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Real life benefits of yoga for surfers

yoga and surfing

There aren’t many things in life that can give you as much as surfing can. It is a healthy lifestyle that offers an activity that will constantly challenge you physically, mentally, and emotionally. There are many real-life benefits of yoga and surfing.

Surfing will connect you with nature too. Most non-surfers don’t know about this. They just look out from the sand at guys paddling, sitting, and riding waves. They don’t know how much higher the level of being in nature that it is out in the water than on the sand. It’s the difference between sitting in a chair and looking up at a mountain and actually climbing it. 

The surfer’s connection with nature is a love/hate one. There are times when you are surfing beautiful waves well and everything just feels right. You look around. And just know that there’s absolutely no place on earth that you would rather be at that moment. Then there are times when you can’t quite get into nature’s rhythm. You’re slightly scared and frustrated wondering what the fuck you are doing out there. 

This contrast that only true nature can give you is beneficial to your soul and who you are in almost every way. This is why some start surfing and never stop. It alone can define you as a human and a man. 

SURFING WHEN YOU GET OLDER

About twenty-five years ago, my local news profiled this 90-year-old water skier. It was amazing for me to see this super old fuck barefoot water-skiing. My first thought was Well, he can do that at 90 because he’s been water skiing all his life. I couldn’t find who that guy was, but here’s another old fuck doing the same thing now.

Surfing has old guys too. When I was younger, we called them silver surfers because of their gray hair. Thirty years later, I’m now one of those guys and I feel great about it. It’s a little different now though, I’m not gonna lie. The board is longer, the paddling is slower, and the waves caught per hour are much less. 

An older surfer may not be like those fifteen-year-olds who weigh 70 pounds and can pop-up like someone from above is yanking them from the sky. And he can’t ride each wave too far in and immediately turn around and battle fifty yards of white-water to immediately catch another wave and repeat twenty times in a row. But the feeling is the same. The anticipation, excitement, nerves, fear, happiness, and connection are the same no matter how old. 

The real difference is in energy management. When you are a fifteen-year-old human fly, you don’t think about your energy reserves. You just go out and stay until you get thirsty or cramp up, or it’s time to go. With older surfers, energy management becomes part of the experience. I never liked white water. When I was younger, it wasn’t as much of a deterrent as it is now. At my age, if there’s too much white-water, I say “fuck it”. It’s just not worth spending all that energy fighting it to surf maybe one or two probably shitty waves. Yea, the board stays in the bag. 

YOGA AND SURFING

yoga and surfing meditation qualities

Getting older or getting hurt will affect a surfer’s ability. This isn’t a sport like golf where you can do it at any age or level of health. Certainly, golf has its own degree of physicality with unnatural stroke mechanics and negotiating a bunker, but that’s about it. 

With surfing, you have to be in pretty good shape all the way around. To be in good surf shape, you have to have good stamina, strong legs, shoulders with a big range of motion, balance, and a loose and agile body. Doing yoga will help with being in good surfing shape in these ways and more.

DUDE, WHAT’S YOGA?

By now, you’d have to be living under a rock for the last twenty years to not have heard about, seen, or done some yoga. But what is it exactly? And why should you do it?

Books have been written about what yoga is. Big books. The way I see it, explaining what yoga is would be a lot like explaining what surfing is. It can be described super simply OR very detailed as a lot is going on with surfing. 

Most Indian gurus are wordy and self-important chaps. With even the slightest hint of worship, they will spend hours over-explaining what yoga is to his audience. So, if you ever suffer from insomnia, look one of these jokers up. You’ll be fast asleep after only a page or two of yoga explanation.  

For the sake of staying awake, I’ll give my one-sentence description of what yoga is: Yoga is the art of self-exploration. This statement blankets a lot of things, so take it where you want to. The basis of American yoga is a physical one, and that’s where it can benefit your surfing the most. 

