Tuesday, February 17, 2015

8 Ways Yoga Helped Me Learn How To Surf

8 Ways Yoga Helped Me Learn How to Surf

Last May I learned how to surf in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka. What an experience! I loved everything about it. Taking a first surf class with one of the local teachers, sharing a tuk-tuk with a surf buddy to reach the different surf spots while enjoying the beautiful landscapes, spending hours and hours surfing every day and hanging out day and night with friends from all around the world. What can I say, it was amazing.

Yes, I had a wonderful life in Arugam Bay, and after three months of surfing, I was finally able to say that I learned how to surf.

Of course, I'm still a beginner, I have so much to learn, but to my surprise, some of my friends were actually impressed by the surf skills that I had developed in the short time that I had been surfing.

In less than a month some guys would say "Hey dude, you are a good surfer!" and I would be like "What? Who? Me?"

Yoga Helps to Learn Surfing Faster
Surfing at the "Main Point" in Arugam Bay - just after one month of surfing
Photos by my friend Patrizia of PatriziaGapp.Com

By the end of my stay in Arugam Bay, I had improved quite a lot and developed more confidence so I was finally able to not let the locals steal my waves. Well, that happened just a couple of times and on the easy point breaks like Peanut Farm and Whiskey Point.

The locals are extremely good surfers but they never respect the surf etiquette. You need to be confident and reasonably good to not let them take your wave.

Yoga Helps to Learn Surfing Faster

I believe that this progress was mainly thanks to my yoga practice.

I've talked with other friends that had practiced yoga before learning how to surf, and they all had the same experience. They all believe that yoga definitely helped them to develop their surfing skills.

So I'll share with you, based on my own experience, 8 ways yoga helped me learn how to surf.

8 Ways Yoga Helped Me Learn How to Surf

1. Body Awareness

To learn how to surf you'll need to go through a process of trial and error. You will need to learn from your mistakes to know what to correct in the next wave and for that, you need to be aware of what you are doing and how you are doing it. This is where a good yoga practice can be very beneficial.

When you practice any form of physical yoga you learn to become aware of the position of your body and the way your body moves.

For instance, when you practice an asana like Warrior II you learn to become aware of the position of your feet, your knees, hips, chest, spine, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, and head. This kind of awareness can be easily extended to your surfing experience.

Warrior II
Hung Nguyen in Warrior II

By practicing yoga it will be easier to become aware of the position of your body on the board and the way your body moves while paddling to catch a wave, during the take-off and while riding a wave.

So whenever you get some feedback after missing a wave or being wiped out (you still need the eyes of an expert to guide you) you'll be better prepared to understand what you need to correct in your next try.

2. Coordination and Core Power

While looking at some surf pics that a friend took of me another friend said that I had a good take off. I didn't even know how it would happen but it just happened.

Many times when catching a wave during my first month I would immediately jump on the board on my two feet and then almost right away I would grab the edge of the board to turn right and ride the wave (I'm goofy and all waves in Arugam Bay run right).

I was able to do this easily on different board sizes, 8.2, 7.6, 7.2 and 6.8. It was only when I move to a 6 that I started to struggle during the take-off. I really had to focus on jumping on my two feet. It took me three or four days to finally get it right.

This kind of coordination and agility, I believe, comes from the practice of Surya Namaskar or "Sun Salutations" that are used to warm up the body at the beginning of a hatha yoga practice, and from the vinyasas as practiced in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

During the Sun Salutations, you constantly step back and forward from standing into a lung and then back, and for the vinyasas, you use your core power to lift your body from the ground to float back and to jump through. Both very useful movements for surfing.

My yoga teacher Vijay Kumar demonstrating the jump-back from padmasana

3. Balance

Another surprising thing for me was that whenever I would manage to catch a wave and stand on the board I would feel quite comfortable, even from day one.

I was aware that my body was not very relaxed, you might be able to notice that in the pictures, but still I hardly ever lost my balance, and by the end of my first week I had already started walking on my longboard (size 8.2).

This I'm sure comes from the practice of balancing poses like tree pose, extended hand to big toe pose or Warrior III.

Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose
Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose
by Michelle Hill of AshtangiAngel.blogspot.co.uk

Warrior III variation
Warrior III variation
by Assie Stepien,  Yogassia

Tree pose
Tree pose
by Dario Buratto of DarioBuratto.it

4. Stamina

When I first started surfing in Arugam Bay I would do surf sessions of four hours almost non stop. I was very surprised at my state of fitness cause I had not done any other sports previously, I had only been practicing yoga.

