Posted by: Mark | June 8, 2010

Motive Ocean: Fitness for Surfers

The last two Saturdays when my alarm went off at 6:30, I scrambled out of bed to check all available data to determine if it was worth surfing or not. I’m usually not so frantic to figure out my surf schedule, but we’ve actually had some waves lately, which is unusual for this time of year, but more than that, I now have a pretty enjoyable Saturday morning routine that I don’t want to miss. Even if missing my routine meant that I would be going surfing. Even if the routine is to do fitness that helps me train for surfing. Figure that one out.

Surfing is a loved activity for many reasons, and one of its appeals has to be the fact that you get a fantastic work-out while having a blast. You paddle, you work your legs and core through turning, you get tan (if you’re lucky enough to surf in a place that is warm and where you wear trunks instead of a wetsuit), and you grin a lot, even exercising the muscles in your smile. I consider myself fairly athletic, and have tried to stay in “surf shape” even when I’m not in the surf season. Typically that means doing pull-ups and dips and swimming in the pool a lot, which is cool and all, but is not always universally transferable to surfing fitness. Yes, swimming will help with paddling, but I don’t do any exercise that focuses on my balance or flexibility to help me bottom turn stronger to make it around crumbling sections. And at other times, my fitness regimen actually ends up hurting my surfing, in that I’ll be sore from the previous work-out and won’t have the strength I want to endure a 3 hour session at Ocean Beach.

I found out about Motive Ocean, a fitness program that has been developed by SF resident, physical trainer, and waterman Derek Johnson, through Twitter. Derek has worked at various fantsy-pants (or should I say yoga-pants) fitness clubs in the city and has been trying to develop the perfect dryland workout to supplement the aquatic lifestyle, most particularly the surfing lifestyle. He has been exposed to many of the fitness gurus and schools of thought that are out there, and has taken a little bit of this, a little bit of that, tweaked it, and put it all together into a really rad program that he has named Motive Ocean. He has recently started offering free training classes at Crissy Field on Saturday mornings at 8am, right by the main parking lot, as a sort of “beta testing” as he formalizes his fitness approach in anticipation of releasing a full-blown website, DVDs, and even an interactive book.

My initial reaction when I heard about Motive Ocean was of skepticism. I tend to only like fitness programs that I myself design, and I prefer going on solitary runs and bike rides for exercise rather than huddling up in a group and doing pilates while looking at a wall-sized mirror as everyone checks out everyone in the room (including, most frequently, themselves) in as subtle and non-subtle ways as possible. But I went on a sunny Saturday morning with no waves, figuring what the hell.

Note: Image NOT taken at Motive Ocean

Within about 10 minutes of the first yoga routine, I was hooked. Derek started by introducing himself to all the new folks (just me) as well as introducing the new folks (me) to the other 6-7 people who were there, who all knew each other from surfing together for a while. He does professional personal training throughout the week, and claims that at these free Saturday classes, he’s just doing this to test out his program and to exercise alongside us, so you won’t get as much personal attention to form as you would in one of his “real” sessions. He’s a teacher at heart though and just can’t help himself, and so you end up getting a lot of good tips and pointers throughout the class.

I’ve only ever been to a few exercise classes before, but the overwhelming tone in all of them is of intense seriousness, bordering displeasure. People scowl, breathe very heavily and angrily, and fondle themselves with their eyes as they look into the mirror and in look for fixable flaws and sagging. Saturday mornings with Motive Ocean are totally different. The sessions are outside in the grass, overlooking the bridge, the bay, and Alcatraz, and everyone is friendly, jolly, and–fitting with the fact that this is For Surfers, By Surfers–extremely goofy. I felt like I was in the lineup rather than at the gym, which is one of the biggest appeals.

Wiffle ball bats, not Persian martial arts clubs

The fitness routine is extremely varied. Derek has drawn on bits of flow yoga, tai chi, FlowFit, and most interestingly a bad-ass ancient type of Persian martial arts. The sessions are fun and each one is unique. And as you go through a motion, Derek points out how it specifically helps with your surfing. As we were doing modified versions of push-ups called Quad Hops, Derek showed how he evolved the quad hop into a full-body practice for popping up on a surfboard to help you get up quicker when you’re taking off late and steep into a hollow wave. The culminating part of the work-out is the Persian martial arts portion, in which you swing around weighted clubs that look like wiffle ball bats, each swing building strength and emphasizing motions that help with surfing.

In truth, I haven’t really explored other types of surfer-specific fitness programs. I know there are a few that are out there, most notably, as well as Bowflex-esque stations that claim to improve your surfing. But I think Derek has come about as close to nailing surf fitness it as you can without actually surfing. And since it’s early June, we won’t be doing much surfing for a few months, and the summer seems to be a great time to explore Motive Ocean’s approach to surf fitness in anticipation of the fall. The whole ethos of the workout is geared around the flow of the movements rather than static, singular repetition, because that best mirrors surfing. Best of all, Derek has transplanted the unique type of joy that you can find while splashing around in the ocean into a fitness regimen.

He’ll be offering his free training sessions “until the weather gets bad,” meaning October or November, and I definitely think they are worth checking out. Saturday, 8am, at the main parking lot in Chrissy Field. There’s not gonna be any waves, so what else are you gonna be doing.



  1. Hey.

    that all looks great, keep at it.

    check out my new book, the complete guide to surf fitness out now,.


  2. hey buddy, good write up. you coming back to work out soon? J-Rac

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