A surfer study out of New Zealand by Oliver Farley, a former surfer and a physiologist, shows what works and what doesn’t for the world’s top surfers. Balance and agility are commonly thought to be the primary prerequisites for success in the surfing world, but aerobic endurance and a fast recovery time is a much greater barometer for that success, according to Farley’s data.
Farley, based out of New Zealand’s Auckland University of Technology (AUT), has created a set of datapoints for his thesis, which show researchers the physical hurdles surfers experience both when they catch a wave, and when they’re actually riding the wave. Farley claims the secrets to surfing success research is, “the first of its kind,” and could lead to changing surfing training regimes for the world’s top surfers.
For the study, Farley and his team fitted 12 of the world’s top surfers with GPS trackers and heart monitors for various heats. According to the data, 54 percent of the time was spent paddling, 28 percent of the time was spent waiting on the board and only 8 percent of the time was spent actually riding a wave. In the grand scheme of the surfer’s performance, it wasn’t really the riding which signified a surfer’s triumph, and Farley was surprised by how much distance a professional surfer traveled in the midst of competition.
On average the surfers paddled around 950 meters (3116.8 feet) per 20 minute heat. With three heats a day, some of them were traveling more than 1.8 miles a day. Heart rates generally hovered around the moderate to high-intensity range, spiking to their highest rates, 190 beats per minute, at the very end of riding a wave. That, too, surprised Farley. Farley and his team believed the heart rate would climax while the surfers were paddling to catch the wave, since this was when they were expending the most amount of energy, but further studies could link the increased heart rate at the end of the wave ride to adrenaline released from the exhilarating experience of surfing the wave.
What Can Surfers Learn From The Study?
To summarize Oliver Farley’s findings, surfing requires both endurance and power with a lot of low-intensity paddling, streaks of high-intensity paddling with breath-holding, and a fast recovery time. The quantitative data helmed from the 12 surfers his team tracked, and the conclusions Farley and his team have arrived at based on that data, could help advance surf training. Surf training recommendations based on the research include:
- Mimic surfer heats to increase aerobic stamina
- Paddle with an ergometer, another great endurance training technique
- Incorporate strength building exercises like pull-ups, bench presses and press-ups
With this newfound information, honing the necessary surfing skills should be easier than ever.