Sports Medicine

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 55–70 | Cite as

Physiological Aspects of Surfboard Riding Performance

Review Article


Surfboard riding (surfing) has experienced a ‘boom’ in participants and media attention over the last decade at both the recreational and the competitive level. However, despite its increasing global audience, little is known about physiological and other factors related to surfing performance. Time-motion analyses have demonstrated that surfing is an intermittent sport, with arm paddling and remaining stationary representing approximately 50% and 40% of the total time, respectively. Wave riding only accounts for 4–5% of the total time when surfing. It has been suggested that these percentages are influenced mainly by environmental factors. Competitive surfers display specific size attributes. Particularly, a mesomorphic somatotype and lower height and body mass compared with other matched-level aquatic athletes. Data available suggest that surfers possess a high level of aerobic fitness. Upper-body ergometry reveals that peak oxygen uptake (V̇O2peak) values obtained in surfers are consistently higher than values reported for untrained subjects and comparable with those reported for other upper-body endurance-based athletes. Heart rate (HR) measurements during surfing practice have shown an average intensity between 75% and 85% of the mean HR values measured during a laboratory incremental arm paddling V̇O2peak test. Moreover, HR values, together with time-motion analysis, suggest that bouts of high-intensity exercise demanding both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism are intercalated with periods of moderate- and low-intensity activity soliciting aerobic metabolism. Minor injuries such as lacerations are the most common injuries in surfing. Overuse injuries in the shoulder, lower back and neck area are becoming more common and have been suggested to be associated with the repetitive arm stroke action during board paddling. Further research is needed in all areas of surfing performance in order to gain an understanding of the sport and eventually to bring surfing to the next level of performance.


