Wave Check: Surfing fitness apps aren’t worth your money

Without an official gym membership or yoga session passes, it’s sometimes hard to muster the energy or creativity to program another home workout. There are online subscriptions and exercise apps that want to take the guesswork out of surfing fitness, but are they really worth your money?

McKinsey reported that fitness technology apps raised $2 billion in investor money in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic shifted people’s attention to health as a top priority. The report notes that the proportion of people using fitness apps rose from 50% to 75% in June 2020, with 70% reporting that they plan to continue or even increase their use of online fitness guides after the pandemic.

This is great news for developers looking to enter the fitness tech space, and for surfing entrepreneurs looking to capitalize on the thousands of new surfers who have entered the ranks during the pandemic.

World Surf League tour veteran Joel Parkinson was one of the first to start this development strategy almost 10 years ago with his Pro Surf Training app. The program followed the Australian around various Championship Tour events such as Snapper Rocks and Teahupo’o to offer you different fitness programs and exercises specific to the demands of certain locations.

Some other pro surfers have also joined the mix with their own programming, like Jamie O’Brien’s app, which promises you’ll learn from a pro instead of a “crazy” for $99 a year. Others, like Koa Smith, partner with established health platforms to add their $72-for-nine-weeks “expert instruction” to the mix of offerings.

Other apps run by fitness gurus offer more of the same, like Surf Athlete for $119.99 a year or the newer and fancier OMBE, which promises you’ll “share the stove” for just $249 a year .

Of course, most of these programs come out cheaper than any gym membership or paid class pass, which may be the more appealing option for many who are simply looking for more precise instruction. But aside from the instructors and user interface design, there’s very little that sets the programs’ makeups apart.

Most, if not all, of these programs emphasize a few key principles in mobility and strength training, along with offering specialized workouts to build strength while rowing, tweaking your pop-up, or visiting the skate park to practice carves and abbreviations. At a minimum, you’ll do a few front squats, push-ups, and 90/90 hips with each program.

The rest? Here, perhaps, the purpose of apps seems fleeting. Barring terrible conditions, the best place to improve your paddling power is in the waves. Best place to learn popup? The white water. The best place to work on your shortening? In front of the lip. Many programs may emphasize land correction for many techniques that simply won’t come together without serious time on the water.

If you really want to improve your dry land workouts, most of what you can do for home workout inspiration is included in the oft-promoted Instagram reel. The cross-training of swimming and running, often under-emphasized for surfers, can be revealed in the classic “What Your Favorite Surfer Does to Train” article that runs every few months.

This is not to say that some of these apps include some expertise in specific areas of health and surfing. Jamie O’Brien is the master of Pipeline and it’s a very unique entry point into this business. Chris Mills has a range of different certifications and can tell you when that mobility issue might need a doctor rather than a surf coach.

But surfing is much more expensive than these little add-ons. Many who are interested in the sport can’t justify the price points and shouldn’t. While surf fitness apps are great for someone who has the time and money to invest in these fixes, the apps tend to distract from the larger goal of applying these skills in the water.

Take a quick tutorial on YouTube before you make the tempting choice of yet another monthly subscription. Dedicating time and effort to a few key exercises and stretches can make a bigger difference to your surfing than you can imagine – all for free.

Lauren Mathis is a first-year law student researching issues surrounding the surfing community. Her “Wave Check” column appears every other Monday.

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