Two months before traveling to Arugam Bay I had been practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga in Mysore for six months. Ashtanga Vinyasa is a very intense form of yoga that can help develop strength and stamina.

But a traditional form of hatha yoga can also help to improve your cardiovascular system and stamina levels not only by doing many rounds of sun salutations but also by holding some strong postures for a longer time.

Just try to hold down dog, chair pose or any Warrior variation for twenty deep breaths and observe how your body feels.

Downward Facing Doga variation
Downward Facing Doga variation
by Assia Stepien, Yogassia

5. Breath Awareness

Breath awareness if of utmost importance in the practice of yoga and it is certainly beneficial in many different situations while learning how to surf.

Whenever you have to face a big set, becoming aware of your breath and letting it become deep, smooth and continuous can certainly help you to remain calm instead of freak out during the situation.

My biggest challenge was to remain calm and cool during a bad surfing day. Whenever I would miss a couple of waves on a row I would lose it and become frustrated.  This in turn just aggravated the problem so I would miss more and more waves.

Whenever this would happen I would try to take a little break, sit on my board and observe my breathing to calm myself down reminding me that it is all good and that I'm just having fun. Then almost like magic, I would be able to catch some good waves again.

Of course, this didn't always work. Sometimes I couldn't find my center again, but sometimes it did work and that's what matters to me.

6. Recovering and Flexibility

During my first couple of weeks, I was surfing with intensity and with almost no breaks. I had never surf in my life so my body became very sore and stiff but after having a good hatha yoga session I would feel a big relief.

Surfing and yoga felt like the perfect combination for my body. Surfing helped to keep my body fit and hatha yoga helped to keep it flexible and to recover for the next session.

I stopped practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga though cause Arugam Bay is extremely hot during the season and because after so much surfing my body didn't need any more intense physical activity.

7. Relaxation

Luckily the waves in the different points near Arugam Bay are usually not that strong which is why this is a great place to learn how to surf. They can look big but they are usually not hollow which means they are not very strong.

If you are wiped out in this circumstances then learning to stay relaxed under the water will help you to conserve some oxygen and to come out with less effort than if you struggle with the wave right from the beginning.

8. Visualization

I've been using the power of visualizations for a long time and in all sorts of situations. I always find them extremely useful. They are really beneficial to help you develop some skills or to attain something that you want to attain.

Simply visualize yourself in the lineup. See yourself performing the way that you would like to perform, paying special attention to the physical sensations and to the emotions that you would like to feel during your surf session.

Julia Maurer of YogaConch.com in Lotus

During my first month, before going to sleep or in the morning before going surfing, for about five or ten minutes I visualized myself catching some nice big waves, surfing them effortlessly and focusing on feeling calm and relaxed.

I did it sometimes in my sitting meditation posture or sometimes I would just stand and act the movements in the privacy of my own room while listening to a fun song on my iPhone to help me get inspired.

You should definitely try this, it is fun and it works like magic.

By the way, even professional athletes do this, so don't feel shy, and I must say that among all these points I've mentioned these visualizations were probably the most powerful technique that I used to learn surfing.

Putting it into practice

If you would like to discover by yourself how yoga can help you to learn surfing, then I think a good way to do that is by booking a surf and yoga retreat.

In a retreat like this, you'll get to practice yoga once or sometimes twice a day.  Little by little you'll be developing the skills I just talked about.

Of course, Sri Lanka is a wonderful country to do just that.  It has perfect sunny weather, paradise beaches, and waves for all levels.

You can visit my article 7 Unique Yoga Retreats in Sri Lanka to find some really awesome options.

The first four retreats are by the beach, on the south coast of Sri Lanka, where you can easily find surf schools and many surfing spots for all levels.

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What is your experience? 

What is your experience? Did you try yoga before learning to surf? Or did you try surfing before practicing yoga? How has yoga influenced your surfing experience? Feel free to share your experience in the comment section below.

If you are interested in surf and yoga photography, or any kind of photography for that matter, you can visit my friend Patrizia Gapp's website PatriziaGapp.com, and also Christine Hewitt website YogicPhotos.Com

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