  1. 1.
    Frisby R. Surfing injuries in Otago and Southland, New Zealand. Research summary [online]. Available from URL: [Accessed 2003 Jun 25]
  2. 2.
    Kampion D, Brown B. Stoked: a history of surf culture. Los Angeles (CA): General Publishing Group Inc., 1997Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) [online]. Available from URL: [Accessed 2003 Mar 12]
  4. 4.
    World Championship Tour 2003 personal profiles. Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) [online]. Available form URL: http://www.aspworldtour/ [Accessed 2003 Mar 12]
  5. 5.
    International Surfing Federation 2003 World Surfing Games [online]. Available from URL: [Accessed 2003 Mar 12]
  6. 6.
    Lowdon BJ. Fitness requirements for surfing. Sports Coach 1983; 6: 35–8Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Meir RA, Lowdon BJ, Davie AJ. Heart rates and estimated energy expenditure during recreational surfing. Aust J Sci Med Sport 1991; 23: 70–4Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Mendez-Villanueva JA, Bishop D, Hamer P. Activity patterns of elite surfing competition [abstract]. J Sci Med Sport 2003; 6 Suppl.: 11Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Lowdon BJ, Bedi JF, Horvath SM. Specificity of aerobic fitness testing of surfers. Aust J Sci Med Sport 1989; 21: 7–10Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Lowdon BJ. The somatotype of international surfboard riders. Aust J Sports Med 1980; 12: 34–9Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Felder JM, Burke LM, Lowdon BJ, et al. Nutritional practices of elite female surfers during training and competition. Int J Sports Nutr 1998; 8: 36–48Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Mazza JC, Ackland TR, Bach TM, et al. Absolute body size. In: Carter JEL, Ackland TR, editors. Kinanthropometry in aquatic sports: a study of world class athletes. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 1994: 15–54Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Hayes KC. Biomechanics of postural control. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 1982; 10: 363–91PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Renneker M. Surfing: the sport and the life style. Phys Sportsmed 1987; 15: 156–62Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Lowdon BJ, Pateman NA. Physiological parameters of international surfers. Aust J Sports Med 1980; 12: 30–3Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Carter JEL, Marfell-Jones MJ. Somatotypes. In: Carter JEL, Ackland TR, editors. Kinanthropometry in aquatic sports: a study of world class athletes. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics, 1994: 55–82Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Franklin BA. Exercise testing, training and arm ergometry. Sports Med 1985; 2: 100–19PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Sawka MN. Physiology of upper body exercise. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 1986; 14: 175–211PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Pendergast DR. Cardiovascular, respiratory, and metabolic responses to upper body exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1989; 21 (5 Suppl.): S121–5Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Mendez-Villanueva JA, Perez-Landaluce J, Bishop D, et al. Upper-body aerobic fitness comparison between two groups of competitive surfboard riders. J Sci Med Sport. In pressGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Lowdon BJ, Pateman NA, Pitman AJ. Surfboard-riding injuries. Med J Aust 1983; 2: 613–6PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Lowdon BJ, Pitman AJ, Pateman NA, et al. Injuries to international competitive surfboard riders. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 1987; 27: 57–63PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Stenberg J, Astrand P, Ekblom B, et al. Hemodynamic response to work with different muscle groups sitting and supine. J Appl Physiol 1967; 22: 61–70PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Pendergast D, Cerretelli P, Rennie DW. Aerobic and glycolytic metabolism in arm exercise. J Appl Physiol 1979; 47: 754–60PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Sawka MN, Foley ME, Pimental NA, et al. Determination of maximal aerobic power during upper-body exercise. J Appl Physiol 1983; 54: 113–7PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Aminoff T, Smolander J, Korhonen O, et al. Cardiorespiratory and subjective responses to prolonged arm and leg exercise in healthy young and older men. Eur J Appl Physiol 1997; 75: 363–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Kang J, Robertson RJ, Goss FL, et al. Metabolic efficiency during arm and leg exercise at the same relative intensities. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1997; 29: 377–82PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Schneider DA, Sedlock DA, Gass E, et al. V̇O2peak and the gas-exchange anaerobic threshold during incremental arm cranking in able-bodied and paraplegic men. Eur J Appl Physiol 1999; 80: 292–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Rotstein A, Meckel Y. Estimation of %V̇O2 reserve from heart rate during arm exercise and running. Eur J Appl Physiol 2000; 83: 545–50PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Taylor SA, Batterham AM. The reproducibility of estimates of critical power and anaerobic work capacity in upper-body exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol 2002; 87: 43–9PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Schneider DA, Wing AN, Morris NR. Oxygen uptake and heart rate kinetics during heavy exercise: a comparison between arm cranking and leg cycling. Eur J Appl Physiol 2002; 88: 100–6PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Koppo K, Bouckaert J, Jones AM. Oxygen uptake kinetics during high-intensity arm and leg exercise. Respir Physiol Neurobiol 2002; 133: 241–50PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Bernard T, Gavarry O, Bermon S, et al. Relationships between oxygen consumption