Words by Ali Klinkenberg | All photos by Mark Onorati
Training for surfing’s been the subject of scrutiny for the duration of its existence. It’s certainly necessary for elite surfers, for whom any slight advantage over an opponent yields itself in a victory, but we’re not worried about them. We’re concerned with the everyman. You and I, members of the great unwashed who surf for fun. We have limited time in the water, and quite frankly, more things to worry about than just surfing to the best of our ability. Apparently in some, shall we say, more ‘formal’ workplaces, they have what’re called ‘mental health days.’ I decided to introduce this concept to Stab HQ, and being not of sound mental health to begin with, concluded that waking up at five in the morning and driving to surf boot camp in the middle of winter was just what I needed. Luckily, the training was with former pro Luke Stedman’s surf-specific Smile High Club, and it was just what Dr Feelgood ordered.
“Surfing well comes with confidence,” says Mr Stedman. “And confidence comes from past success.” Basically, if you feel strong and versed in a certain movement, you’re going to be confident that you’ll be able to do it again. It sounds so simple, but when you break it down, it’s prolific. In surfing crappy, crowded breachbreaks on a regular basis, like most of us do, there’s so many variables that can prevent us from surfing the way we want. Closeouts, people in the way, inconsistency of shape. If you watch exceptional surfers in mush, it’s astonishing how precise and consistent they are within their movements. This ability comes from being repeatedly versed in those movements. Whether from coaching, or just from drilling themselves, studying and repeating the same movements day after day. The Smile High Club training regime on land is tailored to mimic the movements that we should be repeating in the surf.
Steds, ironing out the kinks of life.
“Fundamentally, it’s Chek training,” says Steds. “The movements are dynamic and multi-directional on non-stable surfaces, which is surfing in a nutshell. I developed the surf-specific techniques with Jan Cartons who’s one of the trainers I used to train with at Chek Australia. She’s my mentor in lots of ways.” Luke continues, “It’s about technique and posture, and about understanding how your body works. And the beauty with what we do at Smile High is that it can be applied to everything; whether it’s surfing or just sitting at a desk.”
The movements that we practiced in my brief foray into the world of rising early and engaging in strenuous activity, included snaking heavy ship rope whilst standing on half an exercise ball (totally harder than it looks), paddling exercises, squats, dynamic stretching, and more. The great thing about it being surf-specific, and looking at the surf whilst you’re doing it, is that it’s really easy to relate.
Twice a week the group, which is made up of a smattering of gents from the Northern beaches of various ages and stages, cut their sessions short and just go and surf, with a former world tour surfer as their observant coach. I ask Luke if it’s easier to improve your surfing if you’re at a more basic level than if you’re already a competent surfer. “Not necessarily,” is his surprising response. “You often find that very small adjustments in competent surfers make a big difference, and that as a result they improve very quickly.” It brings up the question of what exactly you’re trying to do with your surfing. It’s all about fun, right? “Absolutely. My aim is to improve strength, mobility, and then surfing ability. For recreational surfers, it’s all about enjoying themselves. But hey, being good at something’s definitely more fun.”
This is most definitely not the author.
Breathing is something that’s constantly on the agenda at the Smile High Club. Steds is big on breathing. The gasp of choice is Diaphragmatic. “Breathing’s the most powerful movement in the body. Watch a baby lying on their back breathing. Their stomachs rise and fall as they breathe into their bellies, rib-cages, and chests. That’s how we should breathe, but as we get older, we get lazy and only breathe into our chests. Correct breathing increases the level of O2 circulating the body, which is crucial for training, decreasing stress and anxiety, and it’s crucial for surfing too!” I’m usually too busy trying to get a wave to myself and avoiding running anyone over to worry about breathing when I’m on a wave, but Mr Stedman has a theory. “There’s no difference between breathing when you’re in the surf and breathing when you’re doing a dynamic exercise on land. When you perform a movement on land you breathe to allow yourself to perform the movement with power and recover quickly. You should inhale deeply into your stomach through your nose on your bottom turn, and exhale sharply through your mouth on your top turn. It’s crucial for performing turns with power, and also for recovering quickly before moving onto the next turn. You wonder why you do three turns and then mistime that end section hit? It’s probably because you’ve not taken a breath the whole wave and you’re totally puffed!”
It was all frustratingly logical, so I decided to throw the predictably pious curveball of two infamous non-trainers named Dane and John. “Ah, they’ve both got such unique techniques and styles, I personally wouldn’t know where to begin with them,” grinned Steds. “Part of their talent is that they’re so in-tune with the movements of their bodies; it’s just a natural awareness that some athletes have. But, there’s always room for improvement, and training helps in all walks of life, not just surfing. And neither’s won a world title yet have they?” Touché Steds, you marvellous ray of sunshine.
If you’re in the vicinity and you feel like shedding the blubber and shredding in rubber then find the Smile High Club through Instagram, here.
Playing catch with Mr Stedman is as fine a way to start the day as any.