Swell Shape


Santa Barbara is home to some world-class surf breaks but is not known for having consistently big surf. Point Conception and the Channel Islands create a very narrow window for swells to sneak past, but when larger northwest swells arrive in winter, the aforementioned breaks come out of hibernation and start to fire! Surfing is all about having fun, and preparation is proportional to the amount of fun you will have. Confidence in your abilities and
knowledge of your limitations will allow you to achieve peak performance and make the most of the outstanding outside sets that finally swing through. Here are some strategies I use with my personal training clients to prepare them for sizable surf.

Cross Train: You need endurance and strength to survive big waves, and like I said before, the surf in Santa Barbara is too inconsistent to rely on surfing as your only gateway to fitness. Gym workouts keep the body in balance but there are plenty of outdoor activities that will have you fit and having fun in the process. surfbreakrentals
Standup paddleboarding (SUP), prone paddling, hiking, kayaking, and mountain biking are just a few favorites. These are all great ways to get a cardiovascular workout and keep training fresh and exciting. We are blessed to have an abundance of beautiful trails and coastline in the area, so why not take advantage of it? Here are a couple of sample cross-training workouts:

SUP Pyramid Sprint Intervals–Timed bursts of high intensity sprint paddling with a low intensity recovery period.
Start with 20 seconds of intense paddling and add 10 seconds each round until you get to 50 seconds. Once at the top of the pyramid, subtract 10 seconds each round until back where you started. Rest for 40 seconds between each interval. This is a great way to get your heart rate up while working the core, shoulders, and legs.

Mountain Bike Climb–Start at the bottom of a steep trail, begin your stopwatch, and ride to the top. Ride back down and stop your watch. Do it again and try to beat your time. The climb is great for building endurance while riding fast downhill forces you to stay focused and make quick decisions!


Practice Holding Your Breath: If you’re going to surf big waves, you WILL get held under from time to time, so first practice holding your breath in the pool. Breath-holding drills train the body to ignore signals from the brain that the body needs air. This can lead to increased confidence and can reduce the risk of panic in hold-down situations. Start by taking a deep breath and go under water. Stay calm and see how long you can stay under. Another good drill is underwater lap swimming. See how far you can go without taking a breath and try to improve your distance each session. (NOTE: NEVER DO THESE EXERCISES WITHOUT SUPERVISION DUE TO RISK OF UNDERWATER BLACKOUT!)

Surf Tip: If you are in a hold-down situation, stay calm. If you panic, your heart rate will skyrocket and you will run out of oxygen a lot quicker. When you come up to the surface, make sure to exhale fully to release the CO2 in your lungs and take a deep breath before the next wave. When the situation gets heavy, I recommend you do as Adam Sandler in “Happy Gilmore” and find your “happy place” to keep calm. Whether it’s visualizing a tiny cowboy riding a tricycle (if you don’t get the Adam Sandler reference, Youtube it!) or simply counting slowly, try to devise a strategy that will keep you from panicking during the turbulence. When I’m being held under, I close my eyes and think of a song with a slow beat—like the beginning of Freebird—to keep me calm.

Yoga: It’s no secret that practicing yoga is a great way to achieve flexibility and mobility through muscles and joints. Yoga is great for surfers because the breath work can help increase lung capacity and the meditation aspects help keep the mind calm and focused. If yoga studios aren’t your cup of tea, or if you’re already an avid yogi looking for a new experience, try a standup paddleboard yoga class!

Rest and Diet: If a big swell is coming, you can prepare by being adequately fueled and rested. Go to bed early and tell your drinking buddies they will have to kill the keg on their own. The early bird catches the worm, so get up early and eat a good breakfast. (My favorite rocket fuel is an acai bowl with Greek yogurt, frozen berries, maca powder, almond butter, banana, goji berries, and hemp granola.)


Get the lowdown before you suit up: Observe the conditions for at least 15 minutes and take note of any hazards such as other water traffic (kayakers, boats, swimmers etc…) rocks, and rip currents. Watch the set patterns and identify if there are any channels that will have you in the lineup with the least amount of effort. Basically, develop a game plan before you paddle out.

That rush of riding a big wave is the unique feeling that every surfer lives for. We wait around all year for those few big swells to hit our coast, so we owe it to ourselves to be ready when they arrive. Being fit, focused, and properly fueled will help you maximize the fun of your session. Know your limitations and don’t put yourself or others in harm’s way if conditions are too big for you. Respect the power of the ocean, and use these strategies to help prepare for what the sea sends your way. And always remember—pray for surf!

Kevin Long

Surfing since the age of five, Kevin Long is a surf, SUP, and paddle surf instructor for SB Fitness Tours. With an Associates Degree in Exercise Science, he’s also a Certified Health and Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and has been working as a fitness professional for over seven years.

SB Fitness Tours is the area’s premiere guide and rental service with surfing, kayaking, mountain biking, road cycling, hiking, paragliding, and kite boarding included among their outdoor offerings.
For more information, visit: santabarbarafitnesstours.com

Photo credits, from top: Marc Muench;
globalyodel.com; SB Fitness Tours

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