Surfing may be a clichéd pastime in Southern California, but make no mistake, it is physically and mentally challenging. The pros just make it look easy.
Catching a wave may be harder than it seems, but after a class or two even the most challenged surfer can maneuver on a board. “The most important thing is somebody’s will — if they want to do it,” says Patrick Murphy, owner of Venice-based Learn to Surf LA. “The oldest person we’ve had here was 72, and he stood up on his board.”
In addition to providing a good cardio workout (try paddling over waves and see how hard your heart pounds), surfing is a whole-body workout. Murphy says that paddling mostly works the upper back muscles and the deltoids (shoulder muscles). Then comes the push-up from a lying position to a squat before standing, which employs the pectorals (chest muscles) and the triceps (muscles on the back of the upper arm). Staying upright on the board challenges core muscles that stabilize the body as the board glides over the water.
Beginning surf classes cover not only the basics of paddling and how to go from a lying to a standing position but also safety and even surfing etiquette. (One tip: Don’t muscle in on someone else’s wave.)
“I work out all the time, and nothing fatigues me more than paddling a surfboard,” says Majid Ali, who surfs every summer with his 10- and 12-year-old sons. Surfing provides a great workout for them as well. “It’s great for their balance and is a good adjunct for the other sports they do, like martial arts, baseball, basketball and skateboarding.”
Surfing, he adds, reminds him of how he was active as a child: “As kids we were always climbing things and moving on a multi-axial plane. But as we get older the things we do are more linear, like running or lifting weights. This forces you to work on balance.”
It’s a great mental challenge too, since surfers have to think about timing and how to suss out the good waves. But the biggest reward might come when the sun sets. “You’re euphoric yet mellow by the end of the day,” Ali says.
Murphy seconds that sentiment. After a day at the beach, he says, “I find I have maybe an unreasonable tolerance for the other stresses of life.”