How Yoga Helped Me Surf My Way To A World Record

Written by Garrett McNamara

About 25 years ago, following a major back injury, I took a yoga class, thinking it would help my flexibility. I still remember how I felt walking out of that Vinyasa class. I was walking straight and had a smile on my face. From that time on, I practiced regularly. What I soon discovered is that the practice of yoga made me a better surfer, too.

The number one benefit of yoga is that it improved my focus. In surfing, especially big wave surfing, focus is everything. When you lose focus, you’re in danger of injuring yourself. In fact, if the only benefit of yoga was to improve focus, that would be reason enough for every surfer to practice.

But yoga offers so much more. Another great benefit it provides is flexibility. When you lack flexibility, you fatigue much quicker. The increased flexibility from yoga enables me to surf longer without getting tired or injured.

Another benefit is improved balance. Many times, the wave tries to buck you off and you have to recover quickly. Balance is the key and there is no question my balance has improved since incorporating yoga into my life. Yoga has also taught me about limits — my limits. In big wave surfing, the consequences can be pretty severe if you don’t know your own limits.

About five years ago, I started practicing Bikram. I’ve become incredibly dedicated to hot yoga. I like Bikram because not only do I sweat a lot, but it provides a combination of strength training, flexibility and discipline that are essential in surfing. Additionally, one of the core tenets of Bikram is that if you can’t keep smiling during the poses, back off. That philosophy goes beyond yoga; it’s a great philosophy for life.

Yoga is an incredible source of energy for me, however I don’t neglect my body’s practical energy needs. When you are surfing for hours, the sun and water can deplete your body of energy and fluid pretty quickly. I pay a great deal of attention to hydration. I probably drink more water than any other surfer. For me, hydration is critical.

Becoming a better surfer is no different than setting any life goal. First, you should write down what you want to achieve. Second, create a map of what you need to do. This requires research on your part, and after you’ve done the research it requires patience. If you want to become a master of anything, it is estimated you have to put in 10,000 hours into your passion over 10 years. That’s four hours a day. The third thing is work on smiling all day, every day. I am a great believer in the philosophy of Bob Meistrell, the founder of Body Glove: Do what you love and love what you do.

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