Have you hung up your wetsuit?

A recent sports report found that surfing was continuing to strengthen its development and seemed to be popular amongst both males and females, all age groups, and across different geographical locations. The report also found that , over two million people had actively participated in the sport on Australian coastlines alone.  First generation of surfers are stepping into middle and older ages now and despite the large number of participants worldwide, only a few scientific studies have focused on surfing. No information is available on the impact of long-term participation in surfing on fitness, health and wellbeing of older surfers.

Surfing has several key physiological aspects. Paddling out in the surf, for instance, requires aerobic power, anaerobic power, intermittent endurance and strength and power of the upper body.

Riding the waves requires balance, force development, flexibility, reaction time and coordination of the lower body,especially when a shark is near. It is therefore thought  that older surfers who surf regularly exhibit neuromuscular traits that differ from aged-matched non-exercising population groups or those who participate in other types of physical activity.

In a recent study, a group of age-matched and physically active men (n = 11) were recruited as the control group. The variables measured included maximal isometric voluntary contraction force, rate of force, steadiness in muscle force in knee extensors and flexors, and ankle dorsi- and plantarflexors, joint position sense, and body sway in standing position under four different conditions: eyes open or closed and on a hard or soft surface. The results indicated that older surfers had significantly lower muscle force fluctuations than the control subjects in the steadiness tests. The surfers also showed less postural sway in the standing position with eyes closed and on soft surface. This suggests that long-term recreational surfing may cause specific adaptations that benefit participants by maintaining or improving their neuromuscular function, which would ultimately lead to improved quality of life.Yay 

Previous reports have repeatedly indicated that regular participation in physical exercise can slow down or even reverse the age related decline in muscular strength and power . A possible explanation of our findings might be that the regular exercise (walking, cycling, swimming, 2–3 times per week) taken  benefited these individuals, in a similar way as the surfing did for the surfers. Surfing does not require repeated exertion of maximal force by the lower limbs, but rapid responses to wave changes. Another study found that only approximately 5% of an entire surfing session was spent on wave riding. So, if each of the older surfers surfed an average of 7.5 ± 2.8 hours per week, one could predict that only around 15–30 minutes were spent riding waves each week.

So it may be that during a recreational surfing session, only limited occasions arise to exert high intensity contractions and utilize explosive muscle force (during the take off) in the lower limbs. Surfing would require a high level of upper body muscle strength and endurance in paddling out for the surf. Surfing requires rapid adjustment of muscular force in response to wave changes. Therefore, it was hypothesized that surfers would exhibit a better ability in control of muscle force as an adaptation in the neuromuscular system. Muscle steadiness has been used as an indicator of the ability to control muscles . Assessment of muscle steadiness is normally done when participants hold a certain sub maximal level of force against a given target level, in either static or dynamic contractions. Some previous studies have demonstrated that resistance training may improve steadiness in dynamic contractions but not in isometric contractions.

The results support the hypothesis that long-term participation in surfing would improve the ability to control force, and the difference between the SURF and CONT groups were seen in isometric contractions. It was interesting to see that greater differences between the two groups were found at the higher force level (25% of MVC). Whether or not this was related to specific adaptations to the force level that was normally used in surfing requires further study. It has been speculated that at least four factors in motor control would affect muscle steadiness. These include the average force produced by motor units, the pattern of coactivation by the agonist and antagonist muscle, the amount of motor unit synchronization  and the motor unit discharge rate variability.

Even though many studies have shown that taking part in regular physical exercise may slow down or even reverse the age-related decline in neuromuscular function, only a few have investigated the effects of exercise on proprioception in older people, particularly the effects of different types of exercise interventions. One study found that long-term participation in Tai Chi not only resulted in better ankle and knee joint proprioception than in sedentary controls, but also better ankle joint proprioception than regular swimmers and runners. The results of the present investigation further support these findings. When riding waves, one is shuffling up or down along the surfboard, or even side to side (mediolateral) with knee and ankle joint angles being continually adjusted to maintain balance, especially when riding a long board. When executed correctly, the movements of surfboard riding ought to be fluent and precise for the exactness of joint angle, and body position are of utmost importance when performing maneuvers with maximal power and precision. As with Tai Chi, surfing requires an acute awareness of body position and movement . It was therefore logical to expect that the practice of surfing would have benefits to proprioception. In this study, all the members of the CONT group took part in regular physical activity, including cycling, walking or swimming. However, surfing appears to cause unique adaptations that result in better performance in some of the postural control tests, particularly when eyes were closed and standing on a soft surface .The results also indicated that the older surfers were able to correct their postural sway more rapidly whilst standing on a soft surface with their eyes open and closed . Under these conditions, the demand for proprioceptive feedback of the ankle joint increased significantly. The differences between the two groups indicated that the surfers were faster at reacting to postural sway when sensory feedback was compromised. Finally, it was found that both the older surfers and the age-matched controls had a mean body mass index of over 25. Previous studies have looked at the physiological parameters and somatotype of international surfboard riders. These studies reported that elite surfers (both male and female) carried significantly less fat and more muscle mass than the average college male and female. However, male surfers exhibited more body fat than top athletes in most other individual sports as did female surfers. It has been suggested that extreme leanness offers no particular advantage from a performance perspective as the surfers’ body weight buoyed while paddling the board, yet excessive body fat may inhibit riding balance and agility.

I am here to help and encourage you to revisit the idea of getting back into the water. . My mission is to provide myotherapy wellness services, so people can enjoy the ocean, lead happier and healthier lives. So if you have hung up your wetsuit and thought you were done, please reconsider the benefits of keeping involved with the sport.

1.(Mendez-Villanueva & Bishop 2005)
2.(The Sweeney Sports Report for the year 2004/2005 )
3.EFFECTS OF LONG-TERM RECREATIONAL SURFING ON CONTROL OF FORCE AND POSTURE IN OLDER SURFERS: A PRELIMINARY INVESTIGATION Martin Frank, Shi Zhou, Pedro Bezerra, Zachary Crowley School of Health and Human Sciences, Southern Cross University, New South Wales, AUSTRALIA
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