Yoga has a shit-load of body positions or “postures” that range from super easy to hard to do. These postures are designed to be a total body engagement experience. There can be more to it than dumbbell curls and leg presses. What really makes these postures special is the breathing that you learn to do along with them. The breathing is actually what makes it yoga and not just stretching. 

From a physical standpoint, doing these yoga postures regularly will keep all your muscles, joints, tendons, and organs in good physical working order. And yoga focuses primarily on spinal health, which is kind of important as the spine is like, everything.

TWELVE SPECIFIC WAYS YOGA CAN BENEFIT SURFING

Generally, having properly exercised joints and tendons from doing yoga is benefit enough for surfing to prevent injury and prolong sessions. But just in case you want more, here are some more defined positives:

1 Try a yoga warm-up before surfing 

When I was younger, I didn’t warm up before hitting the waves. I was way too excited to spend any extra time on the sand when there were waves to be had. After putting on some age and going through a few injuries, I almost always do a warm-up first. 

You may think you look funny by doing some yoga on the sand. You’ll get used to it though and besides, fuck anyone who thinks it’s weird. Depending on what postures you know, you can do anything that you think will get you ready to surf. 

If you aren’t sure about what to do, I recommend at a minimum some “Sun Salutation A” and “Sun Salutation B”. Most beach sand is good to fall on. If it’s a really cold day or if the water is really cold you will need to heat up your body. Try crow pose, dolphin, or even some handstands. That’ll get you warm. 

2 The pop-up and the up-dog 

There are many different types of yoga to do in the US. I began my yoga journey doing yoga called Ashtanga. Ashtanga yoga has a ton of “up-dog” and “down-dog” postures in its practice. The “up-dog” pose is a lot like the beginning motion of the pop-up when surfing. 

Some surfers have issues with the pop-up. It’s that moment of truth when you have caught the wave and it’s now time to get on your feet and start surfing. When catching mush on a longboard, you might have all the time in the world to get to your feet. Dropping in on a steep, curling face with a shorter board is a much quicker game. You need to get from your hands to your feet smoothly and efficiently so you can grab a rail and turn. 

Doing hundreds of up-dogs during my yoga practice helped my pop-up immensely. Feeling the proper mechanics of pushing my upper body up with my hands and arms made my grip on the board stronger and the upward motion smoother and faster. The yoga up-dog also greatly improved upper body fatigue I sometimes got on surf sessions with higher numbers of rides. 

3 Warrior 2 

Virabhadrasana II or warrior 2 is a fairly easy yoga posture. It’s definitely not as macho as its name. But this is a great total body engagement and has some similarities to surfing. 

Warrior 2 can help your surfing by giving you an awareness of how the bottom of your feet can grip. While surfing, we grip with our feet may be more than guys are aware of. And that grip can sometimes mean the difference between holding on during that big bottom turn and stabilizing for a nice ride or losing balance, getting collected, and eating big shit.

Warrior 2 also teaches a surfer the role the upper torso plays when doing a turn or a maneuver and how important it is to keep it straight. You can probably hang on by just using your lower torso when surfing in a straight line. But if your upper torso isn’t positioned and connected well with your legs and feet during a pivot or turn, you’re more than likely going down. 

This yoga pose also teaches the body good posture when the arms are extended. In surfing, the arms extend so we can turn and keep balance. Warrior 2 will have you feeling the connection that extended arms have with the torso. It can be quite an eye-opener when you start to feel how important that connection is in surfing. Good stuff.

4 Yoga breathing vs surfing breathing 

In my lifetime so far, I have studied the breathing of three separate major activities. And they are yoga, martial arts, and surfing. With yoga and Karate, breathing is a fundamental part of the practice. Although they are quite different, both express the importance of incorporating the breath with the movement. 

With surfing, no one ever really talks about breathing. Well, unless they are talking about being able to hold your breath for a longer time in case you wipe out and get held down in a giant white-water washing machine (which is some of the scariest shit on the planet). Normal surfing doesn’t address the need for a technique of breathing though.  

