Last Updated on June 19, 2023 by Matt
6-8 Minute Read
Generally, there are three main reasons people take up a sport. One: To have fun. Two: To develop a lifestyle and community. Three: To keep the body healthy and fit.
For those who give priority to the latter, achieving results (e.g. burning calories to lose weight, toning muscles, improving stamina, etc.) is often the goal. Indeed, few sports offer all three. The good news is, surfing might be one of them.
In this post, we will take a look at what calories are and how they are burnt through the practice of surfing. We will also give you some estimates on how many calories you will burn per hour of surfing, discuss the role of surf conditions in the calorie-burning equation, and mention other water sports that are good for shredding those kcal.
What Are Calories?
All living beings need energy to stay alive. In the case of humans, we get most of that energy by ingesting food and drinks. Our bodies then use that energy to keep our organs running, allowing us to do everything from breathing to walking. To measure the amount of energy in the food and drink we have consumed, or in the time we have spent performing physical exercise, for instance, we use a unit called a calorie.
If we ingest more energy (calories) than we use up, our organism will store what is extra in the form of body fat. Which, over time might increase our chances of putting on weight. Hence, in order to keep a balanced body weight, we should try to even out the amount of energy we consume with the amount we spent through physical activity and regular bodily functions.
The daily calorie guideline for an adult male to keep a healthy body weight is roughly 2,500 kcal, whereas, for an adult female, the intake should be around 2,000 kcal. However, this is not a comprehensive formula. These values will vary depending on the person’s age, height and weight, level and constancy of physical activity, as well as his/her metabolism and lifestyle. Besides, if we end up having a higher calorie input today, that doesn’t mean we will gain weight automatically.
How To Burn Calories
If the amount of calories we should consume is dependent on a series of factors, so is the amount of calories we burn during physical exercise. These include personal characteristics such as our age and size. But, perhaps more importantly, the type of activity we do and the intensity with which we do it. That is, the more vigorous the activity, the more calories are used, e.g. running will burn more calories than walking.
When it comes to the burning of calories, there is only one undisputed constant: the more physical activity we do, the more energy we use. So if we happen to gain weight, it means we are either consuming too many calories or not spending enough. Therefore, we need to burn those excess calories to re-establish the balance. This is done through a combination of diet changes and increased physical exercise. And that is when surfing comes in.
How Many Calories Do You Burn When Surfing?
Many people associate the image of a surfer associate with a healthy, fit body. And rightly so: riding waves is a full-body workout that helps people keep their bodies in shape. What is more, each aspect of a surf session has its own benefits to the physique – from the strengthening of shoulders and arms through paddling and popping up to the increasing of balance and the toughening of leg and core through wave riding and performing tricks.
All in all, surfing is also an effective and fun way to burn calories. But the number of calories you will burn while surfing depends on three primary factors:
THE LENGTH OF TIME YOU SPEND IN THE WATER
TYPE/INTENSITY OF THE SESSION
(Which is directly related to the conditions and your skill level).
Remember, surfing is not as predictable as other sports, and if you don’t paddle too much or don’t catch many waves, you will burn fewer calories.
If you are looking for a ballpark figure, consider that a person weighing 60 kg / 130 lbs will burn roughly 180 calories in a one-hour surf session, whereas a surfer with 80 kg / 180 lbs will burn approximately 240 calories per hour surfing. Those are some estimates for beginner-to-intermediate surfers. More experienced surfers tend to catch more waves, which means they paddle more and spend more time riding and performing tricks. The intensity of their session is higher, therefore they burn more calories.
To exemplify, here are two different scenarios common to most surfers.
Mellow Conditions (Beginners/Intermediate) ~ 250 to 500 Calories Per Hour
In a day with small and/or inconsistent waves, you are likely to spend more time sitting around. When a wave does appear on the horizon – say, every 10 minutes or so – you will need to apply less force when paddling toward it, will require less energy to catch it, and will most probably ride it for a short period.
On the way back to the line-up, they will be required to duck dive less frequently and, given that there are no big sets to worry about, can paddle at a moderate pace.
In such conditions, and under this level of intensity, a surfer weighing 80 kg / 180 lbs will burn anywhere between 250 to 350 calories per hour – which is similar to an hour of sailing. This can be increased to up to 500 calories per hour by summoning one’s inner grommet and sitting on the inside, paddling for every pulse you see.
In such conditions, and under this level of intensity, a surfer weighing 80 kg / 180 lbs will burn anywhere between 250 to 350 calories per hour – which is similar to an hour of sailing.
This can be increased to up to 500 calories per hour by summoning one’s inner grommet and sitting on the inside, paddling for every ripple you see!
Tough Conditions (Experienced) ~ 600 to 800 Calories Per Hour
On the other hand, if the waves are overhead and the period is high, you may not have the time to sit still at all. As long as the line-up isn’t crowded, you will be catching one wave after the other, then paddling back as fast as possible, potentially duck-diving a couple of bombs on the way out.
