To stay fit for his sport, professional surfer Mark Healey thrives on a regimen that includes spearfishing, jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts [source: Murphy]. Beginners -- most surfers, in fact -- don't need to go to those extremes. But being in shape does make learning easier. In contrast, trying to learn without some kind of conditioning program can be discouraging, painful and even dangerous.
Surfing is a whole-body sport, but certain muscle groups get worked more than others. It takes strong arms for paddling, and core strength for popping up, the move that takes you from lying on your board to standing. Sit-ups, push-ups and squat thrusts all help tone these areas. Arm exercises using hand weights can strengthen the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder, which are especially stressed by paddling.
You need a fine sense of balance as well. To improve balance, try walking the plank -- literally. Set a two-by-four piece of lumber on bricks 6 inches (15 centimeters) off the ground and walk it. Work up to a strong wooden dowel or broomstick.
Understandably, some surfers find working out a bore compared to the thrill of riding the waves. If you're in this crowd, consider skateboarding or snowboarding. You not only tone the right muscles but also practice the same techniques you need on the ocean -- including a graceful way to handle a wipeout.