The Benefits of Yoga for Surfers
Yoga and surfing go together like sand and saltwater. Both disciplines tap into a natural flow. Yoga gets you in touch with the rhythm of your breath and body, while surfing gets you in sync with the wave patterns and ocean tides. In yoga, you learn not to force any pose, but to find the depth of the pose in the moment. In surfing, you learn that you can’t force a wave or a set. Instead, you practice being fully in the moment and in tune with the current so you can catch a wave.
It’s no wonder pros, like Kelly Slater and Rochelle Ballard, use this old-school practice (roughly 5,000 years old!) to complement their surfing skills. Whether you’re a Dawn Patrol dude or a Waikiki wahine (female surfer), your surfing will definitely benefit from yoga. Read on to learn some essential tips and tricks.
Stretch Past the Breaks
Yoga offers many benefits that will improve your surfing skills:
- Increased flexibility
- Stronger core muscles
- Better breathing techniques
- Improved balance
- More stamina
- Greater mental focus
- Restored and revitalized energy
Practicing yoga on flat surf days can keep you in great shape until the next big swell. And when there are good surf days, yoga can stretch your body out after a session, helping to avoid neck, shoulder, and back stiffness. Active poses, like Downward-Facing Dog (explained below), build strength and flexibility; while balancing poses, like Eagle (explained below), sharpen focus and concentration. Plus, practicing yoga just feels good!
Both yoga and surfing teach you to meet and overcome fear, to breathe deeply, and to ride the waves of life with grace and ease. Learning to concentrate during intense yoga poses plays out in the water. As you breathe deeply and calm your mind, you settle into a natural rhythm and balance on your board. So when the big waves roll in, you can stay cool and collected.
There are many different styles of yoga to try for surfing. If you’re looking for an intense strength-building practice, try Ashtanga, Bikram, or Power Yoga. If you’d like stretching with more flow, try Vinyasa or Hatha Yoga. Play around with different styles and teachers until you find a good fit.
Hang Loose with Yoga
Begin incorporating these poses into your pre- and post-surfing routine. Hold each pose for several breaths, but come out of any if you feel pinching or jarring pain. Move slowly in and out of each pose. Keep your breath smooth and even. If you’re struggling to breathe, ease up a bit. Always work within your own range of limits and abilities. Remember: There’s no aggro in yoga!
Plank Pose — Kumbhakasana
Also referred to as High Push-Up Pose, Plank Pose — Kumbhakasana (koom-bahk-AHS-uh-nuh) — tones the abdominal muscles while strengthening the arms and spine.
- Begin on your hands and knees, with your wrists directly under your shoulders.
- Spread your fingers and press down through your forearms and hands. Do not let your chest collapse.
- Gaze down, lengthening the back of your neck and drawing your abdominal muscles toward your spine.
- Tuck your toes and step back with your feet, bringing your body and head into one straight line.
- Keep your thighs lifted and take care not to let your hips sink too low. If your butt sticks up in the air, realign your body so your shoulders are directly above your wrists.
- Draw your pelvic floor muscles toward your spine as you contract your abdominal muscles.
- To deepen the pose, try lifting one leg at a time.
- Hold for five breaths, and then slowly lower your whole body onto the floor and rest.
For a greater challenge, perform Plank on your forearms. Line up your elbows under your shoulders and interlace your fingers. Curl your toes under, lift your knees, and bring your body into one straight line.
Four-Limbed Staff Pose — Chaturanga Dandasana
One of the main poses in a Sun Salutation, Four-Limbed Staff Pose — Chaturanga Dandasana (chah-tuur-ANGH-uh dahn-DAHS-uh-nuh) — is a powerful strength-builder. It tones the wrists, arms, abdominal muscles, and lower back.
Begin in Plank Pose. Keeping your elbows directly over your wrists, slowly lower your body to hover a few inches above the floor. Keep your back flat. Fully engage your abdominal and leg muscles.
- If the full pose is too challenging right now, come to your knees first. Then, lower your torso to hover an inch above the floor.
- Do not let your elbows splay to the sides. Keep them hugged along your ribcage, pointed toward your heels.
- Press the base of your knuckles into the floor. Your upper and lower arms should be perpendicular, bent 90 degrees at the elbows. Do not let your shoulders drop lower than your elbows.
- Hold for 10-30 seconds, and then press back into Plank Pose.
Downward-Facing Dog — Adho Mukha Svanasana
One of the most-recognized yoga poses in the West, Downward-Facing Dog — Adho Mukha Svanasana (Ah-doh MOO-kuh shvan-AHS-uh-nuh) — energizes and rejuvenates the entire body. Do not practice if you have severe carpal tunnel syndrome or are in late-term pregnancy.
- Begin in Table Pose, on your hands and knees. The fold of your wrists should be parallel with the top edge of your mat; your middle fingers should point directly to the top edge of your mat. With your feet hip-distance apart, exhale and lift your knees off the floor. Gently begin to straighten your legs, but do not lock your knees. As you lengthen your spine, lift your sit bones up toward the ceiling. Press down equally through your heels and the palms of your hands.
- Firm the outer muscles of your arms and press your index fingers into the floor. Lift from the inner muscles of your arms to the top of your shoulders. Draw your shoulder blades into your upper back ribs and down towards your tailbone. Relax your head between your upper arms, but do not let it dangle.
- Hold for 5-100 breaths. Gently bend your knees with an exhalation and come back into Table Pose to release.
Eagle Pose — Garudasana
Eagle Pose — Garudasana (gahr-ooo-DAHS-uh-nuh) — stretches the shoulders and upper back while strengthening the thighs and hips. It also builds balance and concentration. Do not attempt this pose if you have knee injuries.
- Begin standing with your arms at your sides.
Bend your knees. Balance on your right foot and cross your left thigh over your right. Fix your gaze at a point in front of you. Hook the top of your left foot behind your right calf. Balance for one breath.
- Beginners can omit the foot hook and instead cross the leg on top, resting the toes of the top foot gently on the floor.
- Extend your arms straight in front of your body. Drop your left arm under your right.
Bend your elbows, and then raise your forearms perpendicular to the floor. Wrap your arms and press your palms together (or as close as you can get them), lift your elbows, and reach your fingertips toward the ceiling.
- If your palms don’t touch yet, press the backs of your hands together, instead.
- Hold for up to a minute, focusing on your breath, keeping your gaze fixed and soft. Unwind gently and repeat on the opposite side.
Locust Pose — Salabhasana
Locust Pose — Salabhasana (shah-lah-BAHS-uh-nuh) — tones and strengthens the entire back body, strengthens the abdominal muscles, and helps to open the lungs as it stretches the front body.
- Begin lying on your stomach with your arms at your sides. Rest your forehead on the mat.
- Extend your legs straight behind you. Do not roll your heels inward or outward. Instead, press your weight evenly across the tops of your feet.
- Inhale and raise your head to look forward. On your exhale, lift your chest and arms. Keep your arms alongside your body with your palms facing down. Lift your upper spine and reach your arms back toward your feet.
- Use your inner thighs to lift your legs up toward the ceiling. Reach straight back through the balls of your feet.
- Keep your chest lifted as you widen across your collarbones. Draw your shoulder blades into your back ribs and extend them away from each other.
- Gaze at your cheeks. Keep your breath smooth and even.
- On an exhalation, slowly release your body to the ground. Place your left ear on the mat and relax your arms at your sides.
Stretch & Flow
Pairing yoga with surfing can keep you stoked when you’re waiting for the right wave. Remember to take it easy and don’t push too hard. You’ll soon be flowing with ease, on and off the board.