We take it for granted when we are young. We just assume that it will work hour after hour, day after day with very little complaint. Surfing itself builds and preserves most of what we need and strips away the overlay so we can bask in the glory of our taut tanned flesh. But it doesn't last. Our genes and our bad habits conspire against us so that sometime, perhaps as early as thirty, it becomes less reliable. It starts to complain after a few hours paddling and leaves us stiff and sore the next day if we ignore it. But that is only the beginning.
Age related changes creep up on us. Rapidly if we are careless, but inevitably to some degree. For surfers the impact comes as a decline in both endurance and performance. Slater, and others before him, have demonstrated that, provided we work hard, the decline need not be significant into our early forties. He may go on to demonstrate that it can be held off even longer, but a professional athlete with nothing to do but hone his training routine to the changing demands of age is not much of a guide to the rest of us who, all too often struggle to fit in our surfing between our other commitments, never mind the additional hours of a training routine.
Yet most skilled and committed surfers will still be performing strongly into their forties. They may put in fewer hours than they once did, but with their extra experience and the improved temperament age brings, they usually perform well when they do paddle out. Some may even produce the best form of their career. But it is a peak that rarely, if ever, lasts beyond fifty.
Humans are not alone in experiencing muscular deterioration. Organisms as simple as nematode worms show a similar pattern, known as sarcopenia, as they age. It seems to be a basic genetic feature of animal life. For humans the age of fifty seems to be when the trend to reduced muscle mass and reduced muscle efficiency increases its pace. For surfers this is the stage when, what used to be a seamless millisecond transition from horizontal to vertical, tends to become a fraught three stage process with an unfortunate tendency to end ignominiously. Some choose to preserve their dignity by giving the whole game away. Others increase their equipment size and choose their waves more carefully, selecting only nice gentle ramps into undemanding walls. But increased flotation reduces the power needed to propel the board and so reduces the value of surfing in maintaining upper body strength. It is the fatal fallacy of the mal rider: weaker paddling leads to longer boards which lead to even weaker paddling.
There is another option though, rage against the dying light and hit the gym. Over several decades we have been conditioned, if we think of fitness at all, to consider aerobic fitness, flexibility and agility as the keys to surfing performance. This may be true until the age of fifty, though it is far from proven, but beyond fifty there is no doubt. Think strength! Just surfing combined with the occasional jog and stretch will not do it any more. You have entered the age of sarcopenia. You need to maintain and increase your muscle mass to preserve muscle function and whatever remains of your surfing ability.
Loss of upper body strength reduces paddling power. Loss of core strength causes slow transitions. Loss of leg strength causes loss of power through turns. Body type and your previous level of developed strength can delay the process but sooner or later, if you want to keep surfing at a reasonable level, you will need to think about strength. If you believe it is too late, there are numerous studies to prove you wrong. Resistance training, given even a modest standard of general health, works at any age.
The benefits are significant. Surfing is a healthy activity. Training will keep you participating longer with the benefits that brings. Then there are a host of other benefits that research is just beginning to quantify. Intense exercise is increasingly seen as a significant factor in controlling blood sugar and consequently reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes. And strength correlates with a whole host of indicators of better health. Some studies even claim that beyond sixty, grip strength is a good predictor of life span. This isn't about body building so much as body maintenance; preserving the ability to do the thing you love as well as you can for as long as you can. For the majority of surfers, once they hit their fifties, if not earlier, that means developing and maintaining whole body strength. //blindboy