Surfing Stretches and Flexibility Exercises


Surfing stretching exercises to improve your performance and do away with surfing injuries for good.


Surfing, contrary to some belief, may go back beyond the Polynesian chants dating back to 1500 A.D. It truly is an historic sport, with a long tradition in the Polynesian culture. In Hawaiian history it was a part of the Kapu system of laws.

If you’re looking to improve your surfing or just seeking to prevent surfing injuries it is important to follow the information in this article. In addition, adding a few simple stretches to your fitness program will also help. To get started on a safe and effective stretching routine that’s just right for you, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.

surfing_1The Kapu system was apparent even in the manufacture of surf boards. Boards intended for royalty were made of premium wood and measured 14 to 16 feet long. These boards were often made from the lighter, more buoyant wiliwili tree. A board for a commoner would usually measure only 10 to 12 feet and would be made of the heavier denser wood of the koa tree.

When a tree was selected, a ritual, including the placing of a ceremonial fish in a hole near the roots and a prayer, would be conducted before the tree was cut down. After it was cut it would be chipped and cut to size using a stone or bone adze. They would then use a coarse stone or coral to remove the adze marks and then apply a dark stain to the surface. Then the surface would be treated with kukui oil to give it a glossy surface. It would then be dedicated before its first trip into the water. After surfing, it would be dried and treated with coconut oil and wrapped in tapa cloth to preserve the wood. It is not hard to see why the surfboard became a revered part of Hawaiian culture.

The Kapu system also determined where each individual could surf. The coastlines were divided and commoners were not allowed on the same waves as the royalty. The Kapu system of laws stayed in effect until the missionaries from England made their way to the islands in the 1800’s.

Surfing still took place but not with the same regal fanfare. It began to switch from a way of life and tradition to a recreational past time. Some hold outs of the old traditions remained and fought hard to hold on to the old monarchy and traditions. In 1898, that all fell, when the U.S. took over Hawaii as a territory.

This may have been the move that saved surfing from extinction. In 1905 Duke Kahanamoku and his friends created a surfing club at Waikiki beach. Shortly after this, in 1907, Henry Huntington, a California land developer, asked Irish Hawaiian George Freeth to give a surfing demonstration at the dedication of the Redondo-Los Angeles railroad at Redondo Beach. This sparked a rebirth of surfing.

This also brought about a revolution in surfboard design. The board was cut down from its original 16 foot length. Size, weight and shape were all experimented with, along with fins and Styrofoam.

By 1955, surfing had become a phenomenon. Surfers looking for the “big one” made their way to the beaches of Hawaii. With waves climbing as high as 25 feet, the true thrill seeker could find something to get his pulse racing. The industry continues to improve on materials for boards, wetsuits, and other equipment. Thrill seekers today can thank the ancient Polynesians for bringing the surfboard to Hawaii and the Hawaiian culture for preserving the sport for us.


Anatomy Involved

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_2Surfing 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 beside each stretch.


surfing-stretch_1Lying 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.






surfing-stretch_2Kneeling 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.






surfing-stretch_3Kneeling 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.





Get more Stretching Exercises here...

The Stretching Handbook, DVD & CD-ROMWhile the recommendations on this page are a good starting point, you'll get a lot more benefit when you include a wider variety of stretches.

To do away with stiff, tight muscles and joints, and improve your full body mobility and freedom of movement, grab a copy of the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility (Handbook, DVD & CD-ROM).

In total, they include 135 clear photographs and 44 video demonstrations of unique stretching exercises for every major muscle group in your body. Plus, over 80 printable stretching routines for 22 sports and 19 different muscle groups.

The DVD also includes 3 customized stretching routines (8 minutes each) for the Upper Body; the Lower Body; and the Neck, Back & Core, plus a bonus CD-ROM that allows you to print out over 80 stretching routines that you can take with you wherever you go.

The Handbook and DVD will show you, step-by-step, how to perform each stretch correctly. Plus, you'll also learn the 7 critical rules for safe stretching; the benefits of flexibility; and how to stretch properly. Check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility for yourself.

Brad Walker - AKA The Stretch CoachAbout 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.

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