Kristy Murphy Keeps the Spirit of Longboarding Alive
This world champion says you can get into surf shape without ever catching a wave
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The perfect longboard wave is a curious thing. While shorter surfboards perform best in large, fast waves, the ideal wave for longboards, which can reach 11 to 12 feet long, isn’t about power or size. It’s about shape—picture a waist-high roller with a shoulder that peels away from the heart of the wave in a consistent fashion, offering a long, steady ride. Malibu, California, has probably the most famous longboard wave on the planet, called First Point, while northern Peru has a wave that breaks slow and even for more than a mile. “Longboarding is about style and footwork, it’s about finesse,” says Kristy Murphy, a former professional surfer. “A long wave with a peeling shoulder gives you time to set your line and showcase that movement and footwork.”
Murphy would know. She won the World Longboard Championship in 2005, the pinnacle of a pro career in which she traveled to compete and shoot footage for her sponsors all over the globe. In 2007, Murphy founded Siren Surf Adventures, a guiding and coaching business. She’s still traveling with her business partner, Cat Slatinsky, but this time it’s to show clients to their favorite longboard waves: Zihuatanejo, Mexico; Pavones, Costa Rica; Queens, Hawaii. “I wanted our guided adventures to feel like a surf trip with my friends, like surfing on the tour. It’s been successful, so I have the opportunity to surf almost every day of the year,” Murphy says. At 43, she continues to refine her own style and teach others the art of single-fin longboarding, dubbed “logging,” which takes surfing way back to its roots, when boards were big and maneuvering on the wave was slow and smooth. (Compare it to the kind of surfing that’s more prevalent today: acrobatic moves dominated by multi-fin shortboards, quick snaps, and aerials.)
Murphy says it’s a good time to be in the longboarding business. Thanks to a combination of grassroots events and social-media coverage, the retro surfing niche has once again been cast into the spotlight. “Even just a few years ago, I didn’t know if longboarding was gonna make it,” Murphy says, adding that there wasn’t much happening with the style in the World Surfing League. But a series of competitions called the Duct Tape Invitational, which focuses on surfing single-fin boards with no leash, helped revive the sport’s roots.
“Real longboarding is so different than shortboarding,” Murphy says. “For a long time, surfers were taking their aggressive shortboard approach and applying it to longboarding. But now there’s this resurgence of the old style, as surfers turn back to single-fin longboards, showing the real finesse of nose riding and traditional footwork. It’s caught the attention of the public again.”
Though longboarding and shortboarding differ in style and technique, Murphy says the fitness requirements for both are the same. Specifically, you need balance, core strength, and strong shoulders to paddle through the break. Murphy doesn’t go to the gym, but she’s lucky enough to live the endless-summer lifestyle. Coupled with afternoons getting “farm strong” on her small mango farm in Saladita, Mexico, daily surfing is how she stays in shape to guide clients in the water.
“Longboarding is about style and footwork, it’s about finesse.”
She also puts a premium on nutrition, particularly when she’s traveling. That includes avoiding big fish like marlin, which tend to collect contaminants, trying to eat organic and local, and cooking most of her meals herself. Murphy is a stickler for cleaning produce with grapefruit seed extract, a natural antimicrobial solution, and adds DoTerra Essential Oils to every glass of water she drinks, which she says help boost her immune system. She also takes CBD oil regularly to help mitigate stress while in an airport and enhance sleep while on the road.
Murphy understands that not everyone is fortunate enough to constantly travel from one great surf spot to another. Many of her clients are landlocked and struggle to get into shape for their big annual trips. “Paddling is a shock to people,” Murphy says, noting that the prone position, where your back is arched and your head is high off the board, is particularly difficult to hold, as it strains the obliques, deltoids, and trapezii. “You’re using muscles you don’t use a lot, and it’s a big part of surfing,” Murphy says. “The sport should’ve been called paddling instead of surfing, because you’re spending 80 percent of your time lying down on the board getting through the break or trying to catch a wave.”
Having a solid paddling technique is essential to surviving a surfing trip, but Murphy says you can practice that form and strengthen your outer core, shoulders, and back muscles at home, as long as you have access to a pool and a boogie board. “The way you lie down and pick up your chest on a surfboard engages a range of muscles that are hard to train,” Murphy says. But you can mimic that motion by floating on a small boogie board and paddling laps in a pool. The key is to focus on keeping your head and chest up, like a cobra, while swimming those laps.
To help build core strength and balance, Murphy advises people to turn to the stand-up paddleboard for a workout that can also be useful in building balance and footwork—important whether you’re riding an 11-foot single fin or a five-foot-long quad. Find a section of flat water, and in addition to a standard paddling workout, spend some time in the surfer stance and working on your cross steps, the action surfers make moving toward the nose of the board and back to the center by crossing one foot over the other as if they’re walking an imaginary tightrope. “Practicing those movements on a wide SUP in flat water will give you confidence in your balance and get you primed to succeed when you finally catch that wave,” Murphy says.
As for her own surfing, Murphy says her style and form continue to evolve as she falls deeper in love with the longboard. “The way people can move on a longboard is effortless and stylish,” she says. “You find pockets of the wave and let the board and wave do all the work. Less is more. I find that’s true as I get deeper into this kind of surfing.”