Some of The Health Benefits of Bodysurfing

Speedo -

By: Tom Ekman •

If you’re gonna rock a Speedo, you gotta be ripped for the babes (or in the case of our handplane siren-sisters, the dudes). Luckily, bodysurfing is the ticket. Here’s why:

Low Impact – Swimming is the best exercise for minimizing impact injuries (and is also common therapy for people with existing injuries.) By virtue of being semi-weightless in the water, you free yourself of the constant hammering of gravity on your spine and joints from being on your feet. While it’s not a big deal when you’re 20, by age 40 you start to appreciate your joints. Tendons, unlike muscles, do not repair themselves. Land-based sports like running, low-rep lifting, and basketball can all wear down your body with age. Lucky for us, bodysurfing is sustainable exercise for all ages.

Core-intensive – Because you are floating and relatively free of spinal support, your body’s muscle groups need to take over to maintain frame support. What this means is that your stomach and back are constantly employed to hold your body in position as you paddle or ride waves. You can see guys sweating through sets of situps at the gym….or you can grab a plane and fins and get a much more balanced core workout in the water. Just keeping your body in a rigid plank while trimming is a textbook core-strengthening exercise.

Aerobic – Swimming is an aerobic, endurance activity. If you set the right pace, you can go for hours. This develops your cardiovascular capabilities, increasing your body’s ability to load oxygen and use it to maximum efficiency. Aerobic activities keep you lean, erect, and energetic.

Anaerobic – When you sprint for a wave, you are like a 100-meter runner. The explosive use of your muscles means that they cannot get oxygen fast enough, so they have to break down stores of glucose. When you stress your muscles fibers enough, they are forced to re-grow stronger. This is the principle behind low-rep weightlifting, but beach muscles are more cosmetic than healthy or sustainable. Balanced anaerobic activities develop overall muscle mass and improve body strength. Your explosive power increases and you develop dense, mature muscle.

Breathing – Breathing is core to all exercise and meditative activity.   (It’s also pretty important to staying alive…). While you may not think about it, when you bodysurf, you engage 3 different breathing patterns/cadences. One is sustained breathing while you are swimming. Second is holding your breath in general, which forces you into anaerobic mode.   Third is catch-up breathing after a sprint, trimming, or diving. Good athletes are constantly changing their resistance training to catch their body off-guard. This is what you are doing by constantly shifting between these different modes of breathing. This is superlative exercise for your cardiovascular system.body whomp

– Bodysurfing is truly full body. Your calves, hams, quads and gluts work over-time to kick. Your core is always working to balance upper and lower body. And there’s no exercise in the world that works your upper-body so fully. Paddling with a plane gives you extra resistance, challenging your upper-body. Even treading water is uniquely useful exercise because it actively works all 3 muscle groups in your shoulders. You’ll quickly notice that boardsurfers look awkward by comparison in the way they paddle and move around in the water. Bodysurfing involves natural, fluid, balanced body movements. Also, we have the option of at least 6 strokes (crawl, doggy-paddle, breast, sidestroke, backstroke, or just kicking) to constantly mix it up. 
It’s too fun to be exercise – there is a saying: “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Similarly, one of the great advantages of bodysurfing is that you don’t even notice you’re getting a killer workout because you’re having such a blast. Compare that to running 30 minutes on a treadmill in a crowded noisy gym. What would you rather do?

Low-Injury potential – because you’re in the water, you cut out 98% of potential impact injuries. You can get scraped on the reef or smash a couple vertebrae in the shorepound at Sandy’s, but that comes down to where you choose to bodysurf. Three real potential health hazards of bodysurfing are ear infections, swimmer’s shoulder, and surfboards. More on this topic later...

Good for the head – Surfing in the mega-crowded world of 2016 can be frustrating. Do you want to get in the water to get stressed out, or to clear your head and feel good? Bodysurfing gives you the ability to simply enjoy being in the water. It’s less a contest to see who’s da biggest rippah, and more about a very satisfying, soulful connection with the ocean. Crowd-surfing can put you in an aggro mood. Bodysurfing is refreshing and curative. It’s a joy just to be swimming around in the water on a nice day.

Good for the Sole -- Another intangible benefit of bodysurfing is that choosing to be a bodysurfer in a surfboard world is an affirmation of you and your individuality. Most people are followers, while a few lead by example. Bodysurfers are mavericks. Breaking the mold challenges every one’s idea of what is “normal” or possible.   No one ever changed the world from the middle of the pack. Own your identity as a bodysurfer – it’s good to be you.  



Thomas Ekman, J.D., M.Ed.
Thomas Ekman, J.D., M.Ed.


1 Response

Norine Traci-Maloney
Norine Traci-Maloney

January 18, 2016

Tom great writing ! Oh I so wish we had warm water in SFO. I am doing swim aerobics 2x a week but your way sounds soooo much more exciting.

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