Tips from the Pros: Top 4 Surfing Exercises
Four Exercises for Surfers
Brian Keaulana knows a thing or two about big-time surfing on big-time stages. Son of legendary Hawaiian surfer "Buffalo" Keaulana, Brian is consistently one of the most sought-after figures in the surfing world. The Makaha coastline promoted him to lifeguard captain in 1993 after he braved the dangerous Oahuan "Moi Hole" to save a tourist. He's since become one of the top surf-rescue experts around. Professional tours? Film stunt work? Keaulana does it all. When he's not competing, the 52-year-old has a very brave toe in nearly all waters of the professional surfing industry.
Keaulana recently shared a few of his favorite exercises with us.
1. Underwater Breath-Holding
Woah, woah, hold on. We thought these were exercises related to surfing?
Keaulana argues that they are.
"A lot of what I do is cross-training," he says. "A lot of people think about the physicality of being strong. But you need mental strength, too, because the waves are so unpredictable. You need to be able to react to unexpected situations, like when you get thrown from your board. You can't panic. At the end of the day, surfing is the easiest thing to do — surviving is hard. If you can survive, surfing is a cakewalk."
For this exercise, take any weight — a 50-pound lava rock, if you're feeling ambitious — and walk from the shallow end of a swimming pool as deep as you can go before you need some air. Drop the weight and swim back to the surface.
Keaulana emphasizes that you should never train alone when doing this one, even if you consider yourself an expert in the pool.
"I always have another person nearby who's also trained in [underwater] blackouts. We push ourselves, but we know our limits."
2. Bicycle Tube Shoulder Rotations
Who says you need to break the bank for your training? Take a bicycle tube of any size and fill it with sand. Once full, it'll weigh anywhere from five to fifteen pounds. Grab the tube like you would a steering wheel and rotate it in a clockwise motion over and around your head. Switch directions when you start to get tired. The odd shape of the tube makes this a winner for your upper-body stability.
"I really like this one because it maximizes the full range of movement in your shoulders," Keaulana says. "You're developing dexterity and strength at the same time."
3. Underwater Self-Defense
You'll be bowing to your sensei after these moves. All you need to do is take a traditional form of martial arts, like jiu-jitsu or aikido, and perform them in the shallow end of a swimming pool. Don't completely submerge yourself — the water should only rise as high as your shoulders. Remain controlled throughout your movements and focus on your breathing.
"If anyone in martial arts knows one thing, they know it's all about base and balance. In the ocean, there is no base or balance. There, it's more about energy and momentum. It's about understanding the ocean currents, and that knowledge is what empowers you to respond properly to dangerous situations."
You heard right. Swimming. Just you and the water, hotshot. No equipment needed for this one.
Learn how to kick. Good. Now learn how to swim. Tread with your arms. Now your legs. That's right, you got it. Go ahead and laugh, but Keaulana called this the best thing you can do to improve your surf skills.
"Too many surfers make surfing their lifeline," he says. "They don't develop the basic skills they need when something bad happens in the water. Fear is an emotion that takes away from the decision-making process. If you're prepared at the most basic level, you'll be ready for anything."
Challenge yourself. If treading with two legs is too easy for you, try doing it with one. Try holding a heavy object above your head. Get creative. You never know what you'll get in the open surf, so you can never plan — or prepare — too much.
There you have it: Four exercises from a surfing legend.
Already have these in your routine? Want something different? Use Keaulana's personal workout philosophy to structure your training around your own needs.
"When I exercise, I look at myself in five different components. The first is strength — the ability to hold back danger. The second is speed — the ability to outrun danger. Third, agility — to outmaneuver danger. Fourth, flexibility — to bend and contort to danger. And fifth, endurance — to outlast danger.
If you concentrate on those five things, you have the chance to be good at what you do. You can also have fun doing it."
--images by Brian KeaulanaDavis Jones is an editorial intern at Sierra. His love for the outdoors began when he stepped on a fish hook as a 12-year-old and cried, in a burst of epiphanic clarity, "I'm too young to die." He attends the University of San Diego and enjoys camping, hiking, backpacking, and other activities that more or less benefit the mosquito population.