If top international surfers are gathering on our shores, you definitely expect one thing – the sea. Well, when our very own John Callaghan provided physiotherapy for the awesome Red Bull Unleashed, he got a bit of a surprise. Here’s his blog:
When Darren Roberts (our High Performance Athlete Manager) asked me if I’d be interested in covering the physiotherapy for a surfing contest I was absolutely stoked. Then he mentioned it was in Dolgarrog, North Wales. In the countryside…
Hang on, something doesn’t sound right here. A surfing contest? In the countryside? I couldn’t help but feel Darren might be taking advantage of my geographical ignorance of the United Kingdom for his own enjoyment. I am after all as he would describe a “Bogan” Australian, and he has been known to enjoy a joke at my expense.
Then I was informed of the venue… “Surf Snowdonia”; a huge freshwater pond that dishes out perfect waves any day of the week regardless of the conditions, courtesy of some ingenious engineering from a company by the name of “Wave Garden”. This was not a prank. There really was going to be a surfing contest held on artificial waves in countryside Wales. The first of its kind… Red Bull Unleashed!!!
Jenna (Pro Fit Personal Trainer and up-and-coming Van Driver) and I arrived at Surf Snowdonia bright and early Thursday morning. Misty, cold and surrounded by green hills and farmland. It was still so hard to picture waves and surfers anywhere near this place.
Then, as we sat in the cafeteria looking onto the glassy, wave-less pond, we heard a faint rumble. Everyone’s head turned to look out the window. A snowplough-like structure beneath the surface crept forwards and generated a perfectly peeling “U” shaped wave. Alan Stokes (a professional surfer from Newquay, Cornwall) cruised along it, carving back and forth just metres from where we were sitting. It was a sudden reality check when I realised I was still sitting in a cafeteria eating my bacon and eggs. “This artificial wave thing could definitely take off” I thought.
Meeting the surfers… and their injuries
At Harris and Ross, we often have some pretty interesting clientele coming through the doors. As well as the everyday public, weekend warriors and amateur athletes, it’s not uncommon to find professional moto cross riders, downhill mountain bikers or snowboarders gracing our clinic with some pretty serious injuries. Broken bones, dislocations and complex surgeries to name a few. Unfortunately, believe it or not, surfers aren’t too far behind them.
Meet Leo Fioravanti, a 17 year old professional Italian surfer who broke his back at Pipeline, Hawaii in January this year. Thankfully now, broken backs aren’t the norm for surfers, but injuries like this do happen; more commonly you have acute traumatic injuries.
At Unleashed we saw sprained ankles, MCL strains, hyperextended thumbs and lacerations and last but not least (but probably most common), there are the long term, niggly aches and pains. These tend to affect the shoulders, thorax (mid back) and the lumbo-pelvic regions (lower back and hips). These unresolved niggles and aches appeared to leave a lot of the surfers with imbalances between the right and left sides in terms of both strength and inflexibility. And, when you consider the nature of surfing, it’s no wonder why – long periods of time spent laying on their tummy, lots of repetitive paddling movements of the arms, standing in a quarter squat position and always leading with the same side (regular or goofy stance).
Food for thought
Throughout the contest, Jenna and I were quite keen to speak with the surfers about their injuries but more specifically about:
1. How they were rehabilitated
2. What sort of strength and conditioning training the surfers did as part of their regular routine
The most common answers were probably “core and balance” work followed by “yoga and stretching”. These answers seemed to cover both questions about conditioning training and questions about injury rehabilitation. Now obviously these were the answers from just a few surfers’ responses to our questions, and I in no way propose to be an expert in surfing training.
However, I couldn’t help but wonder about a few things…
I think it’s no secret that surfers are not just cruising along a wave any more. They are carving them up, performing hugely powerful and explosive turns. They rotate and contort their bodies into incredible positions at great speed to generate momentum for these turns. They launch off waves and are performing massive aerial stunts and land forwards, backwards, sideways, sometimes even bent completely backwards with their bodies horizontally behind them in the whitewash. Surfing is getting more and more extreme. Are their bodies keeping up with the game? Could they be pushing harder?
What if these guys were doing more power and strength work too? What if they were working on maximizing their power-to-size ratio? Would they be able to launch even bigger aerials? Would their turns be even more explosive? Would they be more robust and able to handle bigger aerials or wipe-outs? Would they be able to better perform during that brief period they spend on a wave?
What about after injuries? Acute traumatic injuries like ligament strains, can leave people with significant differences in flexibility and strength between their right and left sides. Is the core and balance work enough to reveal these differences and improve them? Could that be why a surfer’s bottom turns or cut backs were never quite as powerful again? Could a structured unilateral leg strength program better reveal why they never quite recovered that ability and improve it? Compound these unilateral differences with a unilateral dominant activity like surfing and how much of that could be what’s driving those long term aches and pains? Is that tight right hip flexor contributing to the aching back?
At the end of the day, just like in more traditional sports, the training and treatment for surfers needs to meet the demands of the sport. Surfers and their trainers/therapists will need to continue working together on achieving the best formula for the individual. Personally I’m looking forward to researching into and learning more about these aspects of surfing and how the sport continues to develop, particularly the work done behind the scenes .
Saturday the final day of contest, was the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of individuals from different companies/backgrounds. And it was fantastic. It was a great display of the potential to develop surfing as a spectator sport, future training facilities, a new format of competition and much more.
As for the surfers, it was brilliant to see them embracing the new style of competition. “Jousting” with their opponent head to head, wave to wave. Watching them enjoy some friendly banter with commentators and spectators throughout their heats. Seeing UK surfers Jayce Robinson and Alan Stokes take full advantage of the home ground venue to showcase extremely underrated UK surfing talent. Being a proud Aussie bogan, I was also particularly happy to hear some fellow Aussie accents (Mitch Crews, Kai Hing, Jack Freestone) and a killer bogan haircut (Mikey Wright).
Finally, credit must be paid to the 2 finalists. Billy Stairmand of New Zealand took Albee Layer of Hawaii right to the edge. But Albee proved too strong providing another example of surfing’s rapidly evolving style, Albee was pulling off moves you’d expect to see on a skateboard rather than a surfboard. Congratulations Albee – enjoy your helmet!!!