If you’ve ever met a surfer, you probably already have a pretty good insight into the health-giving effects of this exhilarating sport. Many surfers don’t look their age – and they often have a youthful exuberance and a positive view of life that’s backed by seemingly effortless strength, poise and athleticism in the water.
While it may not be the easiest sport to pick up, persevere and you’ll find that surfing is a tremendous way of getting fit and staying healthy. On a purely physical level, it’s a highly effective workout for your entire body, combining upper-body strength and endurance training as you paddle through the waves, with lower-body exercise as you engage your leg muscles to guide the board once you are up. It’s also great for strengthening your core, as you adapt to the constantly changing movement and height of the waves.
Like many other water-based exercises, this is also a fantastic cardiovascular workout that will keep your heart pumping at full pace for as long as you’re in the water. On average you’ll burn around 400 calories an hour while surfing – and unlike that often-torturous hour spent slogging away at the gym, time seems to speed up while you’re paddling your way to cloud nine, making this a fun and euphoric way to get in shape.
For Dubai resident and surfing fanatic Nathan Banks, surfing is the perfect antidote to a high-powered corporate job. He’s been surfing for 35 years, and as he explains, it’s both a physical and a creative pursuit. “Although strength, agility, responsiveness and flexibility are key, surfing is just as much about reading a wave, technique, timing and drawing individual lines (a wave is often referred to as the surfer’s blank canvas) – so individual style and creativeness also come into play.”
Yet surfing is more than just physical, and for many of its avid followers, it’s actually a transcendent, near-spiritual experience. Being able to commune so closely with nature while playing right above the ocean’s mysterious depths is a major drawcard – and there’s also the enjoyable sensation of time standing still, as well as a meditative quality to the rolling waves and the repetitive movements. “In terms of mental benefits, the ocean is a different world, and an environment far removed from the bustle of everyday life, so it’s a great way to disengage and clear the mind,” says Banks.
For Scott Chambers, the Brazilian founder and CEO of Surf House, one of Dubai’s popular surf schools, the attraction is simple: “It’s a sport that allows you to switch off mentally – and that can be very valuable when life gets busy. The ocean has a way of teaching you things about life and yourself.”
This intensely physical sport is not without risk – and out in the ocean, the most obvious one is drowning, although because your board is an excellent flotation device, it’s an unlikely occurrence. More common injuries generally involve surfboards (being hit by either your own or someone else’s), or coming into contact with the seabed or reef. Take your time, start off small and train with an instructor, and you’ll minimise any risk and get the most out of your experience.
If you can find somewhere quiet and away from the crowds, the UAE is a good place to learn. You’ll only need a board and leg rope (a leash), and possibly a wetsuit if you catch cold easily – and there’s a good range of foam/soft boards available for beginners, which are relatively easy to stand up on.
The waves here are often easy beach breaks and not too big, and there are a few surf schools in the region offering lessons, including Surf House (www.surfingdubai.com) and Wadi Adventure in Al Ain (www.wadiadventure.ae) where you can learn safely in a surf pool.
Once you’re up and running, a prime spot to check out is Sunset Beach (Umm Suqeim Open Beach), next to the Burj Al Arab, which gets the best of the swell coming through the Gulf. Otherwise, the world is your oyster, and there are plenty of prime spots just a flight away, from the islands of the South Pacific (such as Tahiti, Hawaii and Fiji), to Indonesia and the Maldives.
5 top destinations to catch good waves
Kandui Villas, Indonesia
This luxury surf resort is located in one of the world’s prime surfing hotspots – Indonesia’s playground of the Mentawai Islands. World-class waves make it a dream destination for scoring the best waves of your life – and the resort itself offers luxury in pristine natural surroundings.
Soul & Surf, Kerala
This colourful retreat is the first in India to offer surfing tuition from professional teachers, and its shallow, uncrowded waves are ideal for beginners (though there are also a few great breaks off Varkala and the nearby coast). The resort offers “barefoot chic”-style accommodation with stunning surfing imagery and antique furniture, and is surrounded by palm trees on red cliffs high above the Arabian Sea.
Tropicsurf, Four Seasons Kuda Huraa, Maldives
Surfers who’ve been coming here for the past 40 years like to keep quiet about just how good this place is – but the secret is out. High-end company Tropicsurf’s flagship resort is located on the island of Kuda Huraa, where beginners can learn in a warm lagoon before being taken out to the best breaks for coaching clinics, while experienced surfers can take on Sultans, Honkies and Cokes, popular with the world’s greats.
Ocean Soul Retreat, Bali
Southern Uluwatu has some of the world’s most awesome breaks, and the nearby Ocean Soul Retreat offers a gentle, holistic approach aimed at helping women to achieve inner balance and learn new skills. The resort is tucked away in Seminyak, surrounded by lush tropical walled gardens. Surfing is the main focus, with 10 hours of personalised lessons at the only Balinese-owned surf school in Seminyak, combined with post-breakfast briefings and photo feedback that corrects bad habits.
Surfers Lodge, Portugal
This location offers many excellent surf spots within a small area (Superturbos, on the world pro tour, is the ultimate). The lodge has an easy-going beach vibe, with an eye for stylish Scandinavian-influenced interior design. The surf academy, an hour’s drive from Lisbon, is excellent and renowned for its patient, experienced instructors.