Surfer Shane Dorian Is Planning for the Next Big Wave
Although he retired from the World Tour in 2004, Shane Dorian isn't slowing down
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
Shane Dorian has nothing left to prove. A key member of the so-called Momentum Generation, a group of young surfers who became some of the sport’s greatest athletes in modern history, Dorian spent a solid decade competing in the World Tour before retiring in 2004 to focus on big-wave surfing. But he didn’t stop winning—in 2011, he earned the coveted Ride of the Year for surfing a 57-footer at Jaws in Hawaii, the biggest wave ever at the time. He repeated that feat again in 2015 and 2016, with massive waves in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, and Jaws, respectively, and notched countless other World Surf League Big Wave Awards, including best overall performance in 2015 and 2016. Now, at 46, he’s still tackling some of the biggest waves in the world.
When I talk to Dorian in early May, he’s at his home in Hawaii, packing for a weeklong trip to Australia, where he’ll camp in the desert and chase swells for a GoPro film project. “My life is basically split between being at home, living a pretty normal lifestyle as a dad, and traveling to chase surf somewhere,” Dorian says. “You gotta be fit to survive heavy conditions or handle a weeklong surf trip.”
When he was younger, Dorian was always considered one of the strongest athletes on the World Tour, squeezing in body-weight and jump-rope circuits while traveling full-time to compete. But he says his obsession with fitness didn’t really kick in until he retired and discovered CrossFit. He went all in, training five days a week for several years. “CrossFit is amazing. There’s always someone faster and stronger than you, which is fine, as long as you don’t make any decisions with your ego,” he says.
But in 2015, injury—an overdeveloped back from years of surfing, which created a lopsided core—forced Dorian to abandon CrossFit. “Basically, I have the opposite problem of most people, who have an overly weak back from sitting in an office all their life. There’s too much curve in my lower spine from the muscular imbalance,” he says.
Not deterred, Dorian took the high-speed, circuit approach of CrossFit and adapted it to a bodyweight workout he can do at home and on the road. He’ll use free weights and resistance bands to add a strength element, but his workout consists mostly of pull-ups, push-ups, lunges, and core exercises like planks and leg lifts. “As long as you’re breaking a sweat for 45 minutes several days a week, you’ll be OK,” he says. As for cardio, Dorian doesn’t run or bike. He simply surfs and chases after his two kids, who are 12 and 9. “We get after it every day, and they both have a lot of energy.”
Dorian is also a proponent of cross-training and has developed a passion for bowhunting, which he says has helped him develop not just endurance but patience and persistence. “I didn’t grow up a hunter, but I love the discipline that it takes to get really good at it,” Dorian says. “With bowhunting, you get this immediate feedback about whether you suck or not. Because if you suck, your freezer is empty.” Dorian will spend days on end hunting boar and venison in the mountains of Hawaii. His passion for the sport has led to a fairly strict diet of wild game and fruits and vegetables. “I’m at that age where I’m hyperaware when some type of food doesn’t work for me, so diet is so important,” he says. “I’m semi-paleo, limiting the rice and bread I eat, and stick mainly to venison when it comes to meat. It’s really nutrient dense, with a higher percentage of protein per pound than on other red meat out there.”
While Dorian has fine-tuned his workouts and nutrition over the years, he says the biggest evolution has been his perspective. Instead of training for what he can do now, at the age of 46, he’s training for what he wants to do in 10, 20, and 30 years. “I’m looking at my seventies and thinking about the life I want to live. I’m not overtraining, I’m not lifting superheavy weights. I’m taking a more long-term approach to wellness, because I want to be surfing at a good level in my sixties and seventies.”