Wave Check: Surf fitness apps are not worth your money

Without a formal gym membership or passes to yoga sessions, it’s sometimes difficult to muster the energy or creativity to program another home workout. There are online subscriptions and exercise apps that want to take the guesswork out of surf fitness, but are they really worth your money?

McKinsey reported that fitness tech apps raised $2 billion of investor money in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic shifted people’s consideration of wellness as a top priority. The report noted the share of people using fitness apps grew from 50% to 75% in June 2020, with 70% reporting they planned on continuing or even increasing their use of online fitness guides after the pandemic. 

This is great news for developers looking to break into the fitness tech space and for surfing-adjacent entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of the thousands of new surfers that entered lineups during the pandemic.

World Surf League tour veteran Joel Parkinson was one of the first to kick off this development strategy almost 10 years ago with his Pro Surf Training app. The program followed the Aussie around different Championship Tour events, such as Snapper Rocks and Teahupo’o, to bring you different fitness programming and exercises specific to the demands of certain spots. 

Some other professional surfers have also joined the mix with their own programming, such as Jamie O’Brien’s app, which promises you’ll learn from a pro instead of a “lineup kook” for $99 a year. Others, like Koa Smith, have partnered with established health platforms to add their “expert instruction” for $72 for nine weeks to the mix of offerings. 

Other apps have been spearheaded by fitness gurus who offer more of the same as the previous, such as Surf Athlete for $119.99 per year or the newer and bougier OMBE, which promises you’ll “share the stoke” for just $249 a year.

Granted, most of these programs come out cheaper than any gym membership or pay-by-day class pass, which can be the more attractive option for many just looking for more pointed instruction. But besides the instructors and UI designs, there is very little that differentiates the programs’ makeups.

Most, if not all, of these programs emphasize a few key tenets in mobility and strength training, along with offering specialized workouts to build paddling strength, fix your pop-up or hit the skate park to practice carves and cutbacks. At a minimum, you’ll be doing some front squats, push-ups and hip 90/90s with every single program. 

The rest? This is arguably where the purpose of the apps seems fleeting. Barring terrible conditions, the best place to improve your paddling strength is in the wave. The best place to learn pop-up? The whitewater. The best place to work on your cutback? In front of the lip. Many programs can emphasize an on-land fix for many techniques that just won’t coalesce without serious time in the water.

If you’re really looking to improve on the dry-land training, most of what you can do for home workout inspiration is included in the oft-promoted Instagram reel. Cross-training in swimming and running, often underemphasized for surfers, can be revealed in the classic “What is Your Favorite Surfer Doing to Train” article that circulates every few months or so.

This is not to say that some of these apps do include some expertise on specific corners of health and surfing. Jamie O’Brien is a Pipeline master, and that’s a very unique entry point into this business. Cris Mills has a slew of different certifications and can tell you when that mobility issue might need a doctor rather than a surf coach.

But surfing is so much more expensive than these little add-ons. Many who are interested in the sport can’t justify the price points, and they shouldn’t have to. While surf fitness apps are great for someone with the time and the money to invest in these touch-ups, the apps tend to distract from the greater goal of applying these skills in the water. 

Go get a quick tutorial on YouTube before making the tempting choice of yet another monthly subscription. Dedicating time and effort to a few key exercises and stretches can make more of a difference than you can imagine for your surfing — all for free.

Lauren Mattice is a first-year law student exploring issues surrounding the surf community. Her column, “Wave Check,” runs every other Monday.