Techniques of breathing while surfing probably isn’t studied because it’s not really possible to have much of a technique. The surf environment is often too chaotic to do so. In reality, a surfer takes his breath when he can. And it better be efficient because he may not get another good one for a while. I only pay attention to surfing breathing because I’ve studied breath in two other different physical disciplines.

5 SURF BREATHING IS EFFICIENT CHAOS

lungs breathing with yoga and surfing

One of the things I loved about my study of breathing during surfing was how it debunked most of the importance of the breathing techniques in my disciplines. Surfing is very physical. It is in an environment where you have to get in your oxygen when you can because water is splashing all over the place. Just one rogue drop of saltwater can fly into your mouth during a breath and fuck your shit all up. Because of this, the surf breath is a guarded and efficient breath. 

This chaos of the surf environment gives your mind and body no choice but to manage it’s breath instinctually. And this makes for the most advanced breathing there is. I was amazed at how my body took in oxygen when I first started paying attention while surfing. If I applied the breathing rules of yoga or karate, surely I would’ve passed out from exhaustion and drown in the first five minutes. 

To keep in the spirit of being truthful, I will admit that the breathing awareness I learned from yoga has helped my surfing. But it’s only helped at times when I am in a place for recovery, like when I’m regaining my strength pass the break and after battling through a set to get there. For those moments, breath awareness helps.

6 Yoga’s balance poses that will improve surfing balance 

It probably goes without saying that balance is important with surfing. Yoga balance postures are excellent for learning about and building balance. You could probably develop good balance through repetition by something like standing one-footed on an old dock piling and alternating kicking the air, like the way Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel-san in Karate Kid. But the repetition of yoga balance poses will teach you the how and why of good balance through proper body mechanics.

I recommend tree pose, dancer’s pose, and warrior 3. For surfers, tree pose may be the best. Always keep in mind that a simple yoga pose is just the beginning. Tree pose starts out easy, but there are variations that can be challenging. For surfing, I like half-lotus tree pose. It’s good because you can eventually do the posture with a bent standing knee which can teach you a lot about balance when your body is crouched. 

7 Sphinx pose 

Does surfing ever give you a sore neck or a headache? For me, after a couple of hours of surfing, I would start to get a pretty nasty headache. I knew it was from laying on my board and looking forward while paddling. This is an unnatural position for the body. It can cause a bad neck strain along with possible lower and middle back compression.  

I haven’t had any back issues related to surfing, but my neck is a problem. Well, it used to be a problem until I started applying what I learned from the yoga sphinx posture. Sphinx pose is really close to the same position a surfer’s body is in during paddling. Now, doing this pose repeatedly may not help in terms of adjusting correct body mechanics or alignment (like balance postures will), but it will teach you how to keep your spine straight and extended. 

This was surfer’s gold for me. As I was having to cut my sessions short due to headaches from this neck strain. 

8 Hot yoga trains for anxiety 

Hot vinyasa flow type yoga and surfing bigger days have something in common. They both can put you in an extreme physical and emotional state. Surfing bigger than your skill level (which we all seem to do) can scare the ever-living shit out of you. Although few guys will admit that. Yoga may not scare you that way, but it will put you in a state of panic if you have pushed yourself too far. These things result in what we grown-ups now call anxiety

As a yogi for twenty years now, I can’t count how many times I have put myself in the very uncomfortable and scary position of near panic in a hot yoga flow class. Sometimes I think I might be dying right there on the mat. How embarrassing it’s gonna be to die in class with all of those beautiful people around me. 

And as a surfer of more than twenty-five years here in Florida, there have been more than a few times when I’ve been out on big days and wondered if I was going to make it back to the sand. There was one time in New Smyrna Beach when I surely didn’t think I was gonna make it. I saw Jesus, Muhammad, and Santa Claus in the water that day. 

I am in no way a thrill seeker but as a surfer, what can you do? Sometimes it doesn’t look that big from the beach. Sometimes you tell yourself you’ll just go catch the inside. Then, before you know it, you’re in the shit. Or worse, you’re just beyond the shit and don’t have the skill to get through it to make it to safety. In those anxiety surfing circumstances, my mind stays a little calmer because I have gotten somewhat used to it from overdoing it so many times in yoga. 

