Surfing is one of the most intense full-body workouts ever conceived. From paddling out (shoulders, back, biceps) to jumping up (legs, arms, core) to duck diving through waves (core, arms, chest, back) to riding waves (legs, glutes, core), catching a wave works the body all over. Stretching out the body in long, fluid movements—and unlike standard gym workouts, these movements are all performed on an unstable board floating on moving water, which requires countless unexpected adjustments. So that’s why surfers are so incredibly fit, as anyone who’s been to a beach to gawk already knows. Take Kelly Slater, for example, he’s got a lean, toned physique, but not one that looks forged over countless hours in an indoor weight room and drinking protein shakes to achieve show muscles. Rather, it’s evolved from balls-out physical activity responding to and improvising with raw nature, the ocean and the wave — it’s fitness with a purpose and goal, which makes it more appealing. And getting that anywhere other than at a beach has been basically impossible—until now.
SurfSET Fitness founder Mike Hartwick played hockey in high school and college, changing up for surfing in the off season, and he loved the rigorous workout, toned form and vitality it gave him. When he moved to Boston and got a grown-up job, the opportunities to surf dropped off precipitously, as did that physique he enjoyed. But there’s a silver lining: his frustration with his landlocked state led him to come up with the concept of a device and a program that approximated the dynamic experience of surfing.
The device is essentially a surfboard that rests on 3 inflated rubber tubes mounted on a stable metal chassis. The board is loosely secured to the chassis, leaving it loose and fluid to the point that simply standing on it requires constant balance and activates the core. Add over 100 different surfing inspired movements the SurfSET team has designed and you can imagine who intense the work out can be; blistering cardio paired with intense isometrics. Two exercise bands linked together are mounted at the top of the board and offer a pretty good approximation of paddling, and can be used for a variety of other arm manoeuvres.
The 30 minute classes are are led by Mike or one his two partners, Bill Ninteau and Sarah Ponn. Drills on the boards are followed by sequences that mimic paddling out, catching a wave, and riding it in. The unsteady foundation of the board means that you’re constantly using your entire body to maintain balance. As a result, the entire class (and instructor) breaks into a sweat 5 minutes in. As in Pilates, dance or yoga, your entire body is activated — but again, with that unstable board pushing it into another zone, beyond the normal gym workout.
Hartwick says, “After I’d spend months surfing I’d feel great, and when it was over I’d go back into the gym and I realized that long, stretched-out, limber feeling is what I wanted, not the big, tense muscles that come from picking up weights and throwing them around. “Nothing’s going to compare to surfing in the ocean,” Hartwick readily acknowledges, “but this system uses a lot of surfing’s full body motion and gives you that same kind of agility and core strength.”
A couple weeks of these classes may do more towards getting a lean body and six-pack than dozens of spinning and abs classes. And after a class there’s a similar sense of well-being and chilled-out happiness similar to how one feels after a day of riding waves.
Now, how about some more shots of Mike demonstrating the SurfSET exercises…shirtless, natch.