Surfers are always, like, totally mellow, right? Not always! While surfing is stereotypically associated with a relaxed lifestyle, the intense demands the sport puts on the body can leave muscles feeling anything but.
Surfing is a highly effective whole-body workout; the flipside is that it can also lead to a wide array of potential joint imbalances, tight muscles, and shoulder issues (thanks, endless paddling). Luckily, most of these problems are not only relatively easy to fix but also to prevent with a little bit of care and attention off the board.
Yoga makes a great complement to almost any athletic training regimen, and it’s particularly well suited to surfers’ needs. While a novice surfer can benefit from the strength-building qualities of a vigorous asana practice, those with more experience (and the tight shoulders and hips to prove it) will get more out of a slower, stretchier practice, either immediately after riding or on a day off. This type of practice isn’t necessarily about making amazing leaps in mobility; instead, it’s about regaining some of the flexibility lost during any kind of intense workout. Just a few mindful, easy stretches will prevent muscles from settling into a shortened, stiff position, and will make your next surf session that much more enjoyable and productive. More mindful stretching also helps identify left-to-right-side imbalances in the body and nip them in the bud before they progress into full-blown overuse injuries.
The benefits of yoga go far beyond the physical, too. Many people liken surfing itself to a sort of moving meditation, and improved mental focus will certainly improve your performance. Similarly, having the ability to tap into calm, yogic focus on demand will help you to stay balanced and in control of your board even in choppier waves.
Try these five poses after your next ride.
Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana)
Your hips are awesome at creating stability to keep you steady on your board. But heavy usage leads to serious stiffness; Gomukhasana is a great way to stretch the outer lines of the hips and keeping the IT band free of inflammation.
To come into the pose, start in a seated position. Bend your knees and slide one leg under the other, reaching the feet away from each other and stacking the knees on top of each other. Don’t worry if they don’t stack perfectly, but do make adjustments if you have any pain. Aim for a significant stretch in the outer hips without any discomfort in the knee joints. Ground your sitting bones evenly, lift your ribcage out of your waistline, and gradually allow the glutes to stretch. Most importantly, don’t force it: Limited hip mobility can result in excessive torque in the knees, so there’s no need to push beyond what feels comfortable. Keep in mind that one side might be considerably tighter than the other. It’s all good: Balancing everything out is the point of this practice.
Also see Surfing to Nirvana at a Yoga Retreat
Take the last pose a step further by bringing in the upper body with a forward fold, twist, or side stretch. If you’re comfortable in Cow Face Pose, add on:
TWIST Turning the torso in the direction of the top leg, followed by a counter-twist in the opposite direction for an extra-delicious release in the upper back and shoulders.
FORWARD FOLD You may also fold forward over the legs to intensify the stretch in the outer hip.
SIDE STRETCH A side stretch also feels fantastic in the lats, which are heavily recruited on your board. They not only lift the torso into a Cobra-like position when paddling but also rotate the trunk when standing up on the board.
Also see Catch a Yoga + Surfing Retreat
Pyramid Pose (Parsvottanasana)
Holding a squat on your board can create crazy tension in the backs of your thighs. Pyramid pose is one of my personal favorites for stretching out athletes’ hamstrings.
Step one foot behind you, pointing back toes forward at a 45-degree angle. Square the pelvis to the front of your mat by manually checking your hips with your hands. Inhale and lengthen through your spine up to the top of your head. Then, exhale and slowly hinge at the hips, bringing the torso forward and keeping the spine long and the hips level. Keep folding until you feel a nice stretch in the hamstrings of your front leg. You can either stay here for a few rounds of breath or release the hands to the ground, letting the neck and shoulders relax. Repeat on the other side.
Low Lunge + Quad Stretch
Tight hip flexors are common in surfers and exacerbated by too much time spent sitting in daily life. Keeping the hips mobile and healthy is key since excessive quad and hip flexor tightness can eventually pull the pelvis out of alignment and into an anterior tilt, causing compression in the lower back and problems in the knees.
Start in a Low Lunge with your left foot forward. If you’re tight in the front of your hips, staying there for a few rounds of breath might be enough. Dropping your back knee takes the effort out of the lunge and lets your body focus solely on releasing the muscle. Ease into it slowly and allow the stretch to deepen gradually. Keep the front knee stacked above the ankle and stretch out both sides until they feel even.
Once the lunge becomes comfortable, you can move into the deeper quad stretch. Plant your right hand next to your left foot. Start to bend the back knee as you reach to grab the foot with your left hand; rest your back leg on the soft area above your knee, not the kneecap. Rotating your torso up toward the sky stretches out the front of the chest, and rolling onto the pinky edge of your front foot while angling your knee out brings a stretch into the outer hip. Work this to whatever degree of depth feels good for you. Take your time. Then repeat on the other side.
The cumulative effect of hours spent paddling can do a real number on the upper back, neck, and shoulders. Left unchecked, excessively tight rhomboids (the muscles between the shoulder blades that connect them to the spine) and trapezius muscles (along the sides of the neck) can cause problems in the shoulders, not to mention a painfully stiff neck.
To release the rhomboids, cross one arm across the chest, thread the other arm under it, and hug your arm in. You should feel a pleasant stretch between the shoulder blades. Slowly rolling the head from side to side stretches out the sides of the neck. Pay attention and notice if one side is tighter than the other. Keep going until the tension has dissipated and both sides of the neck feel even and loose. Done!
About Jenni Tarma
Jenni Tarma is a Los Angeles–based yoga teacher, runner and Crossfitter. She really, really likes to move, loves teaching yoga to Crossfit athletes, as well as leading traditional vinyasa-based classes. She’s currently studying with Sage Rountree to complete her Yoga For Athletes certification. Find her on: