A Surfing Workout for Those Who Don’t Like to Exercise

I love to surf, but I don’t like to exercise. This is problematic living in Cocoa Beach, FL where we often endure flat spells, especially during the summer. When I moved to Cocoa Beach, I thought I could stay in shape by just surfing when we had waves. Unfortunately, I was wrong, and when a solid swell hit, I was out of shape and my surfing was inconsistent. After going through this cycle several times, I decided to get serious about developing a surf specific workout that I don’t hate.

I started by researching different exercises and workouts. I looked at lots of different resources, including workouts by Scott Adams (Surf Stronger) and Cris Mills (Surf Strength Coach). After reading articles and watching several videos, I put a few workouts together. I would do them for a few weeks, but then a swell would come, I’d surf for several days, and fail to return to the workout after a couple of rest days.

I eventually reached out to surf coach, John Holeman, who was kind enough to give me lots of good advice. My hope was that he could teach me a few secret techniques so that I didn’t have to commit to regular exercise. I wasn’t surprised when he told me that my main problem was not skill but conditioning. This inspired me to recommit, integrating John’s advice into a workout routine.

I am not an expert on this topic, but below are some things that I’m doing to get/stay in shape and improve my surfing.


Pop-Ups and Beach Conditioning

The first thing John Holeman told me was to practice my pop-ups 2-3 times a day. When I’m not surfing well, the pop-up is where things tend to go wrong. My chest, back, and shoulders get fatigued, and I start blowing waves by dragging or banging a knee on the deck. The worst is when I stub my toe hard dragging my front foot forward. Pop-up practice not only helps you to build strength but master the skill, making sure you get your feet in the right place every time. To help me with this, I created a tape grid on the floor that shows me where my hands should be before popping-up and where my feet should be after popping-up. For technique, checkout this video by Brent Rose, How the World’s Best Surfers Pop Up (Slow Motion).

In addition to pop-up practice, John gave me a good beach conditioning routine to help with paddling. Grab a gallon jug, fill it with water, strap it to the leash of your short board, jump in the ocean, and paddle down the coastline for about 100 yards. Then get out (carrying the board and the jug), go to the softest sand close to the dunes, and walk back. After completing this cycle, do it again. The jug creates more drag than you might think, especially in choppy conditions. The first time I did this, I was sore within two hours of getting home! As it gets easier, you can make the paddle and walk longer or increase the number of times you do it. Before leaving the beach, you can do some slow push-ups and squats using prefect form. If you have time, you can also practice duck diving in open water.

 Helpful Exercises:

On alternating days when I’m not doing beach conditioning, I put together all or most of the exercises below into a routine that I can do at home. The only thing required is an exercise ball. I also use my imagination to try and connect the exercise with the surfing movement it will help. Remember, practice pop-ups 2-3 times a day in addition to your exercise routine. Alternate lower body and upper body movements, only resting 30 seconds between sets to keep you heartrate up. Also, since you are not using weights, use perfect form and keep the movements slow and repetitions high. To make some of the exercises harder (like push ups and squats) do them on an Indo Board (with inflatable base) or Bosu ball.

Push-Ups: This should be a no brainer. To help set goals and build strength, I have integrated various push-up challenges into my routine.


push up

Ball Push-Ups: This exercise helps with your duck dives.


ball push up

Jackknives:  This exercise is challenging, but helps with pop-ups, working your upper body and core.


Roll-In/Push-Up: This exercise looks weird, but it works. I couldn’t find a picture, so I created a GIF from the Surf Stronger promo video on YouTube.


Ball Roll-Out:


roll out


Ball Crunches:


Hamstring Curl:



Lower T Twist: Imagine winding-up and cracking the lip as you twist.

lower twist


Lunges (Front and Side):

side lunge

Squats and Jump Squats:

jump squat





It’s common sense that stretching helps with flexibility, which is important for surfing. Most of what I do, I learned in yoga, which also helps me in the water. You may want to take some yoga classes and learn some good stretches, especially for your hips.

I hope this helps. What are your routines? Feel free to share ideas in the comments.

See also: “Surfing, Yoga, Discipleship



Surfing, Yoga, Discipleship

Being an older surfer in Cocoa Beach can be challenging. While we sometimes get good swells, we also suffer through days, even weeks, when it’s flat. This means that you can’t rely on surfing alone to stay in good surfing shape.

Although I enjoy playing sports, I’ve never enjoyed exercising. I’ve tried weightlifting, jogging, and even “surfing workouts” in the gym, but eventually I lose interest and stop. When a good swell rolls through, I struggle to find my rhythm in the water because I’m out of shape. Winded paddling out, slow to pop-up, and sore to the bone after a two-hour session, I tell myself, “You’ve got to get back in the gym.”

Not too long ago, I remembered a conversation with an older surfer at The Longboard House. He said that, after turning forty, the best thing he did to improve his surfing was take-up yoga. While I tried yoga in college, it didn’t stick. But now I needed to do something to stay in shape between swells, and it seemed better than repping-out squats next to a guy flexing in a mirror while drinking water out of a gallon jug. So I started going to Infinity Yoga with my friend, Dan.

My initial logic was simple: Dan does yoga, and Dan rips. Maybe if I do yoga, I will rip too.

While I’m not as consistent in my practice as I want to be, I’m doing yoga more often and experiencing some real benefits, both physical and spiritual.

Before going to class today, I read Psalm 106:1-5 during morning prayer, which led me to meditate on mercy. When I got to yoga, the instructor (as usual) led us through some deep breathing, reminded us of the importance of remaining open and compassionate, and invited us to “set an intention” for the class. After silently saying the Jesus prayer in cadence with my breathing, I set my intention on what I had already been pondering, mercy.

As in all meditation, the mind wanders. In the middle of class, when twisted in a challenging pose, the instructor, Martha, said, “Notice in your body what feels good, and focus on that.” While this initially brought my attention to physical sensations that I would have otherwise missed, it also got me thinking about life. About how we often feel comfort and discomfort at the same time, and how we have a choice about where to focus our attention. It got me thinking about the benefits of to learning to be comfortable in uncomfortable positions, and how to relax under stress.

My wandering mind came back to the room when Martha reminded us to return to our breathing and refocus on our intention. After a couple of deep breaths, it suddenly struck me, “I’m praying.” In addition to exercising, my time on the mat was turning into an extension of my time with God in morning prayer. It also occurred to me that throughout the class my awareness of others waxed and waned. I noticed an inward and outward movement of attention; a rhythm of going inward to pray alone, followed by a going outward to pray with others. Which led to another realization: yoga is a kind of worship experience.

This was a joyful discovery because, as a pastor, I often feel like my responsibilities for leading weekly services leave me with little time to sink into the presence of God with others in corporate worship. But this is exactly what was happening on the mat today, and it’s exactly what I needed.

At the end of class, the instructor offered positive, loving, and encouraging words. She reminded us that we are full of light and that we should share that light with others. This warmed my heart because light has long been one of my favorite mediation images. While meditating during my devotional time, I often imagine breathing in light until my heart glows and then breathing out light as my whole body is illuminated. (Check out Matthew 5:16.) So the final words at the end of practice felt like one of many little confirmations that I’m on the right path in this season of my life.

What better way to stay in shape than to practice a form of meditative exercise that will not only improve my surfing but also make me a better human being.

Who knows, maybe this is a form of exercise that I will finally stick with, even if it doesn’t make me rip like Dan.