How to Train for Big Wave Surfing

How to Train for Big Wave Surfing

Surfing backside at Waimea Bay with two other gentlemen. 

In an arena that is dominated by hardened men, there is no room for lack of preparation or doubt. Big wave surfing is an extremely disciplined and risky sport. To be a woman in the ocean’s most dangerous conditions is a feeling I can never perfectly put to words. I truly love it. The women in this sport are extreme athletes with desire that takes over one’s life. For me, preparation is everything. There are many aspects that factor into a successful big wave session. Read along to find out what I do to prepare.

My style in approaching almost all things I do in life is very holistic. Meaning, I factor in the mind, body and soul aspect into each facet of my training. My training includes physical fitness, mental fitness, surf gear readiness, financial planning, and above all; guidance from God. Winter season, which is when a majority of my big wave surfing takes place, is typically from November to March. That is a generous time frame. The best surf is usually from December to February. That means the rest of the year I spend training for these very months. 

The ocean is the most important part of any surfers training regime. I try to get in the ocean everyday to at least maintain my connection with the waves. Ideally when the waves are good, I surf. When the waves are not so good, I do open ocean swims, free diving, ocean workouts, and breath training. Some of my ocean workouts include underwater rock running, underwater swim sprints (swimming as fast as you can underwater for as long as you can, paddling (standup paddle and paddling surfboards), and long distance swims. The key to ocean workouts is having a training partner. Never do ocean workouts alone because you can put yourself at risk for shallow water blackouts and drowning. I am lucky to have friends and family who like to do my crazy workouts with me. We call it beast mode. 

Underwater rock running.

Freediving has been absolutely game changing for me. I have been freediving for three years now and it is one of my biggest passions aside from surfing. Freediving brings you peace in the ocean. It is extremely beneficial for breath training and teaching you how to maximize your oxygen. Freediving teaches you how to stay calm under pressure, literally. At sea level we already have the pressure of one atmosphere on us, or 14.7 pounds per square inch of oxygen. You don’t feel it because the fluids in your body are pushing outwards with the same force. For every 10 meters or roughly 33ft that you dive down in the ocean, that is another atmosphere on top of your body. This is why learning to freedive from a certified teacher can be crucial to prevent injury. Freediving helps me with my breath training and finding peace under pressure. 

Some of my other workouts include running, biking, weight training, strength training, hypoxic workouts, breath training and yoga. I try to alternate cardio, strength and endurance to build optimal strength and agility. My daily routine is waking up early and doing some yoga. I like to make sure I stretch properly each day to minimize aches and pains from training and maximize injury prevention. If the waves are good I will go surf and do a workout later in the day. If not, I like to workout early. Hypoxic training really helps with my breath holds, it is where you workout while holding your breath. This should always be done with a workout buddy as well. Some of my favorite hypoxic training is running sprints on the sand. I hold my breath and run as fast as I can for as long as I can. I repeat that for 10-15 sprints. I also like hypoxic burpees and pushups. Breath training is something I also include in my daily routine. 

Diet is critical when it comes to performing your best. I make sure to eat as healthy as possible and stay well hydrated. I’ve been loving big salad bowls with healthy fats, proteins and carbs such as fish, beans, avocado, nuts, sweet potato or whatever else I have in the fridge. I like to think of the analogy that your body is like a car. You have to properly fuel and maintain your body to get the drive you want. I recently stopped drinking coffee because it was making me too jittery in the water and very dehydrated. Like everything else, diet is always a balance and you have to find what works for you. 

Local veggies, eggs, avocado and starfruit for a nutritious meal. I usually have a protein smoothie with my lunch as well.

Life will always throw you curveballs, so you just have to learn to work with them. I had covid back in August and it severely affected my breath holds and lung capacity. I have been working to regain my normal times. It is so important to listen to your body. You can’t expect your body to always perform if you don’t properly care for it. Making sure you get quality sleep, nutrition, rest days and nourishment is equally important as the training you do.

Another aspect of big wave surfing is having the right gear. These things can be expensive, so I’m always making sure to work hard and save up for the gear that I need. This year I had to get some new boards that can handle bigger waves and an inflatable vest that can blow you up to the surface if you are getting held down by the wave for too long. Having the right gear will make a significant difference in big wave surfing. I currently wear a padded vest while surfing big waves. This vest has great lumbar support which is great for protecting my back. It also floats you like a life jacket, that way if something bad happens, at least you will float to the surface. In big wave surfing you also need special boards that are long and strong, we call them guns. 

My padded float suit and gun. 

Whether you surf or not, we can all benefit from exercise and healthy lifestyles. Training at this level has taken me a long time to get to where I am now, and I still experience setbacks. Dedication to what you love will show you the path you need to take to get to where you want to be. Knowing that if I set it in my mind that I CAN. do something, all I have to do is follow through. I am thankful to do what I love and for the ability to properly prepare.

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