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Waterspot: On your surfboard, it pays to be flexible

When I began surfing in 1962, fiberglass and foam surfboards were just beginning to free us from the shackles of the straight line.

Boards then were often double-glassed with 10-ounce cloth and weighed as much as 35 pounds. You would think about turning, lean over and a few minutes later your board would respond, leaving you with the next problem, cutting back.

Now, there are surfers who mastered those heavy boards (I refuse to call them “logs”) but most of us simply suffered through the process. Some suffering, right?

Foam proved a great weight reduction from wood that went back to surfing’s genesis and those redwood planks, which weighed in at around 80 pounds and could cripple an unsuspecting rider.

In a mere 20 years, surfing had gone from the “stand tall and do nothing at all,” domain of mostly muscular men, to a water ballet requiring more fineness than brute strength.

By the mid ’60s, boards had shed another 10 pounds, leading to harder turns, bigger cutbacks and a move we called the “rollercoaster,” which was the precursor of today’s far more radical off the lip.

By the late ’60s, boards were shorter and were tipping the scale at less than 8 pounds. This led to a whole new type of surfing, concentrating on closeness to the curl, maneuverability and speed.

Eventually shortboards quit growing at around 6 feet, sprouted more fins and weighed less than a high schooler’s backpack.

Currently, our sport is divided into several camps: Big wave surfing, which now begins where it once ended, at around 25 feet; shortboarding, which is based around sharp direction changes, tubes and aerials; and traditional longboarding, where style, flow and noseriding are paramount.

Regardless of the discipline you choose to follow, it will require endurance strength and flexibility. While an adequate amount of endurance and strength can be garnered simply through surfing, flexibility nearly always requires some extracurricular work.

In 1969, I was about to move to Maui for the winter when my brother, Dave, came home with a 28-day yoga plan.  I followed each step carefully for the prescribed four weeks and at the conclusion was far more agile than I had been.

This would prove beneficial for the waves I was about to attempt riding. Not only could I duck and cover quicker, but being able to twist and flex at will led to me remaining injury-free that entire demanding winter.

Longboard surfer Haley Otto illustrates the point about flexibility where her slinky style is beginning to make an international splash. I have never met Miss Otto and have no idea if she has ever attended a yoga class. But I can tell by the videos I’ve watched that she is extremely flexible.

You may never surf at her level, but you will need to learn to stretch if you hope to surf your best.

Flexibility is even more important for older surfers like Kelly Slater, who after living nearly half a century, remains a threat to whomever is brave enough to face him in competition.

While each of surfing’s various forms require elasticity of movement, shortboarding, like that done by the aforementioned Slater and young(er) guns like John John Florence, Stephanie Gilmore and Carissa Moore, will bend the flexible and break the rigid. 

Take my advice: Getting loose will help you surf better in your early years and add injury-free decades to your surfing life.

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