What do martial arts and surfing have in common? A lot more than you think! In fact, various martial arts training styles, such as Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, are grossly underestimated when it comes to their positive impact on surfing performance.
Those who know us are aware of our short attention spans and high energy levels. This has made finding a local gym in Cape Town quite tricky. Whichever training facility we commit to, it will have to fit with our surfing whims. Or better yet, enhance our skills in the water.
Then we were introduced Pride Fighting Academy (PFA) and there was no looking back. The MMA training academy has not only set the bar for all gyms that we encounter on our travels, but also made a hugely positive impact on our surfing.
Staying Fit On The Road
Spending approximately half of the year on the road, we make it a priority to set up our fitness program for each new city that we live. This not only keeps us in a healthy mental space, but it also allows us to run the city flat without experiencing cardiac arrest.
Whether it’s signing up at a local boxing club, or buying a surfboard to enjoy the nearest waves, we normally have a plan to stay fit before we arrive. Over time, we’ve discovered a trend – that our favorite exercise routines typically include mixed martial arts and surfing. As fate would have it, these two sports go hand-in-hand.
We’ve noticed a big improvement in our surfing since joining PFA and doing MMA training. Many famous surfers, like Kelly Slater, echo this dual-training sentiment and agree that the two disciplines are mutually beneficial. Other surfers who have established a career in MMA include Richie Vaculik, Joel Tudor, and Dustin Barca.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts & Boxing – Pride Fighting Academy
The global increase in cross-training between martial arts and surfing is undeniable. Whether you’re a kook like me or a confident wave rider like Ollie, then you’ll most likely get stabs of joy both on the mat and in the water.
PFA is our home base whenever we’re in Cape Town. As a family-owned gym, it perfectly balances the sense of a supportive community with a “get sh*t done” attitude. This sense of community has only been strengthened during the trying time of lockdown as the coaches have gone above and beyond with their offerings.
Under “normal” circumstances, PFA offers group training classes in various martial art forms, personal training, and free training with their fully equipped facility.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) And Surfing
Initially, I was unaware of how close the two disciplines actually are. While we were working in Brazil, we came across a huge BJJ culture – many of whom were surfers. This was our first introduction to the overlap.
Both BJJ and surfing are reactionary sports. In BJJ, you react to your opponent’s arsenal of moves. In surfing, you react to whatever mood the ocean puts forward. Both also require a constant sense of calm and control, while showcasing strength and poise.
- Balance – balance is critical in co-ordinating movement on your board. On the mat, balance is exercised (and practiced) as you grapple, move, and roll.
- Reaction – movements in BJJ are constantly changing, and you always have to adapt. Practicing these reactionary movements is perfect for surf training as the ocean is unpredictable. In the same breath, timing becomes a critical component.
- Posture – posture is essential for maintaining your base in the guard. It’s a foundational element of practice in BJJ. Learning to manage your posture on the mat is a great way to hold your own on a surfboard.
- Strength – BJJ improves muscle conditioning which directly translates into strength in the water. This is particularly true for the core which becomes a center of gravity in both sports.
- Hip mobility – what better way to learn to carve waves than by improving your hip mobility? BJJ training is heavily focused on hip mobility and learning to actively control these joints.
- Mental fortitude – they say there’s nothing quite as humbling as being nearly choked out on the mat, or scrambling for a breath of air after being dunked. Staying mentally strong, calm, and poised is key for both as you are forced to think clearly under pressure.
A Growing Culture
Jess Mouneimne, co-owner of PFA, estimates 50 – 60% of the gym’s BJJ students are also surfers. There are even brands, like RCVA, that cater to both communities from an apparel perspective.
“While so many BJJ students in Cape Town surf, we’ve also had big wave surfers like Matt Bromley train BJJ with SJ specifically as a means to stay fit and do a complementary sport. We’ve had conversations in the past about how overwhelming he found Jiu-Jitsu and I couldn’t believe that to be possible based on the big scary waves that he surfs.
Personally, I would far rather step into a cage and have the crap beaten out of me that step into deep waters and be waterboarded by the ocean! But both sports can be scary to the outside and I guess those who conquer both are the ultimate warriors.”
Both MMA and surfing requires discipline and focus. Jess worded it perfectly when she said that both call for you to “become calm and comfortable in uncomfortable situations. They’re sports that will take you into ‘deep waters’ whether you’re a pro or a newbie and you won’t be able to hide in them.”
Boxing And Muay Thai For Surfing
Surfing is a physically demanding sport – no matter how graceful the pros make it appear on television.
Boxing and Muay Thai are two fantastic disciplines to train for the water sport on land.
- Shoulder strength – all that it takes is one session on the bag to realize that you have muscles you didn’t know existed. But after training in the boxing ring, the shoulder burn when paddling for hours feels significantly less.
- Endurance – there’s nothing like a three-minute round on the pads to realize how far we can push human capabilities. After effective land training, your call for “one more wave” will come a lot later in the session.
- Core stability and balance – your fighting stance is grounded in your core (and legs). Learning to effectively move your body from a position of strength when facing an opponent will help you do the same on a surfboard.
- Technicality and reflexes – boxing and Muay Thai rely on technical placement and quick reflexes if you want to avoid sloppy punches and weak kicks. Refining these skills will help adapt quickly in the ocean, placing your feet with precision and perfectly positioning yourself on the wave.
PFA’s boxing and Muay Thai classes are our personal favorites. High-intensity combines with endurance to present itself in a waterfall of sweat and a loud voice pushing you to be your best. One of the best parts about these classes is that you don’t need any prior training in the sport. The coaches have you covered.
I’ll never forget my first day walking into the gym and joining a class. I immediately spotted two surfers that I often see out at Glen Beach. They were keeping time with their skipping ropes, their hands wrapped and ready for the class.
I knew that I was in the right place. If these local surfing legends were breaking a sweat in this gym, then this is where I wanted to be.
The training introduced by striking, speed and aerobic endurance is perfectly aligned with paddling out in the big swell. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that someone with spaghetti arms like myself would struggle to get to backline on a stormy day. But after a few sessions on the pads with Mike and I feel equipped for anything. And this feeling is translated into actual strength in the water.
Other surfing skills that have been refined through boxing training are quick reactions, attention to technical detail, fitness and strength, and, of course, confidence in waters known for surfing localism (not that I’d ever really throw a punch to someone’s face).
Get Your Gear
If you’re a surfer looking to enhance your skills, our first tip is to find a reputable local gym that offers MMA training. Once the bug has bitten – which it probably will – then I’d highly recommend investing in your own gear.
* Just to let you know that this article contains affiliate links. If you click on them we might receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you
Here are a few of the basics to get you started on your MMA journey, and training for big waves on land:
- BJJ Gi
- Thai pads
- Boxing wraps
- Muay Thai shin guards
- Boxing gloves
- Boxing training pads
- Skipping rope
- Balancing board
- Surf skate
The Best Decision Of Your Life
Keep your eyes on PFA, this elite academy has some innovative and exciting plans up their sleeves. If you love smashing a bag as much as you love shredding on the waves – then you’re in for a treat.
At the end of the day, martial arts offer a technicality and focus that is needed in the water. Learning to breathe calmly, react quickly, maintain balance, and strengthen your muscles are synonymous with both disciplines.
If you’re in Cape Town and wanting to know more about how you can join PFA, you can mail [email protected] or call Mike at +27 82 660 2129. The team is as real as they come – and they make a pretty darn good cup of coffee for those of you who like your morning sessions!