Surf Training: The Secret 

My advice is for surfers only….don’t get me wrong, if you want to stay in shape in general, the gym can be great. But, I disagree that going to the gym improves or helps one to become a better surfer specifically.

There are many companies out there with the sole purpose of selling you a method to “train better” for surfing, as if there’s ANYTHING that can mimic such a unique sport. There are books/DVD/YouTubes/etc. with gym exercises, Indo board tricks, certain yoga poses to be done consecutively….the list goes on. Of course they’ll tell you they’ve got the magic bullet, or the Secret key. Well, I’ll tell you the real non-Secret Secret, and I won’t even pretend I’ve gotten close to the Seventh Special Über Chakra yet. You’re not going to like it. In fact, most surfers- especially the groms- hate it, but it’s the best thing to improve your surfing overall. And everyone already knows what it is.

Most of your time surfing isn’t making crazy airs, it’s paddling. Not glamorous, but it’s 90% of your surfing activity. You paddle to get out past the break, you paddle hard to get into waves, you paddle down to line up better with a peak, etc.

A lot of people miss out on this, and it’s too bad

I notice a lot of surfers say, “oh, it’s TOO flat/TOO choppy/TOO peaky,” etc. to go out in the water at all. Instead, they’ll opt for the gym. When the water and air gets warm like this in Florida, and we’ve got some time before the next tragic oil spill, I’d better be taking advantage of it. I’ll be trying to paddle some type of surf craft every opportunity that I get.

Even if a day is crappy for surfing, just going out to paddle around always helps my endurance and surfing fitness. Since we are blessed with warm water now, why on earth would I go to the gym? I should be on a board, paddling or surfing.

Even if you have a 5’10’ potato chip thruster, if you can’t paddle that toothpick board any significant distance on a flat day in Florida without stopping, how are you going to catch that big wave in Costa Rica on your gnar gnar surf vacay, young man? 

I had a surf instructor once who gave me great advice: 

You should always be paddling into your next position. Don’t stay still, or you’ll miss a wave. 

Good to remember for our shifty beach break here in Cocoa Beach. All that crazy paddle training paid off for the Hometown Hero, you know…

Kelly Slater riding a door. Because he can. He’s like the Chuck Norris of Surfing


Typically, the goal that I focus on from Spring until the end of Summer each year is to be able to comfortably paddle my most regularly used surfboard (9’0″ longboard) at a walking pace least 1/2 mile or more down the beach. Then, I need to be able to surf for about 1/2 hour or more, and then comfortably paddle back to where I started without being winded or worn out. If I’m able to do that regularly during my surf sessions by August, that will put me in a good position to try the better swells in the Fall. 

There was even a race in August each year at Balsa Bill’s in Satellite Beach where I could test my endurance out, but they’re not having it this year. Too bad. I’ll still do my own timing for a 1/2 mile anyway sometime in August. Yay me.

Still “prone” paddling, just a switch to old-style knee paddling, commonly done while racing

You don’t have to be an athlete to train- paddling helps endurance and strength, which makes wipeouts much less worrisome when the BIG swells come.

No special paddleboard is necessary to paddle train. Some of the best paddle practice I get is on my 6’10” funshape when there’s super choppy and peaky waves. I will paddle out and around the line up, and if I catch a wave, cool. If not, I’m getting in paddle practice time. I try to shoot for at least a 1/2 hour, but it does depend on the factors that day, at least for me. I’m not a drill Sargent on myself these days, since I’m not Paddleboard racing anymore and I’m not getting any younger.

If you don’t have the dough for a monster quiver to paddle on for different conditions, in addition to your regular surfboard try to add a LARGE bodyboard. I got one nearly 20 years ago at a local surf shop near Playalinda National Seashore when I was first trying surfing out. I’ve since gotten the much larger Beater board as of last year, but I’ll never give up my original! A great place to look for one is on Craigslist. People move inland, and clear out stuff like this all the time for cheap.

My Beater board and my Big Bodyboard


The reason I advocate for picking up a bodyboard is that they are cheaper than a surfboard (my original bodyboard was $50 new, and it was NICE, and lasted me almost 20 years and counting), and it’s less daunting to paddle around on in rough waves, which gives me even more opportunities to paddle and be in the water. If it’s a bigger, gnarlier day, I’m not keen on paddling out on a hard fiberglass surfboard. A giant foamy bodyboard might be more fun to take along- as long as the ocean conditions are within my abilities.

I know, I know. The gym is warm, dry, totally safe, and you get to grunt a lot. But honestly, when I used to compete in prone paddleboard races, it was the leaner, less muscular, conditioned “Mer-man” guys winning the races. They spent the majority of their training time in the water, in less than ideal conditions ALL THE TIME. You have to if you wanted to win a 12 mile paddleboard race! Not every competition’s going to have perfect conditions, especially here on the East Coast of Florida. And the premier Paddleboarders- men and women- were mostly lifeguards who had to learn how handle less than pristine conditions for rescue situations-training that lent perfectly to frequent paddleboarding race wins.

WHO’S been practicing their paddling???

Now, I’m not saying go out in hazardous gnar, but when surfers say:

“it’s flat” or 

“it’s kinda choppy and small, I’m hitting the gym,” 

that should be your cue to let loose and paddle like nobody’s watching. And they’re not. They’re at the gym grunting.

Sorry, but if you can only get out to paddle/surf on the weekend and you try to go to the gym with a set of exercises to make it up during the week, don’t expect to improve your surfing that way- in fact you might injure yourself at the gym when you could be injuring yourself paddling! Ever think of that?!? 

I rather do this than stub my toe at the gym

No exercise improves the muscles used in surfing except paddling and surfing. It’s not glamorous to paddle around on flat days, but it’s far more useful to do than reps of whatever at the gym. On days when it’s truly impossible to paddle or surf, I either rest (you need to if you get into a regular paddle schedule), or walk, so my legs get sufficient exercise.

So there you go. Be sure to consult your doctor, don’t eat anything you’re allergic to, and cover your head when you fall off your surfboard. I guess that’s enough disclaimers. 

Dude, I was rippin’ it so harsh in the 321

8 thoughts on “Surf Training: The Secret 

  1. I totally agree! This past winter with all of Californias rain and no ability to paddle really lowers your paddling ability. Question for you, how to you keep track of your mileage in the water?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Before I had a Waterproof GPS on my prone paddleboard, I simply knew my approximate starting point (usually a condo on the beach), and when I would set a goal to paddle down to a close park I knew. I could tell from the water it was a park by the number of people on the beach. I’d paddle until I *just* passed the park, then turned around and paddled back.
      I’d come home, do a Google Maps straight line between those points, multiply by 2, and boom! there’s the approximate distance I had paddled that session. I did this for lagoon paddles too.
      After a while, you begin to know the distance between the Pier and Jetty, the Pier and certain local parks, etc. It gets burned in your brain. 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s the truth. Paddling is hard and takes a lot of strength and endurance. It works out so many muscles. I would suggest, however, that working out your back and neck muscles out of the water will help. High intensity, low weight reps can build muscle and endurance that will help in the water. Also, running helps significantly.

    Liked by 2 people

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