Yoga for surfing

By Charlotte Dodson

Yoga can enhance your ability to really enjoy and engage in any passion or pastime, including your love for surfing. Big Wave Surfer Maya Gabeira and pro surfer Sally Fitzgibbons (who practice yoga as part of their training program) are perfect examples of how this ancient wellness routine has high performance benefits. It’s a holistic conditioning regime that improves and enhances every area of a professional’s preparation and ability.

Yoga is one of the best activities surfers can do because it actually restores energy by nourishing and revitalizing every cell of the body. Yoga helps to build strength to ‘pop-up’ on your board; improves flexibility to mould into the wave; builds stamina and endurance to keep surfing; helps with inner and outer balance, and gives you mental focus – all necessary for fluid, powerful surfing. Yoga breathing or “pranayama” increases lung capacity so you can stay calm and relaxed, even during a wipeout. Yoga emotionally teaches us to become fearless, to embrace and freely ride every moment and wave to its fullest.

Try these next moves before you delve into the ocean with your board – don’t forget to warm up, and remember to cool down after your surfing stint. All of these moves can be completed on your board, or at the beach.

Let’s go!

The power of b-r-e-a-t-h-i-n-g

Whether you are above or below the water, you need to keep your breath deep, long and controlled. After all, the power of your breath represents your deepest self. If you panic, your breath will be shallow and energy-draining; if you hold yourself with grace, strength and ease, your breath will flow slowly, deeply and powerfully. The key is to keep your breath lengths as long as you can. With surfing, it’s best to increase your breathing capacity to give yourself a better chance of survival if you get held under the ocean for what can seem like an eternity. The following breathing techniques will energise and increase your lung capacity:

Start with your feet about one leg distant apart and knees soft to protect your lower back. Interlace your fingers, palms facing upwards at your belly, and as you inhale raise your hands up above your head, rotating your palms upwards the sky; pause for a moment, before taking a deep exhale to release your arms out and down by your side. Repeat, lengthening your arms up, and see if your can pause for a few moments longer (no force) and release on your exhalation. Allow your abdomen to expand as you inhale slowly and deeply; let your ribcage separate and your lungs fill with fresh, clean oxygen. Let the breath linger and pause for a moment, then exhale completely – gently drawing your belly in to expel all the stale air. This will clear the path for the next full, deep energizing breath. Deep breathing oxygenates the blood and helps to bring nutrients to the cells. Often, feelings of fatigue are caused by not generating enough oxygen.

Open shoulders

A great way to loosen, release and open up your shoulders is by peforming these ‘gomuktasana’ arm movements.
Start in a cross legged sitting position. Inhale and stretch your right arm straight out to the right, parallel to the floor. Rotate your arm inwardly; the thumb will turn first toward the floor, then point toward the wall behind you, with the palm facing the ceiling. This movement will roll your right shoulder slightly up and forward, and round your upper back. With a full exhalation, sweep the arm behind your torso and tuck the forearm in the hollow of your lower back, parallel to your waist, with the right elbow against the right side of your torso. Roll the shoulder back and down, then work the forearm up your back until it is parallel to your spine. The back of your hand will be between your shoulder blades. See that your right elbow doesn’t slip away from the right side of your torso.

Now inhale and stretch your left arm straight forward, pointing toward the opposite wall, parallel to the floor. Turn the palm up and, with another inhalation, stretch the arm straight up toward the ceiling, palm turned back. Lift actively through your left arm, then with an exhalation, bend the elbow and reach down for the right hand. If possible, hook the right and left fingers. Lift the left elbow toward the ceiling and, from the back armpit, descend the right elbow toward the floor. Firm your shoulder blades against your back ribs and lift your chest. Try to keep the left arm right beside the left side of your head. Stay in this pose about 10-20 breaths. Release the arms, uncross your legs and switch to the other side. Hold for the same breath length.

Sun salute to high plank

Sun salutations are a great way to warm your body up, build strength and increase stamina. It’ll give you greater mental focus and body awareness as you move mindfully with each and every breath.
Start at the top of your mat, or board, with your feet together, legs active, belly strong and chin tucked into your throat. This is your base position, ‘tadasana’.

Inhale – raise your arms out to the side and up into prayer above your head, take your gaze to your thumbs.

Exhale – swan dive down to your feet, bend your knees if your lower back is tender

Inhale – to lengthen and take your gaze forward, palms flat as possible.

Exhale – Step or jump back one leg distant and rock forward into a ‘high plank’,

Ensure your shoulders are inline with your wrists, hips are lifting slightly (so you don’t dip into your lower back), keeping your legs and core active. Keep your chin tucked into your throat, protecting the back of your neck and work your heels to the back of your mat. Lift up slightly into your shoulder blades and breathe deeply for 5-10 breaths. To release rock back into ‘downward facing dog’ or drop to your knees into child pose for a few breaths before stepping or jumping to the top of your mat and repeating 2-5 more times.

