Catch your wave

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Surfing has just been included in the Olympic Games.  It will debut in Tokyo in 2020. This is not a bad prospect for New Zealand athletes if you consider the historical success of Kiwis in this sport, and the phenomenal Paige Hareb may finally get her day in the well-deserved sun.

How they will create fair and equitable performance opportunities within the actual event remains to be seen, as the whole art of waiting for the perfect wave thing, one would think is inherent to the sport.

Aside from the almost guaranteed promotion of surfing that Olympic inclusion will bring, statistics show that almost 98,000 Kiwis already get into the blue.  It even features in the top 20 sports that Kiwi men regularly rip into.

Hearteningly, it’s one of those sports that lies along almost the entire spectrum of sports and recreation participation – any age, any gender, any skill level, adaptive disability sport, and any time of the year, albeit with the right wetsuit.

The fact that more men than women surf is a bit disconcerting, as from a physiological perspective, women tend to have better balance, spatial awareness and patience than men, which could be considered factors in sport specific success here.

However maybe it’s up there with motorsport with the danger factor a prominent off-putting feature as women tend also to have more foresight and consequence of action brain wiring. Or sharks might be an issue.

If you haven’t at least given it a go, and you’ve lived in this country for more than two years then a slight shame on you. We live on an island, and we have more coastal beaches within a couple of hours’ drive of anywhere than almost anywhere, so this summer might be as good a time as any to give it a go.

Speaking from personal experience, there’s a great setup for beginners at the surfing mecca that is Raglan where the oversized and very sturdy boards mean you can meet with stand up success the same day.
Raglan Surf School starts its three-hour lesson on dry land which gives you either confidence or complacency depending on your outlook, and then some very enthusiastic and encouraging tuition in the actual surf.

And if you go in the afternoon you can finish the experience with a sauna which tops it off nicely, (especially if you go near the end of summer).

As far as a full body workout is concerned surfing ticks all the boxes.  Ground to standing movement patterns are in the spotlight lately in the fitness industry as modern day life has taken most of these primal (and necessary to mobility) movements out of our day.  There are in fact entire sessions dedicated to ground-to-standing workouts in gyms across Australia. Take my word for it that surfing is a way more fun way to achieve this health benefit.

The specific physical properties of the surfing environment (open water – ocean) play an important role in functional rehabilitation (improving balance, strength and flexibility). It is a highly stimulating (sensorial) environment as any therapist will tell you, and water has a relaxing effect.

The weightlessness afforded by being in salt water improves mobility, which also improves cardio-respiratory function and by its very nature surfing is an integral muscular workout. Finally, the pleasure it provides is also an important factor.

In fact, a study into the benefits of nature-based activity, and surfing in particular, showed combat veterans enjoyed respite from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) encapsulated in the conceptual notion of the “blue gym,” so it’s pretty hard to argue it’s not good for beating stress.

So if you’re feeling a little frazzled, have trouble getting from the floor to standing and want to improve your fitness, or maybe you even want to have a go at a sport that could get you to the Olympics, then surfing could be this summer’s bucket list activity.

In fact, with the stereotypical surfer being as laid back as a lizard with an endlessly optimistic and rose-tinted view on life, perhaps you need a bit of this after a tough year. Get into the blue.

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