Who is helping professional surfers reach new levels of performance and how does it all work?
Surfing is a sport arguably going through the fastest rate of change in comparison with any other. Board design, has no doubt played a huge role in this as have some major players who have widened the imaginary scope of what is possible to perform on a moving face of water (and of course above it!), but what about physical attributes? Have they changed dramatically and who is responsible for this? How much is this new obsession with physical fitness changing surfing?
Tom Carroll (3x world surfing champion) was possibly one of the 1st professional surfers to openly advocate the importance of his regimented physical training program to his competition success in the mid 90’s. Carroll’s powerful surfing style under the lip definitely lead to a change in surfing mindset and technique among his peers and beyond. Although, his programming was quite raw and self lead, the success associated with specific training regimes like this appeared to surfers now beyond a built up myth and something which could not be left out of their weekly schedule.
In the early 2000’s surfing found itself born into mainstream professional sport. With serious career opportunities and cash up for grabs, surfers were now seeking the edge on their opponents more than ever. Deriving from success in other sports, much of this was now out of the ocean and in alternate training formats. Surfers were now consulting professional athletic trainers to advance their ability on a wave. People like Paul Check and the incorporation of “core” exercises using a ‘swiss’ ball were being advocated in essential performance training. Taylor Knox’s version of ball exercises which helped him become a ‘succesful professional’ were on sale next to “The Endless Summer” and the latest Taylor Steel movie in all surf shops world wide. Surfers were orientating themselves around gym equipment (cables, weights, bars, etc) and throwing around talk of their ‘functional training’ regimes, ‘Pilates schedule’ or ‘plyometric program’. Mick Fanning had more recently come back from tearing his hamstring from his pelvis to win his first world title, largely thanking his new training regime. What was Kelly up to? Everyone wanted now to know what he does out of the water….Some said he was doing 5 hours of yoga a day, kelly stated he just surfed….that’s it.
It would now be very difficult to find a touring professional surfer who isn’t consulting a physical fitness trainer of some sort. Without doubt one of the greatest surfers we have seen tear up a wave, Taj Burrow, has surfed professionally through the fastest evolving period of specific surf fitness. 16 years on the world surfing tour with 12 event wins, 14 top 10 finishes, 10 of these in the top 5 and running up twice. Taj has no doubt proven himself as an elite athlete! Listen though to the professional commentary at an ASP event this year or compare some back dated movies and it is clear that Taj (now 36) is surfing more critical, more dynamically and with more power than ever!
Taj attributes much of this to his training regime with specific surf trainer, John Gannon. We caught up with Johnny to discuss what he bases his training around and what he considers most important to a successful regime and preparation in what is a unique sport and yearly competitive program.
The approach I use for strength and conditioning in surfing training is (MED) minimal effective dose. The minimal amount of training to reach a desired outcome and goals we have set. Also I try never to let strength and conditioning get in the way of skill sets (surfing). Surfers have such limited time to work on their surfing because of the conditions i.e, lack of swell, wind, tides etc. So training revolves around the swell forecast, if there’s a flat spell we step up the training if the waves are firing surfing is number one priority. The travel and jet lag is the difficult part, it effects everything(from sleep patterns, posture to bowl movements) trying to fit into a foreign time zone as quick as possible helps. Rest and recovery are super important (rest, as in quality sleep and recovery, as in foam roller work and ‘foundation training’*) but I’d put diet and staying hydrated as the number one thing to help us maintain health when we’re on the road so much. Because the year starts early January and finishes late December it’s important to know when to back off the training. Trying to stay in peak physical condition throughout the year just leads to injury and an unmotivated athlete! Keep it simple and uncomplicated as much as possible, fun and challenging at the same time.
As surfers continue to consult differing professionals to help them achieve greater physical capabilities there is bound to be huge variety in training regimes. This is a great thing, as it gives us the ability as professional trainers to discuss results, try new techniques, evolve training types and further help to push surfing to new realms! As discussed by Johnny Gannon though, it is a multifaceted practice and nothing can be taken away from the necessity for surfers to do what they love most……surf!!
* Foundation Training is a set of body weight only exercises designed to strengthen core muscles and the posterior chain (muscles of the back critical for postural strength).