Surfing and yoga: Why you should do both

Surfing and yoga have a lot in common. They are both physical activities that originated in “ancient” societies and then later spread around the world. Both are experiencing a recent resurgence. Sure, surfing can be a bit more extreme and aggressive, but there is a “Zen” aspect to riding waves that can almost be considered yoga in at least one sense of the word. In Sanskrit, the verb yoga can mean to unite or link. Surfers, when they get in that special zone, may feel linked with the ocean, with nature, or with the universe as a whole. In this way surfing can be a very spiritual experience.

On the other side of the coin, yoga, as it’s practiced in the West, can be more or less devoid of its spiritual origins. That suits many people just fine. Maybe you’ve got a bad back and want to stretch your piriformis muscle and strengthen your core, but don’t feel like paying a hundred bucks a month just in to meditate on the oneness of the universe. Take what you like about yoga and use it to your personal benefit.

Besides these physical, historical and spiritual similarities, yoga and surfing can compliment each other quite nicely. Here we’ll focus on what yoga can do for surfers rather than what surfing can do for yogis. That’s a different journey and not as straight forward. In fact, I have no idea what it might be, but I do know a fair deal about the benefits of yoga, of which I’ll concentrate on the physical.

Why surfers should practice yoga

Surfing requires a certain level of physical fitness. People who surf as a seasonal sport need to keep in shape when they can’t be in the water. Yoga is a great way to maintain endurance and strength, crucially core strength. By “core” we mean your abdominal, lower back and pelvic muscles. If you’ve lifted weights or done other strength training exercise, you will be surprised at how much doing yoga engages your core. As you probably can guess, yoga is also great for flexibility and balance, which are also key skills for surfing. And let’s not forget breathing and other less purely physical areas like focus, calm and patience. For more on those aspects, check out this article in Surfer Mag by surfing yogi Gerry Lopez.

Top yoga asanas for surfers

Asanas are the movements or poses of yoga. Some of these may look similar to basic surfing moves, such as how to properly stand or “pop up”. Here is a short list of some basic asanas that are recommended for surfers (note that some of the video examples, like the pigeon pose, take these positions to an expert level, so I recommend that you take it easy). This post is just meant as an introduction as there are many core-strengthening, muscle-stretching, balance-improving and breathing exercises that can benefit your surfing and keep you in good form.

Plank Pose (Chaturanga)

Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)

One Legged King Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

Warrior Poses 1, 2 and 3 (Virabhadrasana)

A great and fundamental yoga sequence, which incorporates some of the above poses, is the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar). It’s also nice to do on the beach before or after a surf session.

For some surf-yoga specific videos see this instructional and the story of an ex-US government lawyer turned yogi and surfer.

Lead image by Sergio Alberto (Flickr CC)

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