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Stretch Before You Surf

How many times have you seen a surfer move quickly across the beach, hop onto his or her surfboard, paddle out and spend the next two, three or four hours catching waves.

That surfer may be heading for trouble: sore muscles, cramps or worse.  Think about it--would you play a game of tennis, football or basketball without limbering up first?  Why, then, would you consider surfing without warming up first?

Stretching increases flexibility which is the ability to move joints through a full range of motion.  This reduces the risk of injury.  Increasing your range of motion makes sense as you paddle, stand, turn, kick out or even wipe out.  Stiff muscles are more easily injured with repetitive or sudden motion.

What kind of stretching should you do?  Try some simple exercises.  Do them smoothly and slowly.

  • Rotate your head to loosen your neck.  Repeat a few times in each direction.  This loosens your neck muscles.
  • Reach behind your head and touch your left shoulder with your right hand, then your right shoulder with your left hand.  Repeat until you feel loose.  This works for your shoulders and upper back.
  • Bend at the waist and rotate your upper body clockwise a few time, then counterclockwise until loose.  This loosens the lower back.
  • Place your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart.  Move your hips as far left as you can.  Then do it to the right.  This loosens the groin and inner thigh muscles.
  • Squat down slowly, then stand up.  You'll loosen your thighs, calves, knees and ankles.

Spending three our four minutes before you paddle out can save you pain in the long run. 

Muscle Soreness

What do you do if you end up with sore muscles?  Here are some tips:

  • Ice your muscles to reduce inflammation.  Use a bag of ice wrapped in a towel for no more than 20 minutes each hour.
  • Replenish lost fluids.  Sports drinks add electrolytes and carbohydrate drinks will help.
  • A mild pain reliever such as Tylenol is good.  Check with your doctor before using any medication!
  • Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can absorb free radicals produced by overused muscles.  Eat an orange.
  • Massage promotes circulation and increases production of serotonin, a compound that has a pain-killing effect.  (Never massage joints...that can cause more damage!)
  • Take a warm bath.  That relaxes muscles and promotes circulation.


Cramps result from overexertion and dehydration.  Before you spend several hours in the water, make sure you keep enough electrolytes in your system.  If you've been riding waves for a while, come in and take a break.  Have a sports drink, rest and then head back out to the lineup. 

Inactivity can cause cramping too.  Just sitting on the board too long can cause feet and calves to cramp.  Massage the area gently, stretch, drink fluids.

Stretching before you surf can prevent sore muscles and cramping.  Constantly surfing without preparing properly can lead to other problems over the years.  Take care early, be in better shape later in life.