Upper arm strength

From your high plank, drop gently to your knees. On your exhale, lower your chest in between your hands, towards the floor, looking forward. Keep your sit bones lifting up to the sky. On your inhale, allow the breath to draw you back up. Keep your elbows in by your sides and try not to collapse your chest. Keep your shoulders rolling back and belly active. You can practice in stages, lower half way down and as your strength builds, in time your chest can meet the floor.

Core strength

Boat pose (navasana) works to build core strength as well as actively building strength in your leg, hip flexors and back muscles.

Sit onto your pelvic bone with your feet out in front of you. Bend your legs, and place your hands under your thighs. On your next inhale, balance onto your buttocks as you raise your legs up 90 degrees. Keep your chest drawing forward and shoulders back. If that feels comfortable, release your hands and keep your arms parallel to the floor.To deepen the pose, you can try straightening your legs. This builds core, leg and back strength. If your lower back feels sore, keep your feet lightly touching the floor. Breathe into the pose for 5 breaths before repeating 3 more times.

Hip opening (pigeon pose)

Be more kind on your knees by releasing any tension in your hips. This move is important for any sport – running, walking or surfing. Come into this move before and after your activity and notice the difference – the more you practice, the more flexible and easier it’ll become.

Bend your right knee out in front (easier variation to keep your foot closer towards your thigh). Keep your hips square to the top of your mat, and keep your back foot working towards the back of your mat. Either stay up onto your hands, or drop to your forearms, if possible, and lengthen your arms out in front of you. Breathe deeply into any tension areas for 10 breaths. Walk your hands back to your hips and, swinging your other leg forward to repeat on the other side.


Give this next movement a go – the key is to practice it regularly and it’ll get easier! This surfing ‘pop-up’ is essentially an explosive pushup. This is how you get to your feet on a surfboard. To make the pop-up easier, practice this next move on dry land first. This will build up your arm strength and give you some muscle memory. When it comes time to do it out in the ocean, you’ll be glad you prepared yourself. Everyone’s surfing pop-up is slightly different, but for all intents and purposes the pop-up technique is basically the same for everyone. Here goes.

Place your hands flat on the board at the bottom of your ribcage. Push your chest off the board with your pelvis and upper thighs still in contact with the board. Try not to dip straight into your lower back or bring all your weight into your hands. Without relying on your knees, on your next inhale – spring your front foot forward under your body to where your hands are. Allow your lower torso to twist a little to the right if you’re regular, or to the left if you’re goofy. Your back foot will naturally follow – just check to make sure that your feet are parallel to your board’s stringer. Hold the lunging position for a few breaths before repeating from the beginning. Practice 5-10 times. Rest for a few breaths in child pose in between pop-ups if required.

Back strengthening (salabasana)

This ‘grasshopper’ pose is much more challenging than it appears! You may want to place a folded blanket under your pelvis and ribs for cushioning. Lets start by laying on your belly with your arms along the sides of your torso, palms up, forehead resting on the floor. On your next exhale, gently lift your head, upper torso, arms, and legs away from the floor. You’ll be resting on your lower ribs, belly, and front pelvis. Keep your buttocks active and reach strongly through your legs, first through the heels to lengthen the back legs, then through the bases of the big toes. Keep the big toes turned toward each other. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and stretch back actively through your fingertips. Imagine there’s a weight pressing down on the backs of the upper arms, and push up toward the ceiling against this resistance. Take your gaze to the tip of your nose and beyond, being careful not to jut your chin forward and crunch the back of your neck. Keep the base of the skull lifted and the back of the neck long. Stay for 10 breaths, then release with an exhalation. Take a few breaths and repeat 1 or 2 more times and hold for longer if possible.

Lengthen into child pose

Come into ‘child pose’, an innocent and passive posture. It’s important to restore and rejuvenate as much as it is to energise and uplift. From kneeling, sit back heavily onto your heels, and lengthen your spine forward, by reaching your arms out in front of of you. Reach your finger tips away from you, at the same time relax your shoulders away from your ears, and keep neck long as you rest your forehead to the floor, or alternatively, onto a cushion. Hold and breathe into this posture for about 10 breaths.


Make sure you rest and relax completely before paddling away into the ocean. Begin by lying flat, and release your arms down by your sides, with your palms facing upwards, and shoulders rolling out. With your eyes closed, allow yourself to fall into a harmonious place of quietness, stillness, and peace. Lay in ‘savasana’ for at least 5 minutes before rolling out to your right side. Take a rest there and slowly lift up to a cross-legged sitting position.

Join your hands to prayer, and bow your head down slightly as you bow to yourself. Sit still with your spine upright, holding yourself with grace and confidence. And from your strong heart, make a positive intention before heading into the deep blue sea.