Eli Hanneman surfing Teahupoo Tahiti
© Domenic Mosqueira / Red Bull Content Pool

5 balance board exercises for surfing

Strengthen your balance, posture, and core strength with these 5 balance board exercises to help improve your surfing and minimize injury.
By Esther Hershkovits
5 min readPublished on
Red Bull big wave surfers like Izzi Gomez love to ride apartment building-sized waves. But short viral videos don’t show the countless hours of training that go into preparing.
"It was almost two years of work before I went out to Jaws for the first time,” said Gomez, who was already a Stand Up Paddling (SUP) world champion when she decided to commit to big wave surfing.
This image of Gomez dropping in on a 30-foot wave at Jaws on Maui in January 2021 hangs in her home.

Gomez dropping in on a 30-foot wave at Jaws on Maui in January 2021

© Brady Lawrence

Surfing taxes all aspects of physical performance – you need explosive strength, endurance, focus, balance, flexibility, lung capacity, and full body reflexes. While it can be hard to simulate intense conditions in training, balance workouts have gained popularity, particularly balance boards. These specialized boards add a challenge to standing exercises, helping you strengthen your balance, posture, and core strength.

5 Balance Board Exercises for Surfing

Before you start, take proper precautions, like ensuring you have a clear space and will not hit anything if you fall. Warm up by finding your balance on the board standing still, then move to gently shift your weight back and forth from the front to the back foot. Once you have this down, you can test your balance with these drills.

Pop-up Prep

The pop-up is the most basic and most important aspect of surfing. Often beginners find that popping up, or going from laying flat on your stomach while paddling to standing up on your feet to ride the wave, is much harder in the water than on land. With a good pop-up, you will successfully ride a wave.
Participants prepare to surf at Great Day in the Stoke event

Participants prepare to surf at Great Day in the Stoke event

© Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Red Bull Content Pool

Doing planks and push-ups on the balance board helps to build the upper body and core strength needed to pop up in the water. Start by doing planks with your hands on the balance board and your feet on the ground. Once this feels comfortable, you can try doing push-ups. Aim for sturdy reps rather than a high quantity. If the balance board is wobbling, so would your surfboard, and in the water, this can make you fall off the board.

Knee Dip

While standing on the board in your natural surfing stance, bend your back knee to touch the board. Use your back hand to grab the front side of the board right in front of your bent back knee. Try to hold this position as long as possible. This is a good position for learning how to ride waves backside, or with your back facing the wave.
The low center of gravity and stability you get from holding the rail will help you get comfortable and gain stability. While you may still need more experience to surf these waves, it's a great way to start practicing your balance and getting comfortable on the board.

Upper Body Rotation

Once you feel comfortable extending and compressing your legs on the balance board, it's time to add upper body movements. When riding a wave, all the power comes from your legs and core, but your upper body rotations guide it. So it's important to have coordinated upper and lower body movement while maintaining your balance on the board.
Silvia Nabuco and participants at Red Bull Magnitude in Hawaii

Silvia Nabuco and participants at Red Bull Magnitude in Hawaii

© Ha'a Keaulana

Start by holding your arms as you would on your surfboard, with your shoulders squared with your hips and your hands a bit out to either side for balance. Then twist your chest in either direction to mimic a frontside or backside turn. This exercise will help you learn to stabilize your lower body while also shifting your weight and upper body.

Throwing and catching a ball

Throwing and catching a ball on a balance board is an often-used exercise for professional surfers and amateurs. This exercise mimics the reflexes needed to stay on your board while reading the ocean wave.
You'll need a partner to throw you a ball while you stand on the balance board. Once you catch it, throw it back and repeat. The heavier the ball, the harder it will be, so you can start with something light like a tennis ball or volleyball and work your way up to weighted medicine balls. Test yourself to see how many reps you can get in without falling, and then try to push past that number each time. The more you can do this, the easier it will be to stay on your board in the surf.

180 Jump

The 180 jump is an advanced exercise and a great way to start training for airs. It combines balance with explosive strength. While standing on the board, jump and spin 180 degrees and land back on the board.
Be sure to bend your knees on the takeoff and landing and not jump too high off the board. This workout mimics the balance needed to launch into the air and land back on your feet in the ocean. The more you can do the better, just make sure you are in a safe place in case you fall.


Participants surf at Red Bull Foam Wreckers in Jacksonville Beach

Participants surf at Red Bull Foam Wreckers in Jacksonville Beach

© Robert Snow / Red Bull Content Pool

One of the hardest things about surfing is how difficult it can be to practice on your board in the ocean, even in good conditions. That's why training out of the water in conditions that mimic surfing is essential to building endurance. If you want some inspiration on your balance board check out this biopic on Justine Dupont, a big wave surfer with the most dominant performance that big wave riding has ever seen.