Sport Sciences Looks at Demands of Competitive Surfing

ScienceDaily (July 23, 2012) — Want to train to become a competitive surfer? You’ll need high endurance for paddling with bursts of high-intensity activity and short recovery times, according to a study in the August issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

The study by Olly R.L. Farley, MS, and colleagues of Auckland University of Technology is one of the first detailed analyses of the physical demands of surfing. The results will help strength and conditioning professionals to design training regimens to help athletes meet the sport-specific demands of competitive surfing.

New Insights into Physical Demands of Surfing The researchers analyzed the physical demands of surfing in 12 nationally ranked surfers in New Zealand during heats in sanctioned events. The surfers were videotaped as they performed competitive heats, while wearing a global positioning system (GPS) unit and heart rate monitor. The data were broken down to measure the time spent in various types of activities, the physical demands of each activity, and the speed and distance traveled.

The results showed that the athletes spent most of their time paddling: 54 percent of the total. The surfers spent 28 percent of the time stationary on their boards, waiting for a wave. Riding waves accounted for eight percent of the time and paddling for waves four percent. (The rest of the time was spent in other, miscellaneous activities.)

However, demands changed rapidly — more than 60 percent of times spent paddling and times spent stationary lasted less than ten seconds. Thus athletes had to respond rapidly to changing conditions while watching the surf and competing for waves.

According to GPS data, the average speed for all surfers was 2.3 miles per hour. However, the average peak speed while riding waves was 20.75 mph, with a top recorded speed of 27.96 mph. Farley notes that these were absolute speeds, subject to wave height, conditions and type of break.

During a 20-minute heat, the surfers covered an average distance of about one mile. “The surfers were actually paddling almost 0.62 miles per heat, up to three heats a day,” Farley points out.

The average heart rate during competitions was 139 beats per minute, with a peak of 190 bpm. Two-thirds of the time was spent with heart rates in the moderate- to high-intensity range. The researchers expected that heart rates would be highest when the athletes were paddling to catch a wave — but found that peak rates occurred right after the surfers finished riding a wave. “One reason for such a result could be the physical demands of riding the wave, coupled with the adrenaline release ensuing from the wave ride and fall,” the researchers write.

Despite huge growth in surfing worldwide, few studies have looked at the physical demands of competitive surfing. The new study is one of the first to use sophisticated performance analysis techniques — including GPS and heart rate monitoring with second-by-second video analysis — to measure the physical demands of surfing during competition.

Based on the results, Farley and colleagues write, “Competitive surfing therefore involves intermittent high-intensity bouts of all out paddling intercalated with relatively short recovery periods and repeated bouts of low-intensity paddling, incorporating intermittent breath holding.” They propose a regimen for training and fitness professionals to follow in designing “surfing-specific conditioning sessions” — emphasizing aerobic conditioning, fast recovery times, and high-intensity heart rate workloads.



Journal Reference:

  1. Oliver R.L. Farley, Nigel K. Harris, Andrew E. Kilding. Physiological Demands of Competitive Surfing. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2012; 26 (7): 1887 DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182392c4b


Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (2012, July 23). Sport sciences looks at demands of competitive surfing. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2012, from­ /releases/2012/07/120723094818.htm


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