So, yoga won’t cure you of surfer’s anxiety, but it will help you to cope with it.

9 Overall good for wipeouts 

Wipeouts can be fun. They can also hurt like hell and injure you. I once wiped out in a foot of water from a street break. I slipped and fell straight down on my board, balls first. One of my nuts blew up to the size of a potato and I had to go to the ER and get it scanned. It took like two months for it to go back to normal size.

Yoga wouldn’t have helped my nut sack injury, but its overall conditioning of the body is bound to help prevent all kinds of other wipeout injuries. Yoga keeps all your ligaments and joints and muscles in good working order by helping them all keep a good range of motion. And wipeouts will exploit your body’s weaknesses.

10 Good posture is good surfing 

I’m a longboard surfer. Longboard surfing definitely has an element of style to it. Having great posture while surfing is maybe the most important aspect of that style(well, maybe short of wearing a cool hat or having a dog on the board with you). Good posture looks good during drops, slow turns, and of course, when walking the board. 

The benefits of good posture don’t end with just how much better you look surfing. It will also make you a better surfer. Good posture will, in fact, make you better at everything because it properly aligns the body so it will have better symmetry. And good symmetry means better movement, smoother transitions, less injury, and better balance with all things.

Yoga will give you better posture, period. There’s really no choice in the matter since the physical aspect of yoga is mostly focused on the spine. And a healthy spine means good posture. 

11 Yoga and surfing are both barefoot activities 

In America, we live in the world of wearing footwear. Most people wear shoes to all things in their lives and as a result, they aren’t as connected with nature. Because of this, there is a new lifestyle trend where people are deliberately going out and walking on the ground barefoot.  They call it “earthing” or “grounding”

This may seem obvious or ridiculous to a surfer as many of us will wear flip-flops or go barefoot when we can. Some yogis carry the same ideal too as they understand the value of an earthy connection. This is a good soulful and idealistic connection between the two, but there are physiological benefits of yoga for surfers as well. Doing yoga barefoot will teach you more about how your feet grip and links to all other parts of the body. And that will make you a better surfer.

12 Yoga and surfing are both dynamic mediation 

For me with yoga, dynamic meditation is the greatest aspect. And next to connecting me with nature, it’s the biggest part of surfing. I’m a bit heady though, so some may not see it that way. Regardless, both will take you out of your daily head and bring you elsewhere for a while, which is awesome!

You may not think about surfing as a dynamic mediation, so you may not see the value in this. Hell, you may not even believe in this shit. You may just go out and shred as often as you can and don’t think much beyond that. That’s ok with me. You don’t have to define every little fucking thing in life. If you find yourself irritable or out of balance in some way with your life if you don’t surf enough, then guess what, you may be benefiting from the meditation that surfing gives you. Sorry man. That’s just how it is.

If you are a surfer and start doing yoga, chances are that you will already be familiar with turning off your brain and just being in the moment trying to do something difficult. And you will like that part of yoga. And the next time you make it out in the surf, you’ll be thinking about yoga in that small way. 

This will help you learn the value of those moments when you are surfing and your mind is blank(induced either by exhaustion or the connection with nature). Then, when you go back to a yoga class, you’ll think about those moments when surfing, and then a growth opportunity may arise from that.

WHY SOME WON’T DO YOGA

Some people I talk to about yoga think it’s some kind of cult. They think that it will challenge their belief system or that they will be told they shouldn’t eat cow or something. Try not let something like this stop you from doing yoga.

True, yoga is something that comes from a place quite different from America. And yes, it is synonymous with some goofy shit like grown men wearing diapers and food that smells bad. I say, don’t worry about those parts. They are in no way superior to our lives here in the US. If it were, they wouldn’t have come here. 

Seriously, yoga can make you a better surfer and allow you to surf longer and at an older age. Until then, hang eleven, bitch.

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