The Physical Demands Of Surfing

John John Florence

Surfers have a laid back reputation. But Physiologist Olivier Farley, who has a PhD in the science of surfing, has documented the extreme physical demands of the sport by studying what surfers do when they are out in the water. Surfers need lots of arm strength and aerobic endurance to perform repeated short powerful bouts of paddling as they position themselves in the water and catch waves at a crucial take off point.

Surfing: It requires more strength and endurance than you might think. Photo: WSL

They also need leg strength and power to perform turns or land on their board if they perform an aerial maneuver. When they do hitch a ride, watch out.  Expect to see surfers travel more than 20 miles per hour on the fastest waves.

Expect surfers at Pipeline to travel more than 20 miles per hour. Photo: WSL

During 20 minutes of competitive surfing:

Distance traveled: 800 meters to 1 kilometer (roughly half a mile)

Maximum speed while riding a wave : 15.5 to 21.7 miles per hour

Calories burned: 240-270 calories

Top heart rate: 180 beats per minute

Time spent paddling into position or paddling for waves: 45%

Time spent sitting on board, waiting for waves: 40% 

Time spent duck diving, coming ashore, standing up on sandbar or reef, swimming without a board: 10% 

Time spent surfing waves: 5%

Surfing, a rigorous workout, is mostly paddling. Time spent up on a wave: 5%. Photo: WSL