How to best prepare for your surf holiday

March 7, 2018

So you have made all your plans and arrangements, and in a while you take off. On your well deserved surf vacation. To ocean palmtrees, sunshine, and glassy waves. You dust off your swim wear, or maybe treat yourself to an update, stock up on sunscreen and then you wait. You tick off those days in the calendar while slowly getting closer to your salty escape.


But instead of just waiting for your destination boarding call, there is a way to make the most of the time that stands between you and your surfing vacation. It will make a world of difference for your experience.


For the first time surfer, there are a lot of things to handle once you try to walk on water, and the more prepared you are, the more fun you will have on your vacation. And for the seasoned surfer, you already know this. The more you can prepare your body and your mind for the experience, the broader the smiles. And your body will thank you for it.


To avoid spending Day 3 of your vacation moaning by the pool from the ache in your ribs, arms, legs, feet, shoulders (I can go on), try to do what you can to give your muscles a little heads up on what to expect. 


Now, we are all different, and maybe you already work out a lot, or maybe you don't. That doesn't really matter; there are some things you can do regardless, to wake up your inner surfer. Below is a list of a few things that work as great ocean prepping, and it is my hope you will find some gems and have lots of fun on the way. 


1. Swim practice

Spending time in the ocean learning how to surf means a LOT of shoulder work. You have to paddle and paddle fast, and you need to do a lot of push ups when standing up/popping up on the board. The more used you are to use your shoulders, the more fun you will have, and you won't have to sacrifice precious ocean time because you just can't move anymore.


Also the element of water takes some getting used to. Think of it as a big washing machine taking you for a ride. If you have the possibility, getting in a few swimming practices before your holiday is a really smart move.


Swimming freestyle will improve your paddle stamina and make you stronger. Spending time in a controlled water element, like a pool, will also allow you to test your limits, and why not try to do some underwater rolls or breath holds to get used to the washing machine idea. That way, you will be more comfortable once in the waves since you have expanded your comfort zone. (Remember to only practice under water rolls or breath holds together with someone, and not alone.)



Surfers, and especially the ones riding the big waves, practice this all the time. By training in a controlled environment, you know what to do, and what you are capable of, when you get knocked off your board in the ocean. What can be scary, becomes fun instead, and it doesn't matter what level you are at. Just a little effort will make a big difference. So, hit the pool with some friends and get some practice hours in. Best thing I ever did during off-season, and quite addictive too. In a good way. 


2. Basic exercises 

Negotiating a board among waves and trying to ride it down a face of moving water, addresses your whole body. Not a single muscle is left out. It can be quite the exhausting experience, and you will probably have the best night's sleep you ever had during your surf holiday.


With just a few basic exercises (why complicate things) you can however, make sure you last longer during your surf classes. Let your imagination run free. Below are some easy movements you can do to prepare for your holiday. A few minutes every day makes the difference. Why not play around with some exercises and mix it up. Have fun with it.


a. Burpees. Yes. Sorry but yes. Or really, the transfer between laying down to standing up. The more you can get used to the dynamic of moving your body from a horisontal position to standing, the better. Don't worry too much about the technique. Lay down on your stomach, and then stand up as fast as you can. Then repeat. If you already have your pop-up technique down, practice that. Every day. Until departure.



b. Air squats. Just your body weight, feet hip-width distance apart, feet parallell. Then drop your butt below the knees and rise back up again. Make sure to keep your knees pushing out so they don't fall in. Open chest. Get your blood pumping and work up some sweat. Super simple, super easy. Super comfy? Maybe not, but you'll feel better at the beach later.


c. Push-ups. On your knees or on your toes. Tight butt, engage your core. Getting your body used to this movement will take your mind off it once you are in the water. You just know you can do those push-ups. Easy as pie.


d. Back lifts. You might have seen some surfing contests and noticed how the surfers have their chests lifted high when they lay on the board and paddle? This ability comes with practice, and if it is your first time on the board, don't worry if you feel like a confused stranded stiff seal. We have all been there. To tune down some of the seal-ness you can do back lifts before your holiday. Lay on your stomach, squeeze your butt and lift your chest from the ground. If you opt for a more advanced version, simulate paddle movements with your arms while keeping your chest lifted. Imagine being on the board. Imagine being a pro surfer. Just tune into the feeling and lift that chest. 


