Is surfing a good workout?

In terms of physical fitness, does surfing do anything for you besides strengthen your arm muscles and improve your balance? Sonya Vero, Florida

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Surfing is moderately aerobic: You are moving large muscle groups enough to elevate your oxygen consumption during the paddling portions, and also while carrying your board up the beach, running out into the surf, and to some extent while shifting your weight on the board. It’s also a great core workout. In holding your upper body forward of your legs and in an extended position, you work the deepest abdominal support muscles necessary to transfer forces from your feet up through your arms.

Even though you may not have a six-pack (a sign of low body fat and development of the superficial muscles of the abdomen), chances are that if you’re a competent surfer, you’ve probably built up your inner abdominal core and will be less likely to suffer back injuries than most. Surfing also allows you to develop local muscular endurance through holding your quads in a flexed position, as well as some rotational flexibility and strength in pulling turns. Plus you get a nice salty patina to your hair over time, which has to count for something.

But you don’t have to be what most people describe as “in shape” to surf well. A lot of the original Hawaiian masters—like Izzy Paskowitz of the Paskowitz Family Surf Camp—have a fondness for the good life, including food and drink, yet can still surf with the best of them. I know of at least one famous photo of Beach Boys’ brain trust Brian Wilson carving turns back when he looked like Marlon Brando, XXL version. You can even surf with a reduced range of motion, as surfing great Laird Hamilton noted when he took up yoga and realized he was nowhere near as flexible as he could be.

The upshot is that like anything else, your body adjusts to surfing over time, and to arrest its tendency to become fixed or even de-conditioned in terms of strength, flexibility, and aerobic fitness, surfing should be only one part of a training plan. But it will surely be the best part.

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