and heart rate in transitory and steady states of exercise and during recovery: influence of type of exercise. Eur J Appl Physiol 1997; 75: 170–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Swaine IL. Cardiopulmonary responses to exercise in swimmer using a swim bench and a leg-kicking ergometer. Int J Sports Med 1997; 18: 359–62PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Morton DP, Gastin PB. Effect of high intensity board training on upper body anaerobic capacity and short-lasting exercise performance. Aust J Sci Med Sport 1997; 29: 17–21PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Swaine IL, Winter EM. Comparison of cardiopulmonary responses to two types of dry-land upper-body exercise testing modes in competitive swimmers. Eur J Appl Physiol 1999; 80: 588–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Konstantaki M, Swaine IL. Lactate and cardiopulmonary responses to simulated arm-pulling and leg-kicking in collegiate and recreational swimmers. Int J Sports Med 1999; 20: 118–21PubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Foss ML, Keteyian SJ. Fox’s physiological basis for exercise and sport. 6th ed. Boston (MA): WCB McGraw-Hill, 1993: 72–103Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Foss ML, Keteyian SJ. Fox’s physiological basis for exercise and sport. 6th ed. Boston (MA): WCB McGraw-Hill, 1993: 581–8Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Bishop D, Jenkins DG, Mackinnon LT. The relationship between plasma lactate parameters, Wpeak and 1-h cycling performance in women. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1998; 30: 1270–5PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Nicholson RM, Sleivert GG. Indices of lactate threshold and their relationship with 10km running velocity. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2001; 33: 339–42PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. 42.
    Bogdanis GC, Nevill ME, Boobis LH, et al. Contribution of phosphocreatine and aerobic metabolism to energy supply during repeated sprint exercise. J Appl Physiol 1996; 80: 876–84PubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Lowdon BJ, Patrick J, Ross K. Manoeuvres used and judges’ scores in an international surfing contest. Summary Report. Belconnen (ACT): Australian Sports Commission, 1996Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Karlsson J, Bonde-Petersen F, Henriksson J, et al. Effects of previous exercise with arms or legs on metabolism and performance in exhaustive exercise. J Appl Physiol 1975; 38: 763–7PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Yates JW, Gladden L, Cresanta MK. Effects of prior dynamic leg exercise on static effort of the elbow flexors. J Appl Physiol 1983; 55: 891–6PubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Bogdanis GC, Nevill ME, Lakomy HKA. Effects of previous dynamic arm exercise on power output during repeated maximal sprint cycling. J Sports Sci 1994; 12: 363–70PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Nordsborg N, Mohr M, Pedersen LD, et al. Muscle interstitial potassium kinetics during intense exhaustive exercise: effect of previous arm exercise. Am J Physiol 2003; 285: R143–8Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Paavolainen L, Häkkinen K, Hamalainen I, et al. Explosive-strength training improves 5km running time by improving running economy and muscle power. J Appl Physiol 1999; 86: 1527–33PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Hawley JA, Williams MM, Vickovic MM, et al. Muscle power predicts freestyle swimming performance. Br J Sports Med 1992; 26: 151–5PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Bishop D. Physiological predictors of flat-water kayak performance in women. Eur J Appl Physiol 2000; 82: 91–7PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Coopoo Y, Patterson D. Fitness profiles for elite South African surfers [abstract]. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2001; 33 Suppl.: S136Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Bangsbo J. The physiology of soccer: with special reference to intense intermittent exercise. Acta Physiol Scand 1994, 151 Suppl 619Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    American College of Sports Medicine position stand. The recommended quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, and flexibility in adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1998; 30: 975–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Docherty D. A comparison of heart rate responses in racquet games. Br J Sports Med 1982; 16: 96–100PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    Leveritt M, Abernethy PJ, Barry BK, et al. Concurrent strength and endurance training. Sports Med 1999; 28: 413–27PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Newton RU, Jones J, Kraemer WJ, et al. Strength and power training of Australian Olympic swimmers. Strength Cond J 2000; 24: 7–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Kennedy M, Vanderfield G, Huntley R. Surfcraft injuries. Aust J Sports Med 1975; 7: 53–4Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Allen RH, Eiseman B, Straehley CJ, et al. Surfing injuries at Waikiki. JAMA 1977; 237: 668–70PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. 59.
    Barry SW, Kleinig BJ, Brophy T. Surfing injuries. Aust J Sports Med 1982; 14: 9–11Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Nathanson A, Haynes P, Galanis D. Surfing injuries. Am J Emerg Med 2002; 20: 155–60PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. 61.
    Plag MN, Spiros MK, Adams LM, et al. Characterisation of NSW Institute of Sport surfing scholarship holders [abstract]. 5th IOC World Congress on Sport Sciences; 1999 Oct-Nov; SydneyGoogle Scholar
  62. 62.
    Kenal KAF, Knapp LD. Rehabilitation of injuries in competitive swimmers. Sports Med 1996; 22: 337–47PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Human Movement and Exercise ScienceThe University of Western AustraliaCrawley, PerthAustralia

Personalised recommendations