What you can learn about training from a big wave surfer
Even if you never plan to set foot in the water, you can learn some valuable lessons from Frank Solomon, who recently bounced back from a big health setback.
"In big wave surfing you just never really know when it’s going to be big, so it’s not like you can plan six weeks ahead and peak, like you can for a bicycle or running race," says Capetonian Frank Solomon.
Solomon has been surfing big waves for over two decades and has suffered various setbacks during his career, including breaking his back. Recently he was knocked down by a bout of illness which knocked his fitness heavily. He's now worked his way back to near full fitness.
"For me it is all about maintaining a good base of fitness," Frank says. "So you just have to be ready all the time. I know myself and I know when I’m in a good place and I try and maintain that, throughout the year, pretty much." Read on to find out how he does that, and how you can apply to same principles to your training regime:
The past year has been rather disruptive training-wise, right?
For sure. We were locked-down from March 2020 or so and during that time I was doing strength and mobility training with my trainer (Mike Watson) via Zoom twice a week and I did of skipping to try keep the cardio going, but the cardio side really suffered. I wasn’t able to run and do the walks I would normally have done everyday. then when things opened up and I started training again it was really tough to get back, having not done much for so long. Then I got sick in December and I’m still working on getting my cardio back fully after that, but I’m a lot fitter than I was two months ago.
Has your training regime changed at all over the past few months working on the comeback?
I’m kind of back into my regular routine, which means I try and do at least one 'thing' every day. If I can do all three, then I feel like I’ve had a good day. So, say: Run or walk for an hour, surf for about an hour and then maybe do some yoga in the evening. I have lifesaving training (hectic cardio) on a Tuesdays and Thursdays and do strength and mobility work with Mike twice a week. I try to fit in some free diving too.
Take us through some of the specifics of your various cross-training methods?
Though the support of the Red Bull High Performance Centre and with Mike (Watson) I work on conditioning - mainly building strength in my shoulders and lower back. For this I do weights work, mainly squats and deadlifts, with a bit of other weights stuff thrown in to build all-round strength. I find this really helps to prevent injury: So many surfers have issues with their knees, but if you build the muscles around your knees, you have far less chance of injuring them so I think it is crucial to do that kind of strength and conditioning training. Then the other stuff is more to build cardio and lung capacity, and then Yoga helps with mobility. Over the years I've just kind of figured out through trial-and-error what works best for me.
Different surfers say different things about how their cross-training translates to their surfing. How does it work for you?
Look, the old adage is true: 'The best training for surfing is surfing' and it is so hard to try and replicate those complex movements, you can train as much as you want, and do the gym work and run but it really is such a unique type of cardio that you can be super running fit and try to paddle out at a six-foot beach break and really suffer. So cross-training is important and good, but the best training for paddling is paddling, so I try to have a paddle every day, even if it is just 20 minutes, for muscle memory and fitness. I learned that from Dan Redman (back in the day when he was competing on the QS) he said: 'I surf every day, no matter what, even if it is just 10 minutes to stay on top of it.'
Does being in shape help your mental game?
Definitely, especially Yoga and the heavy cardio like lifesaving training, I find that after I've pushed my body that hard I have this zen kind of mental calm. You know, during those sessions you go into this zone where you are just trying to survive the session and you’re not thinking about anything else. You're super present. Then, knowing that you are fit, strong and flexible definitely helps with the confidence out in big surf.
How important is diet?
Diet is also super important, my fiancé thinks I’m a bit crazy but I’m so strict on myself! If I have one chocolate beat myself up for the whole day, or if I have junk food I feel like I’m getting fat. It's a bit extreme and I don’t know where that comes from but I’m really conscious of what I eat and how what I put in makes me feel. I’m stoked that I have that though, otherwise I would eat everything!
Any final bit of advice for the average person out there?
Get out there and do something physical each day, humans weren’t designed to sit in an office all day long! If you can go walk your dog for an hour, do it!