The Adrenalist

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The Science of Surfing



SurfingPhoto Credit: Fathzer /

You knew surfing was a thrilling and, when not getting thrashed in the rocks, an utterly serene sport, but we bet you never knew just how physically challenging surfing can be. Thanks to a pair of fascinating, high-tech studies published over the summer, now we know.

Conducted by scientists at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand and published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning, the studies reveal not just the facts and figures of riding a wave, but also what it takes to be the best surfer in the world.

For instance, the latest study, published by The National Center for Biotechnology Information in August, determined that physical fitness is directly correlated with a surfer’s success on the pro tour. To arrive at this conclusion, scientists hooked 20 of the best surfers in New Zealand up to aerobic and anaerobic “paddle machines.” The surfers at the top of the rankings proved to generate more paddling power than those near the bottom, suggesting that better paddlers really do make better surfers, perhaps because they catch more waves.

Another study, published by the NCBI in July by the same team, used cutting-edge waterproof GPS units and heart-rate monitors to chart surfers’ biometric data while riding and chasing waves during competition. The research provided some startling conclusions. For one, surfing doesn’t involve much “surfing” at all, with riders spending only about 8% of their time in the water standing on top of a board. The most surprising discovery, however, was what happens inside a surfer’s chest while in the water. Heartrate, it turns out, doesn’t peak while a surfer paddles into position or shoot down the face of a wave, but rather right as they splash down after a successful ride.

That is scientific proof of the rush, and it’s why we will keep jumping in the water for more.

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