What Muscles Do You Work on When Surfing?


Surfing is a water sport for which an individual uses a board to ride a breaking wave toward the shore. It has been said that humans have been riding waves since they began swimming in the ocean, and archaeological evidence shows that, 500,000 years ago, ancient cultures of Peru were surfing using reed watercraft for fishing and recreation.

Standing up on surfboards is a practice developed by Polynesians, and was recorded by Joseph Banks during their ship’s stay in Tahiti in 1769. The sport was a central part of the ancient Polynesian culture and was popular in Tahiti and Samoa as a pastime and as part of warriors’ training.

In ancient Hawaii, people did not consider surfing as just a recreational activity, extreme sport, hobby, or career as it is viewed today. Rather, Hawaiians integrated the sport into their culture and made surfing more of an art than anything else. The art of he’e nalu, or wave sliding, began before entering the mysterious ocean as Hawaiian people prayed to the gods for protection and strength to undertake the powerful mystifying ocean. The most skilled surfers were often the chiefs and warriors who had gained respect through their enduring ability to master the art of surfing.

Contact with the Western World had suppressed Hawaii’s traditional culture, and it was not until Waikiki became a tourist destination that surfing made a comeback. As the news of this sport began to spread, locals in Waikiki started giving surfing demonstrations and lessons to tourists.

Surfing is a sport that helps develop balance, flexibility, and endurance. It builds up one’s physical and mental well-being and increases their ability to absorb oxygen. Overall, surfing is a great exercise that works out your core muscle and upper body muscles. Furthermore, it is good for the heart and therapeutic.
To find out more about this, read down below.


How to Surf

Before we tackle the benefits of surfing, let us first break down the basics.


1. Surfboard

The two most common types of surfboards are:

  • Shortboards
    • Boards between 5’5” to 6’5”
    • Can be difficult to paddle on
    • Easier to turn
    • Respond quickly to critical moments
  • Longboards
    • Boards 9′ and above
    • Feature a rounded or blunt nose
    • Have plenty of forward width and wide tails
    • Easy to paddle on and perfect for small surf
    • Quite stable and can be ridden on the nose
    • Difficult and slow to turn

2. Fins

These act as the wheels of your surfboard. They provide stability, performance, and drive.

3. Leash

This is a rope that will keep you connected to your surfboard, so that if you fall or get wiped out, your board is still within reach.

4. Surf Wax and Traction Pad

These will keep you from slipping off your surfboard when paddling and riding a wave. A surf wax demands regular maintenance, while traction pads can last for years if cared for properly.

5. Wetsuit

This garment allows you to stay in cold waters for extended periods.

6. Rash Guard (Optional)

This clothing can protect your skin against irritations and prolonged exposure to the sun.

7. Surf Earplugs (Optional)

These can protect you from exostosis, a condition wherein a bone surrounding your ear canal thickens when exposed to cold winds and waters. This condition is also known as “surfer’s ear” and is frequent for surfers over 30 years old.

8. Surfboard Bag (Optional)

Surfboards are fragile, and these bags will protect them from damages and elements, especially on surf trips and long walks.

How it works

  1. Land Practice

    Before paddling out, practice popping up and determining your stance to get comfortable with the motion. There are two different stances:

    • Regular Stance
      When you’re more comfortable with your left foot in front and your right foot in the back.
    • Goofy
      When you are more comfortable with your right foot in front and your left foot in the back.
  1. Paddle out

    Watch where other surfers paddle out, where the waves are breaking, and the level of the surfers in the water, and make sure the waves are comfortable for you. Also, note where other people are catching waves.

  2. Catch a Wave

    When you see a wave you want to catch, just turn around and point the nose of your board toward the shore, then lay down and paddle. Make sure the nose of your surfboard is not too high in the air and not underwater. Start paddling using 30-50 percent of your paddle power, and when the wave starts to draw on your surfboard’s tail, paddle up to 80 percent, and then 100 percent for the last few strokes.

  3. Stand

    If you feel a burst of momentum and speed, you’ll know it’s the right time to get up.

  4. Pop up

    When popping up, fully commit and look calmly ahead as hesitation creates instability. Hop up all in one motion and never look down to your feet, back at the wave of at the nose of your board. Always keep your eyes up and forward.

  5. Surf

    Put slightly more weight in your back foot, bend your knees, and hold your arms out to your sides to balance.