Your rides will also likely be longer and filled with tricks and turns, thus more strenuous. Not to mention all the wipe-outs and the time being churned underwater, then swimming up to the surface, then pulling your leash…
On days like this, the same 80 kg surfer will burn at least 600 calories during a one-hour session. And the more experienced they are (doing airs and roundhouse cutbacks versus a snap and a carve here and there), the more energy they will spend.
These numbers also increase if you are surfing a long point break, for instance, where you have a long paddle back to the line-up after riding the wave until your legs give in. As such, consider 800 calories or more per hour.
While we’re on this subject, here’s a short but super informative clip about Nutrition for Surfers.
Top 5 Water Sports For Burning Calories
All that said, and regardless of how demanding it looks, of all water sports out there surfing is among the ones that burn the fewer calories – at least at a beginner-intermediate level. So if you are hell-bent on losing weight, you might want to try one of the following instead.
Stand-up Paddling (SUP)
For a surfer, it might be strange to think that stand-up paddleboarding requires more energy (thus burns more calories) than wave riding. You are only paddling; there is no pop-up, no sharp turns, no rushing to the peak, no pumping down the line. But it is precisely the continuous paddling motion that makes SUPing such a calorie-burner activity. And in addition to working on your upper body, given your posture, paddling on a SUP also targets your back, leg, and abdominal muscles.
At a leisurely pace, someone weighing 60 kg / 130 lbs will burn roughly 350 calories per hour of SUPing, whereas someone with 80 kg / 180 lbs will burn approximately 500 calories after paddling for an hour. The number of calories average-weight paddler burns per hour can be bumped up to 750 if increasing their pace to intensive. Similarly, when racing, stand-up paddleboarders increase their pace even more, which can lead to up to 1,200 calories being burned per hour.
Anyone who has watched a kitesurfer in action knows that this can be a super intense activity – especially if the wind is blowing hard and/or if done in the sea as opposed to a lake or lagoon. Indeed, kitesurfers never stop moving, and they are constantly engaging all kinds of muscles. The arms and shoulders secure the kite; the core helps the lower back to hold the pressure; the legs direct the board, deal with the chop, and push off for a jump. It is a comprehensive workout, no doubt.
As such, it is no wonder that, with solid winds, a one-hour session burns a minimum of 600 calories for an intermediate-level adult with 60 kg / 130 lbs and 1000 calories for someone at the same level weighing 80 kg / 180 lbs. Needless to say, the choppier the conditions and the stronger the wind, the more energy is required, and the more calories are burned.
In many ways, windsurfing is similar to kitesurfing: it relies on the wind, it uses a board and kite/sail, and it requires pretty much the same set of muscles to be engaged. The main difference between the two, and the reason why a kitesurfer is likely to burn more calories than a windsurfer during a one-hour session, is that kitesurfers are moving non-stop; it is more aerobic. Whereas for a windsurfer, the exercise is more paused and dependent on balance rather than stamina.
Still, the process of getting in and out of the water, as well as the effort to get back on the board is rather taxing. Which, particularly for a novice, translates to more calories burned. And whilst the strength of currents and winds are also determinant factors, a person weighing 60 kgs / 130 lbs can expect to burn between 200 to 300 calories per hour – which is actually very similar to surfing. However, expert windsurfers have a much higher hourly calorie-burning rate than expert surfers: it starts at 1000 calories per hour!
Whilst kayaking is one of the most popular paddling sports, canoeing is the one to burn the most calories per hour. Still, people who have never practiced either will be wondering what their difference is. Someone paddling in a kayak will be seated on a low seat with his/her legs extended or bent in front; whereas in a canoe, he/she will kneel or sit on a raised seat.
A person weighing between 60 kg / 130 lbs and 80 kg / 180 lbs and paddling at a leisurely pace will shred roughly the same amount of calories per hour as a beginner-intermediate surfer in mellow conditions; that is, between 250 and 500. Then it is a matter of paddling faster to burn more calories since it will require more effort and energy. A moderate pace will have you burning between 500 and 800 calories per hour, depending on your weight. Paddling at speeds over 9.5 km/h / 6 mph is considered a vigorous effort. At this pace, expect to burn more than 900 calories per hour.
As a workout, swimming is as effective as it is simple. Whether in a pool or open water, you will be working primarily on your shoulders, chest, and back, your core and glutes, and your legs. You will also be improving your stamina, building muscle mass, optimizing cholesterol levels, and burning a heap of calories, all without having a high impact on your joints or requiring too much equipment.
In just one hour of minimal-intensity swimming, a person weighing 60 kg / 130 lbs can burn approximately 350 calories. Meanwhile, another with 80 kg / 180 lbs swimming at the same pace might burn as much as 500 calories in a single hour. If the intensity of the swimming is increased to high-moderate or vigorous, those same two people can shred 600 and 800 calories per hour, respectively. And if the swim is taking place in the sea, where one has to deal with the elements, the calorie-burning effect is even higher.
So I guess you don’t get into surfing primarily to burn calories – as highlighted here, there are probably better ways to simply feel the burn!
But it is pretty interesting to learn that a solid surf session in good waves could leave you 800 plus calories down in an hour. Surf for two or three hours and you will have surely earned your dinner that evening!