Dressed in an old t-shirt and workout capris, I hardly looked, or felt, ready for my first surf class. It was morning. The cerulean walls around me called to mind an ocean far more exotic than the Jersey shore of my childhood; the wooden floor was far less forgiving than sand; and the board in front of me felt every bit as unstable as I imagined it would, pressed against a crashing wave.
I did quite a bit of imagining that morning, as it turns out. I imagined the shoreline that we, as a class, pretended to paddle away from, bellies pressed to our individual boards and arms outstretched. I imagined the waves we were told, again and again, to duck dive beneath. I imagined spotting it, eventually: The Wave, looming and promising ahead of us. I popped up onto my board and imagined to ride it. I barrel rolled to one side. The board shook beneath my feet but I stayed grounded. I was surfing!
Well, kind of.
By the end of my first SurfSET fitness class, run by NJ Surf Fitness in Bloomfield, New Jersey, I was feeling pretty good about myself and the workout I had just completed. By the next day, I was wincing over muscles I didn’t even know I had. Apparently Pilates and HIIT don’t quite prepare you for a day of imaginary wave catching.
The SurfSET program, brought to fame and fruition largely thanks to Shark Tank and Mark Cuban, turns modified surfboards into an indoor workout involving both strength and cardio conditioning (only you do it on an unstable platform because, you know, burpees aren’t brutal enough already). As the program’s website puts it, “Imagine combining the cardio benefits of spinning with the strength and versatility of TRX suspension training and fun had in a Zumba class but all on an unstable surface.”
Yikes, right? But also: cool!
Ok, so it’s intense, but is it really comparable to surfing?
I had my doubts when I sat down with Fred Trauerts, the owner of the two-year-old SurfSET studio that introduced me to the program several months ago. According to Trauerts, a lifelong surfer himself, it challenges the body’s stability and balance the same way that actual surfing does, but “you’re not fighting nature, and nature is the biggest part of surfing.” When it comes to the ocean, your body is up against the elements. In a fitness studio, though, there aren’t any actual waves, no matter how vivid my imagination was the morning of my first class, and the circulating air from the a/c is hardly what you’d call an ocean wind.
In other words, I may not be quite ready for something like this, but the skills developed on a SurfSET board can make learning to surf easier in the long run.
It’s also a lot of fun.
Too often we overlook enjoyment when selecting an exercise program. We want to know what burns the most calories, what will give us Channing Tatum’s abs or Beyonce’s behind. Obviously, it’s important to find an effective workout, but finding one that is fun to boot is critical. In the end, that’s what keeps you coming back. Fitness isn’t a punishment and should never feel that way. It’s about feeling strong, empowered, and alive; and that’s exactly the response that SurfSET classes seem to give to so many people, myself included.
Despite obtaining my certification in personal training in 2014, I never was much of a gym person. I flirted with some equipment in college but mostly stuck to at-home routines and the occasional outdoor run. I would always look forward to the energy a workout would give me (thanks, endorphins!), but I didn’t often look forward to the workout itself. With NJ Surf Fitness, I honestly do, and I’ve gotten the same feedback from every person I’ve dragged (er, convinced to tag along willingly) with me.
In Trauerts’ words, it’s not “the workout grind” to which so many individuals have grown accustomed. In fact, one of his favorite things about leading class is seeing people of all skill levels enjoying fitness while challenging and bettering themselves. There’s no competition; it’s just you and the board, your own progress is your best benchmark of accomplishment.
Intrigued? To see if there’s a surf studio near you, check out the SurfSET website, but it’s important to keep in mind that SurfSET instructors don’t need to have a background in fitness (or surfing) to lead a class. Look out specifically for those that are led by experts in their field. Oh, and if you happen to find yourself in the small, mid-northern New Jersey town of Bloomfield, be sure to swing by the NJ Surf Fitness studio, and tell them Jessica sent you.