agility. Mobility in the shoulders helps to create an efficient paddling stroke and flexibility in the back and hip flexors helps you to get in the perfect position to catch waves and pop up.

BALANCE - Honing balance on solid ground trains your brain to control the body spatially, so that when you’re teetering on your board your body can quickly adapt to avoid your favourite wipeout.

FOCUS – A sharp mind soothes fears, clarifies decisions and objectively reflects, but the most important benefit of a calm and clear mind is in enjoying the experience. Yoga uses breath-led movement to draw your attention away from the monkey mind and anchor it to the present moment – the breath, the body, the experience. Cultivating mindful focus helps you to hone in on the sweet spot of flow state: nothing but you and the waves.

An energising pre-surf yoga sequence (20 mins)

Warming the body means that when you paddle out all guns blazing it isn’t a complete shock to the system. The following active or “yang” yoga sequence aligns breath with movement to prepare you mentally and physically for a surf session.

1. Swooping cats. Shoulder injuries commonly occur in surfers due to the pressure placed on the joint while paddling. These swooping cats will encourage blood flow to the shoulder and build strength in the arms needed to improve paddle technique.

From tabletop, bend the elbows and draw your bodyweight forward, keeping the elbows back behind you. As your arms start to straighten, press the ground away from you, rotating at the shoulder joint to draw your hips back towards your heels. Inhale to draw the body forward, exhale to bring it back. Repeat 10 time

2. Downward dog twists. A stiff spine limits how well your body can move on the board. Downward facing dog is a great way to lengthen the spine, with the addition of twists to free up tension in the spine.

From tabletop, tuck your toes and lift your hips up and away from your hands, finding an upside down “V” shape. Your knees can be bent to focus on lengthening the spine and keeping your ears in line with your arms. To twist, shorten your stance slightly to draw heels closer to the ground. Take your left hand across to take hold of your right calf, bending the left arm to draw your gaze under your right armpit. Stay for 3 breaths. Repeat on each side 5 times.

3. Lizard. It’s easy to forget how much the legs and hips can help your surf performance, but popping up and pumping down require constant reliance on the legs. Lizard allows you to incrementally work on stretching the hip joint.

From tabletop, bring your right foot outside your right hand, so that the foot is stacked under the knee. The back knee may need to be further back to feel a stretch into the hips. Options to deepen include bending the elbows, coming onto the forearms, lifting the back knee or drawing the front knee out to the side. Stay for 10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.

4. Prayer twist. Stretches the chest, shoulder, and spine in preparation for surfing’s upper body work. Engaging the core to twist strengthens all-important core muscles.

From a low lunge, bring your hands to a prayer in the middle of your chest, try to keep the hands in this position as you twist to the right hand side, placing your left elbow on your outer right thigh. Press hands together and lengthen the spine, engaging the core and using your elbow as levers to deepen the twist. Stay for 10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.

5. Locust. Builds a strong posterior chain, which is essential for lifting your chest to check over your shoulder for incoming waves and ready yourself to pop up.

Lie on your front with your hands underneath your shoulders. Inhale to lift your chest off the ground without placing pressure in the hands and float your feet off the ground. Deepen by lifting the hands in the air, drawing the arms back behind you or even out in front of you (a la superman). Lift and hold for 3 breaths. Repeat 5 times.

6. Child's pose. To find a little zen before the waves.

From tabletop, draw the knees apart and sink hips to heels, drawing the forehead and arms to the ground. Place a cushion under your seat if it’s uncomfortable to hold here. Bring your attention to your breath, the sound and sensation of it rolling in and rolling out. Stay here for a few breaths, while you wait for those neat waves to arrive.

What next?

If you liked the above sequence, you'll love in-person classes. I teach energetic, slow and restorative weekly classes take place at the Yoga Loft in Whitley Bay, Newcastle along with private sessions around the North East. Book your spot on the mat here or get in touch.

- Claire

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