What does surfing do to your body?

Now that we know the basics, let us find out what this water sport does to our bodies.

  1. Works out your Core

    When you’re paddling on your board, you are exercising your core muscles, thus improving your stability and balance. Furthermore, all the squatting and balancing you do when surfing tones your core muscles and makes them stronger for you to do all the tricks and maneuvers.

  1. Good for the Heart

    Surfing does not make your heart speed up very fast, even when you are continuously paddling. Therefore, it is one of the best cardiovascular exercises as it allows your heart rate to speed up just enough to get the stress level that your body needs to improve your cardiovascular and respiratory system.

  2. Works out your Upper Body

    Paddling on your surfboard also works out your shoulders and upper back. Your biceps, triceps, deltoids, and core muscles are all engaged when you are paddling and this coordinated muscle work will give you a fit and proportional body figure.

  1. Leg toning and Buttock Firming

    When squatting and balancing on the board, your quadriceps, gluteus, and gastrocnemius muscles are engaged, giving you a more defined shape to your waistline and legs.

  2. Therapeutic Remedy

    Aside from working on your muscles, surfing is also a therapeutic remedy for people struggling with PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome). It boosts up a person’s mental well-being, builds up their resilience, and allows them to experience positive emotions triggered by their presence in the ocean.


What muscles does surfing work out?

  1. Triceps – muscles located on the back of the upper arm.
  2. Biceps – muscles located on the front of the upper arm.
  3. Deltoids – muscles located on the uppermost part of the arm and at the top of the shoulder.
  4. Trapezius – muscles extending over the back of your neck and shoulders.
  5. Rectus Abdominis – abdominal muscle.
  6. Latissimus Dorsi – large muscle covering the width of the middle and lower back.
  7. Obliques – muscles located on the sides of abdominals, which run from the hips to the rib cage.


Surfing is a pretty intense physical activity that makes use of a lot of muscles. As a beginner surfer, it’s important to do some preparations before riding the waves to prevent injuries from happening. Learn about the exercises that you need to add to your workout routine in our guide to to getting fit for surfing


Can you lose weight while surfing?

Not only does surfing burn fat, but it also induces a healthy lifestyle that increases one’s water intake and proteins, and reduces carbs, fats, and sugar.

You can lose weight by surfing thanks to this sport’s aerobic and anaerobic benefits that positively impact your metabolism. It requires a highly-timed articulation of the legs, arms, and torso.

Beginners may experience a quick loss of energy and shortness of breath as surfing is a physically demanding sport. However, as you advance into the sport, you will see your weight decrease. You’ll gain muscle mass but will definitely burn calories. To sum up, surfing is a fun and efficient way to burn unhealthy fat and eliminate unwanted extra calories.


Is surfing good for your back?

Paddling on your surfboard can strengthen your shoulder and back. However, you may feel back pain if you do not have enough strength and endurance in your back extensors. Most surfers experience some degree of stiffness or lower back pain, especially older and more experienced surfers as they have relatively higher risks of injuries.

  • Common causes of back pain in surfers

    1. Prolonged paddling and lying on the surfboard
    2. Prolonged extension of the lumbar
    3. Inadequate extension in the cervical, spine, and thoracic
    4. Extreme twisting, turning, and cutting movements
    5. Insufficient core stability
    6. Insufficient muscles strength and flexibility
    7. Poor surfing technique
  • How to prevent back pain

    1. Learn proper surfing techniques
    2. Perform core muscle training
    3. Stretch
    4. Train for flexibility and endurance


Do surfers lift weights?

Yes, many surfers lift weights to acquire the needed strength to pop up fast and turn harder. However, they do not overdo it as extra bulk can make it more difficult to surf.

Weights are an excellent source of strength that will help you paddle faster, pull bigger airs, and take off better. They also have many other benefits for all-around physical health and conditioning to allow you to surf longer and ride more waves to a higher standard.

The kinds of weightlifting that surfers usually do are deadlifts, clean and press, and other dumbbell workouts as a part of a well-rounded fitness program. Surfers include weights in their strength training to take their surfing skills to the next level.

These are the few disadvantages of lifting weights as part of surf training, if not done correctly:

  1. Bulking up can reduce your range of motion on certain joints.
  2. Weight lifting for bulk can harm your surfing skills.
  3. Muscle mass can add to your body weight and may cause your surfboard to feel slow as it can’t hold you. This means you have to buy a new board, which is not ideal unless truly necessary.
  4. Lifting weights and gaining muscle mass can slow surfers down and affect their surfing performance.

