Corona memes have become our only solace during this time of home quarantine and extended blackball, and—aside from surprise reveals of one very large and very uninhibited nude male model named “Wood”—the most common theme seems to be comparing what we look like on day one of the quarantine and what we will look like after a month in lockdown.
Many of these memes show formerly svelte specimens devolving into various forms of Jabba the Hutt, seemingly suggesting that since we are stuck at home, we are all going to sit on our asses, watch Netflix, eat ice cream, and gain 100 pounds.
But the very opposite should be true. Since some of us can't surf and socialise and do all of the things we normally do, this is a great opportunity to work on the positive life habits that we normally don’t have time for—cooking and eating healthy, cross-training, and tuning our bodies in so that when we are allowed to surf again, we can do so more efficiently, more explosively, and with less pain and physical limitation.
Yoga is one of those habits that we should all be developing while trapped at home. It builds core strength, improves balance, and increases flexibility—all of which equate to better surfing and a lower propensity for injury. Yoga has become a core part of many pro surfer’s daily routines—and if we can spend money on our heroes’ signature boardshorts and traction pads, then we can certainly take a free page from their books and get our bodies tuned up for the summer season.
Today, we chat with popular Hawaiian surfer/yoga teacher Kilty Inafuku about how yoga can help us surf better, and what poses we should be doing before paddling out.
Why Yoga Is Important for Surfers
Yoga is a great complement to any physical activity. Many injuries are the result of overstretching and asking a muscle to perform/engage in a range of motion where it cannot recruit power, so to avoid that you need to perform postures that simultaneously contribute to strengthening your muscles and increasing your range of motion.
Other injuries result from chronic overuse and repetitive motion, both of which are very common in surfers. To rectify these problems, your should perform postures that have your body move in the opposite way than it normally would. This helps to strengthen underused/weak areas and potentially offer a much-needed stretch and break for them.
Different Poses for Different Muscles
When stretching or doing yoga before a session, you want to choose movements that give your muscles a preview of how they’ll be used during the next few yours. You want your body to feel prepared (not surprised or shocked) when you use it to paddle out, duck-dive, and catch and ride waves.
And when recovering after a session, those same muscles will be overly tight, so it's a good idea to stretch them out again.
When you paddle, you use your biceps, triceps, deltoids, latissimus dorsi, obliques, and rectus abdominus. Thus, it’s a good idea to do stretches for the chest, anterior shoulders, and side body. Two such poses include:
Uttanasana (forward fold), with arm variation of fingers interlaced behind back
From a standing position, hinge at the hips into a forward fold. If your low back is extra tight, it may help to maintain a bend in the knees. Then interlace your fingers behind your back and reach your fists away from your back and overhead.
Prone chest opener
Lay prone on your stomach with your legs extended long. Reach your left arm out to the side, and rest it on the ground roughly at a 10 o’clock position. Place your right hand next to your right shoulder, with the palm on the ground. Pressing the palm into the ground will help with the next step. Bend your right knee and slowly roll toward your left hip, until your right foot touches the ground behind you.
Only go as far as you can comfortably feel a stretch across the front of your left shoulder
Only go as far as you can comfortably feel a stretch across the front of your left shoulder. Once you hit that point, stop and rest your left ear on the ground, or alternatively a pillow/towel/block. Gently press your left palm into the ground. This action helps to cultivate strength while your muscles are in a greater range of motion. Allow five breaths. Be gentle when you ease out, and repeat on the second side.
Lower Back Muscles
Elevating our chests while lying on our boards helps us paddle efficiently, but it also puts a lot of stress on the muscles of the back and shoulders, particularly the trapezius and paraspinal muscles. To stretch the back and posterior shoulders, use these two poses:
Garudasana (eagle) arms
Cross your right arm/elbow under your left, and pull the backs of your hands toward one another. If you have the range of motion, you can even hook your palms together. Lift your fingers up toward the sky and press your elbows forward to create a stretch in between your shoulder blades. Allow five breaths, and repeat on the second side.
Thread the needle
Start in a table top position, on your hands and knees. Thread your left arm behind the right wrist until your left ear and shoulder come to rest on the ground. Your left palm will be facing up toward the sky. This position yields a generous twist for the spine, especially if you press your right palm into the ground and encourage the twist.
Simultaneously, press the back of your left arm down into the ground. This action helps to cultivate strength while your muscles are in a greater range of motion. Allow five breaths. Be gentle when you come out and back up to both hands, and repeat on the second side.
Core and Lower Body
Once we are up and riding, we ask a lot of our lower body and core. Efficient projection and pumping down the line while standing on a board with feet perpendicular to the stringer requires twisting of the upper body and weighting of the back leg through the hips, which leads to tight hip flexors, quadriceps, abdominals, and glutes. To keep these muscles limber, use the following pose.
From a standing position, fold forward and lunge your right foot back. Lower the back (right) knee down to the ground. Bring both hands to the inside of your front (left) foot. Stay up on your hands, or even fingertips. Allow a subtle tuck of the tailbone, and create the action of dragging the back knee toward the front foot.
Although no part of your body will actually move from its position, the action will engage the quadriceps and hip flexors while they are in an elongated position. Allow five breaths. Repeat on the second side.
The important thing to remember is that all physical activity is a combination of strength, endurance, range of motion, recovery, and diet. When we train, we tend to focus on strength and endurance, but often don't give as much attention to range of motion, recovery, and diet, which ultimately leads to imbalance. We spend hours flexing muscles, but hardly any time at all releasing them.
To surf at your best, you want your entire system to be in balance—and that means focusing on both preparatory and recovery stretching as much as performance. It doesn't matter how strong your body is or how much muscle memory you have programmed into it—if it doesn’t have the flexibility to support that strength, you won’t be able to reach your full potential.