Surfing Stretches and Flexibility Exercises
Surfing stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with surfing injuries for good.
by Brad Walker | First Published January 25, 2009 | Updated August 12, 2017
The history of surfing can be traced back to the Polynesian culture in 1500 A.D. In Hawaiian history, it was a part of the Kapu system, where large boards up to 16 feet in length were made with the light and buoyant wiliwili wood for the royalty. A surfing board was highly revered and cared for. Coastlines were reserved for the royalty to surf. The Kapu laws were in place till the 1800’s when missionaries from England reached the islands. Surfing soon became just a recreational pastime. In 1898, the U.S. took over Hawaii as a territory.
In 1905, Duke Kahanamoku launched a surfing club at Waikiki beach. In 1907, surfing board design and dimensions saw a sea change.
By 1955, surfing was already a phenomenon. With waves as high as 25 feet, the beaches at Hawaii became a favorite with thrill seekers. You can thank the ancient Polynesians and the Hawaiian culture for the gift of this sport to us.
Staying upright on the board requires good balance and a solid base of strength in the lower body and core. Strong arms and legs are needed when paddling into the surf. Good cardiovascular conditioning is also important to ensure you can handle the constant movement needed to get into, and out of, the surf.
Good flexibility to handle the tossing and twisting in the surf from a wipe out (and everyone has them) is essential. Strong swimming skills, with good upper body strength is a must for the surfer.
The major muscles used when surfing include:
- The muscles of the legs; the calves – gastrocnemius and soleus, and the upper leg – quadriceps and hamstrings.
- The muscles of the hips; the adductor and abductor muscles, the hip flexors, and the gluteals.
- The core muscles; the rectus abdominus, obliques, and the spinal erectors.
- The muscles of the upper back and shoulder; the latissimus dorsi, the teres major, and the deltoids.
A good overall strength and conditioning program, including weight training, cardiovascular conditioning, and stretching exercises, will help the surfer catch and ride the "Big One" safely.
Most Common Surfing Injuries
Surfing is a sport with many inherent dangers. Drowning is a major concern in heavy surf. The violent tossing and bouncing in the surf can lead to traumatic injuries to the body. Most injuries in surfing are traumatic in nature. Due to the reliance on weather and surf conditions, rest days are common; allowing for recovery and reducing overuse injuries.
Aside from drowning, a surfer may also get lacerations (the head, legs, and feet), contusions, knee injuries, dislocations (shoulders most common), and skull and facial fractures.
- Lacerations: Contact with the surfer’s own board, another surfer’s board, the ocean floor, rocks, and coral can cause cuts or tears in the skin, also referred to as lacerations. Blood loss, especially while still in the water, is a concern with lacerations. A bigger concern is infection. While attempting to get to a safe place to treat the laceration it is bombarded with infectious materials, in the water and out. Clean the wound well and apply an antibiotic ointment to reduce the chance for infection. Cover it and keep it clean while it heals. Deep or long lacerations may require stitches, or other interventions, to close them.
- Bruises and Contusions: Contact with all of the same hard surfaces can lead to bruises and contusions, as well. A contusion is breaking of the blood vessels without the breaking of the skin. This causes blood to leak into the space under the skin causing swelling, pain and discomfort. It may be tender and discolored. The harder the impact the more tissue may become involved. Deeper contusions may cause damage to muscle tissue and, in severe cases, could lead to compartment syndrome. Ice, rest, and compression may help.
- Knee Sprain: Any of the ligaments in the knee are subject to sprain in the surfer. The most common sprains include the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the medial collateral ligament (MCL.) The ACL is often torn when the foot and lower leg are planted but the upper leg rotates. The MCL is commonly sprained by contact or violent movement of the board. The severity of the sprain is determined by the amount of tearing present in the ligament, with the worst being a complete rupture. Minor sprains may take 2 to 3 weeks for recovery, while a complete tear may take 8 weeks. Ice, immobilization, and NSAIDs will help with recovery.
- Subluxations/Dislocations: When being thrown around in the water, like clothes in the spin cycle, the body is subjected to a lot of forces. The shoulder and other joints are often forcefully moved through and beyond their normal range of motion. This can cause a partial, subluxation, or complete dislocation. When the bones of the joint are pulled out of their normal position, and do not return, they are dislocated. A dislocation usually requires medical attention to reduce it back to the normal position. Ice, immobilization, and immediate medical attention should be the regular course of action. Even if the joint returned to normal on its own, there may be ligament and tendon damage and should be seen by a physician. Recovery usually takes 4 to 6 weeks, depending on severity.
- Skull and Facial Fractures: Forceful impact with the board or other hard object can cause fractures to the skull. The fractures may occur anywhere, including the face. The immediate danger with this type of injury is involvement with brain tissue. Bleeding into the cranial cavity and damage to the eyes, ears, and spinal cord are also concerns. Any fracture, or suspected fracture, to the skull is an immediate medical emergency. Do not move a person suspected of a skull fracture, except to remove them from the water.
Injury Prevention Strategies
A conditioning program with focus on strengthening the core muscles for balance and flexibility training to reduce injuries will help the surfer stay on top.
- Knowing the limits of your ability and avoiding surf that is too big or rough will help prevent a lot of injuries.
- Learning and practicing swimming skills in rough surf will also keep the surfer safe, as well as providing a base of overall conditioning.
- A solid weight training program with strengthening exercises for all of the muscles will help protect the bones and joints from the impacts and violent tossing involved when wiping out.
- Proper equipment and clothing while surfing will also protect the body from many of the hidden dangers on the seas.
- A solid stretching program to increase overall flexibility will prepare the body for the many awkward positions it may end up in while rolling in the surf. It will also help increase overall conditioning for the surfer.
The Top 3 Surfing Stretches
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective. Below are 3 very beneficial stretches for surfing; obviously there are a lot more, but these are a great place to start. Please make special note of the instructions below each stretch.
Lying Knee Roll-over Stretch: While lying on your back, bend your knees and let them fall to one side. Keep your arms out to the side and let your back and hips rotate with your knees.lean forward.
Kneeling Quad Stretch: Kneel on one foot and the other knee. If needed, hold on to something to keep your balance and then push your hips forward.
Kneeling Heel-down Achilles Stretch: Kneel on one foot and place your body weight over your knee. Keep your heel on the ground and lean forward.
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About the Author: Brad is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 100's of testimonials. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.