Getting in shape for winter surfing

Not many surfers in Southern California will be sorry to see this summer end. With the coldest water and the smallest, windiest, most crowded surf on record, it was hard to find much to celebrate this season. Of course there were those 2- to 3-foot glassy days with a few friends out, but those were all too rare this year. While nonsurfers will never understand this, winter is really the best season for surfers. Of course the water can be numbingly cold, but the crowds are thinner and the waves generally a lot bigger.
In a way late September is like Jan. 1 for surfers, a time when we vow that we will get in shape for waves that will be more demanding. Many surfers will order winter guns, boards that won’t come to life until the surf is well over 10 feet, tested on an annual pilgrimage to Oahu’s North Shore, or maybe something within driving distance like Todos Santos or Maverick’s, or those twice in a decade days that hit North County. A new wetsuit may also be in order.
Equipment aside, one of the most important things a surfer can do is build up their lung capacity, stamina, flexibility and paddling strength. For some this means time spent in the gym or the pool. For others, stroking for miles on paddleboards is a better call. Over the past few years paddleboards have caught on to the point that it is not uncommon to see tight packs of a dozen or more paddlers, steadily moving parallel to Coast Highway in a similar fashion to bicycle racers. What you won’t see from shore is the length (between 12 and 16 feet) and the sleek lines of paddleboards. For a closer look, I would recommend walking into Patagonia and looking up to see the works of Palos Verdes resident Joe Bark, or that of our own Brian Syzmanski, whose boards often cross the line first, with Brian aboard.
My No. 1 goal prior to December is to burn off some fat, something that keeps the body warm, but is of no help when pushing through nonstop sets intent on knocking all that extra flab back to shore. And so I am once again off to my kickboxing class, running stairs and eating better and less. All of this, of course, is counterintuitive as colder days end earlier and I want nothing more than to curl up for an extra hour and slug down comfort foods.
Rewards of winter, however, are not for the soft or the lazy. They come slowly but surely, a payoff for all that sacrifice. It feels good to slide into a fullsuit without it widening in the middle. It feels even better paddling outside without breathing hard. Best of all is the feeling of sliding into a gun-barrel gray, six-foot north-west set wave, dropping to the bottom making that first turn and knowing that your legs and arms will hold out for the entire session. Go ahead; snag another. You’ve earned it.

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