Not all surfers do weightlifting, and many good surfers do not lift weights since surfing itself already is a good workout. However, it is always good to keep a variety of activities to enhance your surfing experience.


How do surfers train?

Surfers train using a wide variety of techniques, from bodyweight workouts to weight training and combat sports like jiu-jitsu. A key component of good surfing shape is flexibility, so many surfers also engage in activities like pilates or yoga for core strength and balance. Most professional surfers partake in many of these activities and incorporate standard cardio workouts, as well as swimming, in their programs.

Overall, there are not that many bad options when training as a surfer, but you have to choose wisely to enhance your surfing ability.


No matter how good you may be at surfing, the possibility of getting injured does not totally disappear. In order to prevent an accident from happening, you must familiarize yourself with the common injuries you can suffer from surfing. Knowledge is power and in this case, knowledge can prevent a broken bone and a trip to the hospital. 


Why are surfers so ripped?

Surfers are fit because this sport is an all-in-one workout. Paddling out is a cardio exercise that provides many benefits that are similar to swimming. Together, swimming and paddling represent a better cardio workout due to the constant pulling and pushing against the water, which develops a higher resistance and builds muscle strength and endurance.


Does surfing build muscle?

Paddling on a surfboard builds muscle in your shoulders, arms, back, lats, and chest. Like swimming, the consistent pulling against the water equals using resistance bands at the gym. The way a surfer arches their back can build muscle in the lower back and neck, and every time a surfer stands up, they’re basically doing a push-up. Professional surfers who do many tricks and maneuvers build muscle in their core and thighs while they’re on a wave due to the constant pumping up and down the wave that engages these muscles.


Do you have to be skinny to surf?

There is no ideal body type for surfing as everyone can become an accomplished surfer, whether they are tall, chubby, short, skinny, weak, unfit, or athletic. The same applies to one’s age. Whether you are young or old, you can still go surfing. There is no ideal body type, but there is a physique that better adapts to the requirements of this sport.

Surfing is an outdoor sport that involves constant adaptations to waves in motion and balance, and the human body is repeatedly required to adjust to movements on all axes. These movements include paddling and finding your balance, taking off and popping up, trimming, and maneuvering. With these, we can say that a woman or man of average height who adopts a healthy diet and exercises regularly will be ready to challenge the waves and become a good surfer.


Can surfing reduce stress?

Surfing is an excellent activity that can relieve stress as well as anxiety. Surfing and many other common activities trigger the release of endorphins, which will give you a similar feeling to the one morphine provides and can produce euphoric feelings, which will then lead to a positive outlook on life.

Surfing can also reduce stress through its meditative elements, as a surfer often spends time sitting beyond the break, waiting for a wave. Peacefully sitting there is just as beneficial to your mental health as the endorphin release you feel once riding a wave.


Is surfing more fun than other types of exercises?

By developing a passion for surfing, you can improve and maintain your overall physical health. If you find a sport you love, training for it will start to feel less like work and become more fun. Another thing that makes surfing more fun than other workouts is the sense of community you form with fellow surfers. This is because surfing is not just a sport, but also a lifestyle. And your enthusiasm and love for this lifestyle will enhance your motivation to work out, stay in shape, and become a better surfer.


Can good balance affect your health?

When surfing, you tend to achieve an improved sense of balance and coordination, which can also lead to an all-around better quality of life as you get older.

As people age, falling becomes a greater risk and can become serious or life-threatening due to complications from broken bones. Therefore, maintaining good balance, muscle strength, and coordination is important to be able to enjoy life longer. In fact, a study found that long-term recreational surfing can maintain or improve one’s balance, control, and coordination better compared to active, older people who don’t surf.



Surfing is a fun activity that works out many different muscle groups on the arms, shoulders, back, and core. It also improves your overall physical health. Besides, this sport is a great way to step away from your day-to-day routine and wipe away stress. It is also a good activity to improve mental well-being by allowing you to meditate while staying active.

However, we are not suggesting that you go surfing on your own right away. Surfing is an extreme sport and one wrong move can lead to injury. Like any other activity, you first have to learn the basics and rules to have a fun and safe surf session.

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