All about IT
Surfing as a sport has seen a rapid growth in popularity since the 1960s. On any given day along San Diego County’s 70 miles of coastline, thousands of surfers may be spotted in the ocean, riding waves or patiently waiting for their next ride.
While most would agree that they surf for the pure enjoyment of catching waves, a new study at California State University, San Marcos (CSUSM) seeks to further substantiate the sport of surfing as a dynamic physical workout.
“Studies have been recently conducted with professional surfers in competition but there is limited research on the average person who surfs recreationally,” said Sean Newcomer, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology. “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.”
While the concept of surfing appears simple – all you technically need is a wave and a surfboard – anyone who has attempted surfing knows that the reality is much more complex.
Physically speaking, surfers are essentially strong swimmers with a keen sense of balance. Stamina and upper body strength are crucial in order to paddle from the shore through breaking waves to reach the surf line.
Once there, surfers wait on their boards and then paddle intensely when a quality wave presents itself. As the wave peaks, a surfer must pop up rapidly and smoothly to his or her feet from a lying down position, balancing in a fluid upright position as they glide on the breaking wave toward the shore.
“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 said.
Students Ride a Wave of Research
The research project is part of Newcomer’s course, Introductory Exercise Physiology 326. Fifteen students who took the course during fall semester are now interns on the project, mentoring the forty students who are currently in the class. The students are responsible for every aspect of the research protocol, which includes both laboratory and field work.
“Last semester’s students are helping to teach this semester’s students how to use the lab equipment while advising and training them,” Newcomer said. “This is a terrific opportunity for the more experienced students to take on a leadership role while allowing the current students to apply what they are learning in the classroom to a real-world project. And the added benefit is the outreach to the community in the recruitment of surfers to participate in the study.”
Students meet research participants at the beach to outfit them with waterproof heart rate monitors that are synchronized to a video camera filming them while they are in the ocean.
“I help analyze the data to match up the heart rate of the surfer to the activity that they are doing in the water – paddling, riding waves, sitting stationary on the board or a miscellaneous activity,” senior kinesiology major Alyzza DeMesa said. “We also record their maximum and minimum heart rates and how much time they spent in the water doing each activity.”
Hands on Laboratory Experiments Delve into Surf Fitness
In the laboratory, research participants take part in a number of activities that test their anaerobic and aerobic fitness levels. Using a Biodex isokinetic machine, which applies computer-controlled resistance, students assess the strength of the subject’s quadriceps and hamstrings. This test will help them determine the role of leg strength in a surfer’s stance and balance.
“I get them all strapped up and make sure that they’re completely snug but comfortable,” said kinesiology major Erik Tolentino, who also plans to graduate this May. “I line up their knee with the machine and then also check for any internal or external leg rotation by having them do a couple of practice kicks. This is important because if their knee is not properly aligned with the machine, there is risk of damaging the ligaments due to the high resistance.”
Students also test the participants’ upper body muscular power and utilization of oxygen using a swim bench customized with a surfboard to simulate paddling.
“With each participant we switch roles,” said Chelsea Peters, a junior kinesiology major. “We are all responsible for informing each participant what they will be doing and why we are performing this particular protocol. During this particular test, one person takes the heart rate every 50 seconds, one person runs the metabolic cart, one person takes down the watts put out by the participant every 10 seconds, one person holds the hose out of the way and everyone cheers the participant on!”
Over the next two years, Newcomer and his students hope to study 600 surfers.
“Many surfers believe that while surfing is fun, it’s not necessarily a viable form of exercise on its own,” Newcomer said. “This information has so far shown that surfing is very beneficial to the cardiovascular system and is a great part of a healthy lifestyle.”
“It’s one thing to learn about the effects of exercise, but it is another to actually see it happening,” said Peters, who is planning to go on to graduate school for her master’s in athletic training and a doctorate in physical therapy. “Actually being able to conduct research has changed the way I learn. I have been able to learn concepts and apply them in the lab. I know what to look for while testing and I am able to point out when something is abnormal. I know a lot of us are now considering going into research because of the opportunities at CSUSM that we have been given.”
Surfers who are interested in participating in the study are encouraged to e-mail email@example.com.
*Contributed by California State University San Marcos.