A new study in the August issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked at professional surfers to analyze the physical demands of the sport of surfing.
The study was led by Oliver Farley from New Zealand's Auckland University of Technology. The goal of the study was to help competitive surfers fine-tune their strength and conditioning training.
The researchers studied 12 nationally-ranked surfers in New Zealand. The athletes were outfitted with GPS units and heart rate monitors and were filmed during a contest. The researchers then studied the amount of time surfers spent doing various activities, the physical demands of those activities, and their speed and distance traveled. It was one of the first studies of its kind.
Results showed that the surfers spent over 50 of their time paddling, 28 percent waiting for a wave, eight percent of their time riding the wave, and the rest in miscellaneous activities.
According to GPS data, the average speed was 2.3 miles per hour, and the average peak speed while riding a wave was 20.75 miles per hour. The top recorded speed was 27.96 miles per hour.
During a 20-minute heat, the surfers covered an average distance of about one mile. "The surfers were actually paddling almost .62 miles per heat, up to three heats a day," said Farley.
The average heart rate during competition was 139 beats per minute. Although researchers expected the athletes' heart rates to be highest when they were paddling to catch a wave, instead they found the maximum heart rates happened right after they'd caught 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," wrote Farley.
"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," concluded Farley in the study. "Surfing-specific conditioning sessions should attempt to replicate such a profile."