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CSUSM Looks at Recreational Surfing as Viable Form of Fitness

Undergraduate research findings will confirm that surfing is a positive form of cardiovascular exercise

SAN MARCOS, Calif., April 10, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- 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.

A research participant simulates paddling on a swim bench modified with a surfboard. Undergraduate students at Cal State San Marcos are studying the benefits of recreational surfing as a form of exercise.

"Studies have been recently conducted with professional surfers in competition but there is limited research on the average person who surfs recreationally," said Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Sean Newcomer. "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," said Newcomer.

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," said Newcomer. "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," said senior kinesiology major Alyzza DeMesa. "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," said Newcomer. "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 protected].

About California State University San Marcos
California State University San Marcos combines the ambiance of a mid-sized, personal, modern campus with the unequaled value of the California State University. Since its founding in 1989, the campus has distinguished itself. Students benefit from the latest facilities and equipment, a superb faculty that enjoys teaching, and a rigorous academic program that prepares students for a successful life in and out of the workplace. A recent survey reported that our annual spending in the region was $161 million, generating a total impact of $307 million on the regional economy. Eighty-five percent of CSUSM's alumni stay in the region. CSU San Marcos is located on a 304-acre hillside overlooking the city of San Marcos. It is 15 miles east of the ocean; just 30 miles north of downtown San Diego.

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SOURCE California State University San Marcos

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