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Surf’s up: How surfing can whip you into shape

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Talking to Emmerson Cosgrove, a surfing instructor at Treasure Island on Pui O Beach, James Allen discovers why surfers are fitter and more ripped than the average gym bunny.

Bronzed Aussie ‘slackers’ catching the waves in New South Wales or Bali come to mind when we think of surfing, and for good reason. Conservative estimates put the number of surfers in Australia at about 2.5 million. Those numbers increase depending on who is asked, but industry leaders suggest that the number of surfers in Australia could make up as much as 10% of the population.

While Hong Kong isn’t rated as one of the top surfing locations in the world, it has its share of beaches that provide a good range of challenges for beginner to advanced wave riders. Some of the most popular spots include Pui O, Tai Wan, Ham Tin, Sai Wan and, of course, Big Wave Bay.

Over at Treasure Island on Pui O Beach, Emmerson Cosgrove teaches youngsters the basics of surfing during the Hong Kong surf season from June to August. He’s an advocate for the sport as a great way to keep fit while having fun.

“You definitely get fit from surfing,” explains Emmerson. “You do a lot of swimming, and it’s about 90% paddling and 10% surfing, so you get a good workout.”

benefits of surfing

Getting that surfer bod

It’s clear that surfers are doing something right when it comes to fitness, after all they get to have great bodies without ever heading to the gym. Emmerson is quick to explain that surfing requires dedication, hard work and coordination, as well as that fabled free-spirited attitude, and that it will quickly whip you into shape.

In order to surf in, you have first to paddle out, and the act of paddling a board against the waves provides an intense upperbody workout that targets the muscles of the shoulders and back. A strong upper body is also developed through repeated ‘pop-ups,’ a staple move of every surfer’s repertoire.

Surfing also demands high levels of flexibility and balance – getting up on the board is only half the battle. Once surfers have popped up, there’s plenty of work to be done to stay up. They need to use a lot of muscles at the same time to remain stable, and the core is nearly always engaged. This can result in a fantastic mind-muscle connection, as well as those famous ‘washboard abs.’

While strong abdominal muscles may look great on the beach, they also serve to protect the back from injury, keep the body stable and balanced, and shield vital organs from external damage.

At the same time as developing a strong midsection, surfing can also be a tremendous workout for the legs, especially the large quadricep muscles of the upper leg. When standing on the board, a surfer’s legs are almost permanently flexed in order to maintain rigidity and stability. The result of this over time can be very strong and stable leg muscles.

Another benefit of surfing as a tool for fitness is that it’s low-aerobic and low-impact. Despite requiring a lot of swimming and paddling, surfers can pretty much go at their own pace, and once up on the board, they aren’t in too much danger of impacting or stressing joints.

Despite its reputation as one of the trickier sports, Emmerson says surfing truly is something anyone can try… but don’t expect to be rushing into the water straight away.

“When teaching someone to surf, we go through all the basics… what the board is, the parts of it, how to lie down properly, paddling,” he says. “You can begin as young as five years old, and we practice on the sand first to make people feel more comfortable before they get on the water.”

benefits of surfing

5 benefits to surfing

1 It’s rewarding: Surfing has a relatively steep learning curve, so there’s a tremendous amount of satisfaction when you learn to stand on the board.

2 It’s strengthening: You have to move and adjust to each wave or fellow surfer, so you’re constantly using different muscles, especially core muscles in the stomach, hips and lower back, in different ways.

3 It’s good for your legs: The micro-adjustments needed for surfing make you extremely aware of your lower body. You use every single muscle from your ankles and calves to the fine muscles in your toes.

4 It’s a mood enhancer: When the sun’s ultraviolet B rays hit your skin, your skin cells manufacture vitamin D, which gives you a boost. The circadian rhythm of the waves also triggers feelgood chemicals in the brain.

5 It’s a social sport: Rather than lifting weights solo in a darkened gym, you ride the waves with friends, which can keep you accountable and doing it regularly.


For more information on Treasure Island’s summer surf and adventure camp, visit www.treasureislandhk.com.


Photos by Duey Tam

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