In the picture below is one of our guests from last year, Susanne, beginner surfer who really tuned into the paddling with a great back strength. It helped her find the right technique straight away.




3. Boxing

Did you know that boxing actually is a super good prep for surfing? Although it has nothing to do with water, it really gets your shoulders/back/arms going and can do wonders for your stamina when you start to paddle away on your board. And the legwork and bouncy mobility is the perfect preparation.


Boxing training also makes you sweat, and you kind of forget about time when you need to stay focused. And, it is a great training for your coordination.


So, why not sign up for a class or two before your surf holiday, and maybe you will find a new passion? Who knows?


4. Skate or Indo Board

Ah, now we move into a category closer to actual surfing. The world of moving your fear barriers and working with your balance. Skating is like surfing on land, except for the paddling (and except for the different concepts of falling on water and falling on a hard surface). But, apart from that, there are many similarities.


If you have access to a longboard, or a surf skate (I ride a Carver, although not as smooth as in the video...) it is a really sweet practice to get your surf groove on.


Find a friend who knows how to ride, and let him or her teach you. After a couple of sessions, you will start getting the hang of it, and I promise it is a lot of fun.



If you try downhill, practice with care, and always stay close to the ground. On the picture you see me during one skate session last summer, when we trained surfing skills through downhill skating. This practice helped me face some of my fears I have when surfing bigger waves (still small but all is relative, right?). Going downhill and learning how to control the turns made a huge difference, and I started to trust myself and my legs more. It was scary in the beginning, but with patient friends, you come a long way.


The mind, and how much we trust ourselves, makes a big difference once in the ocean, so it doesn't hurt to expand your comfy zones.


A more mellow, but just as fun exercise, is to try an Indo Board/balance board. Link is just to a random training video, there are lots on Youtube. I had the opportunity to try one a couple of weeks ago at a friend's house, and let me tell you, it is amazing. It is kind of scary to begin with, but with practice your body gets the message, and you can start more advanced movements.


Any balance activity activates your body in a way where also the most tiny muscles have to help out, and this will help you on your surfboard later.


So, find some wheels and go try to skate. Old, young, beginner or not, who cares? Have fun and remember, it is for a good cause, your upcoming surfing holiday.


5. Yoga and visualisation/mental training

Get in tune with your body and your breathing. Connect with your mind and dare take a look within. Loosen up any stiff joints, and build that core strength. Yoga can take you a long way towards surf fitness. You just have to be able to switch on the explosiveness once on the board.


You can also train with visualisation techniques through mental training*. A broad field of its own and bigger than just a few lines here, but you don't need to become an expert to benefit. Let the yoga and breathing help you focus and relax. Then, in a relaxed and calm state of mind, create images of yourself in a situation where you want to be. Maybe feeling safe in the ocean, maybe riding on that wave, you decide.


The more systematically you create these images, the more your mind starts to believe them. Thats's why your internal dialogue is so important. In all aspects of life really. Create only images of what you want.


Think of it as creating future positive memories. Give it a try. A lot of the pro athletes already do.


So much more

Whether you have booked your surfing holiday a year in advance or just a few weeks before departure, you have the opportunity to give yourself the chance to prepare for the best experience ever. By finding the time and energy to wake up your surfing muscles, and your surfer mindset, you are already one step ahead when you arrive at your destination. And yes, even a few push-ups every day for a few days will help, no effort is too small. It will be worth it.


And, a surfing holiday will be so much more that just surfing. There will be people you will meet who may well become new friends for life. There will be hours by the pool where you get your own space and your own time. There will be a lot of laughter and cheering, when you cheer each other on in the waves, and share the joy of catching the best waves of the day. There will be good conversations over dinner, and there will probably be wine. There will be aching muscles, and there will be the sound sleep only a day filled with exercise can give you. There will be breathtaking sunsets, and there will be sun freckles on your nose. And, there will be salt water everywhere. There will be - magic.


There is just thing though that you cannot prepare for:

Are you ready to lose your heart to surfing?


Join Karuna - surf yoga life in Portugal. Starting in May, we offer small-scale, personal and unique surf and yoga weeks, just south of Lisbon in Costa da Caparica. Welcome to join the magic.



*If you are curious and want to know more about this area, contact me, the author here through Karuna. As a Licensed Mental Trainer, I can go on and on and on...about this, but that is for another blog post. I can point you towards literature and practical mental training, so just shout out if you are curious.



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