While surfers have long agreed that their pastime provides for an intense workout in addition to its recreational and psychological rewards, a professor at California State University San Marcos has set out with a team of kinesiology students and interns to quantify the physical benefits of the sport for the average recreational surfer.
"This study gives us an opportunity to consider the physiological benefit of surfing for amateur surfers of all ages and fitness levels, including both men and women," says CSU San Marcos assistant kinesiology professor Sean Newcomer, noting that while limited research has been done in the past on the physical act of surfing, most study subjects have involved male professional athletes.
"Surfing can definitely be considered a form of interval training which combines short, high intensity bursts of speed with a recovery phase, repeated during exercise training," Newcomer explains, likening the pattern of paddling out, waiting for a wave, and expending a burst of activity to catch it to training methods popular with distance-runners seeking to add speed.
Newcomer teaches a 300-level Introductory Exercise Physiology class. He plucked 15 students from the fall course to serve as interns to mentor the current crop of 40 students enrolled. The project is set to continue for two years, during which time Newcomer hopes to study as many as 600 volunteer subjects.
Students first meet study participants at the beach, where they're rigged with a waterproof heart-rate monitor synchronized to a video camera that captures their session in the water. Later, the surfers participate in a lab session, in which they're hooked to an isokinetic machine that measures leg strength via computer-controlled resistance; the aim is to establish a connection between leg strength and a surfer's stance and balance on a board.
"Many surfers believe that while surfing is fun, it's not necessarily a viable form of exercise on its own," says Newcomer. "This information has so far shown that surfing is very beneficial to the cardiovascular system and is a great part of a healthy lifestyle."