Ok, so we all know surfing is a physical sport. We have covered surf training before, and we’ve talked about how healthy surfing can be, but we haven’t talked much about how dangerous it can be. For some out there, each session is an opportunity to prove oneself and, in turn, risk their lives for the love of surfing.
Big wave surfers are on a different agenda than most. They are a unique brand of the human specimen fueled by adrenaline, always in search of a journey to push their limits. Of course, they dabble with the waves we all yearn for: those head-high, offshore days. But their love for the sport and motivation to surf is triggered by their love for the sheer power of the ocean and the endless search for that one wave. The one that could end their life with one wrong move. The one that they survive by teetering on the edge of impossible and achieving “possible.”
Big wave surfers are the sorts of people who can balance their adrenaline addiction and insanity with safety and preparation, because that is what it takes, and that is where fitness and health come into play.
The main difference, health-wise, between training for regular surfing and training for big wave surfing is that most people train to surf faster and harder, working towards a goal of excelling on a wave by being able to finish a wave in its entirety, while doing the most maneuvers in that time riding the wave. While with big wave surfing, surfers are preparing for that time they don’t ride the wave in its entirety and are facing the worst. With that being said, facing waves up to 60 feet is one of the world’s most enduring fitness obstacles, and some people will die to experience it, literally.
Any surfer will tell you, preparation is key when surfing bigger waves, both mentally and physically. Keeping your body healthy and equipment ready is an intricate factor in being successful when taking on challenging larger conditions.
When preparing yourself physically, there are certain areas of the body that one should focus on. The main aspect of the body most chargers focus on is the lungs. Being able to hold your breath is extremely important.
When put in a position of danger after wiping out, surfers are often tossed around underwater — sometimes for up to a minute without a breath. The average human can hold their breath for 30 to 40 seconds, but imagine holding your breath while a 60-foot wave shakes you like a rag doll underwater.
Surfers do certain exercises, and some even take classes to perfect the ability to hold their breath underwater for an extended period of time while dealing with the intensity and high-pressure situation of falling on a large wave. Some of the exercises include cardiovascular workouts, cross training with a mask that limits the amount of oxygen you get from your breaths to train your body to function with less air, free-diving classes and, of course, the popular rock running technique, among others.
You guys remember that scene in the movie, “Blue Crush,” where Kate Bosworth and the girls run underwater while holding a piece of reef? Well, that’s rock running. The exercise originated with Hawaiian watermen who found that running under water to keep the heart rate up, while holding a rock to keep them down at the seafloor, was a great way to spend time in the ocean, while training to hold their breath.
“We’ll run rocks and practice breath holds in the summertime when its flat here,” world-renowned surf photographer, Brandon Campbell, said.
Campbell, better known by his nickname “Laserwolf,” has built a reputation in the billion-dollar industry that is surfing, as a well-known photographer. When he isn’t swimming out at Pipeline taking photos, he is working towards a big wave surf career. Campbell, a born and bred Floridian from Melbourne Beach, has been surfing and shooting big waves, and traveling to do so, since he was a teenager. He moved out to Hawaii when he was 24 to pursue his photography career and has since called the island chain his home. He told us about his lifestyle, preparation, and especially, how important it is to be in shape enough to handle those high-pressure situations and deal with the unexpected.
“I try to stick to my normal morning routine. Water, coffee, fruit, some morning time with the family and a few stretches. Its good to have your equipment all dialed too. I should do more [training] but I’m a full-time water photographer here in Hawaii, so I’m swimming and treading water out at Pipeline for hours at a time everyday, so that lifestyle keeps me in pretty good shape,” Campbell said.
Although breathing and lung training are some of the most important aspects of big wave training, having your equipment ready and a routine to stay focused is key, as mentioned above. Eating healthy and staying hydrated, as well as having the right boards, safety equipment, (like flotation vests) and mindset are very important and sometimes overlooked components to being successful in bigger surf.
Another point to make is that, more often than not, these surfers are in great shape regardless. They live a healthy lifestyle and they are always ready. Big wave surfers are waterman. Many of them respect the ocean for its power and what it offers. Whenever they’re in and around it, they are prepared, whether it be surfing, fishing, diving or saving lives. It would be cool to think that these guys train to specifically surf big waves, but in actuality, these guys are training for living an active and adrenaline-fueled lifestyle. Being in and around the ocean often ends up being the best training they can have for being out there.
“We always make sure to paddle out with a game plan in case something happens. It’s good to be prepped for any scenario that happens out there,” Campbell said.
Ask any surfer, when you’re out there in big waves, fitness and endurance along with mental strength and good equipment pays off. When asked if he thought his training and preparation has ever paid off, Campbell quickly responded by telling us about a recent session where his leash broke in 25-plus-foot waves.
“I was way out there! I had to swim in dealing with the current and taking big waves on the head all while looking for my board, it took me probably 45 minutes, the piece of mind of having my vest on and being prepared was a big added bonus,” Campbell said.
If it wasn’t for Campbell’s time spent out swimming at Pipe and living the lifestyle he lives, it would have been an even tougher swim in, and we may not have seen our friend again. It’s that serious out there, and having confidence in yourself is key, not only for having fun out there, but purely for survival.
Disclaimer: In the end, it takes a certain type of person to do what these watermen do. Any of us can train to be fit, but at the end of the day, not many people have the ability and determination to do what these surfers do. To have the confidence and ability to surf big waves, along with the combination of physical strength and sheer passion, takes years and years of experience and preparation in itself, so don’t try this at home.