I just thought up a sinister way to mangle your lower back. Maybe it can be used as a punishment for society’s worst criminals. It involves laying prone on a hard flat surface for long periods, arching your neck unnaturally, and struggling against swift current while getting repeatedly slammed by water.

Yeah, that might hurt in a few years. Photo: Obdulio Luna


The Inertia

I just thought up a sinister way to mangle your lower back. Maybe it can be used as a punishment for society’s worst criminals. It involves laying prone on a hard flat surface for long periods, arching your neck unnaturally, and struggling against swift current while getting repeatedly slammed by water.

Oh, wait, that’s already been invented. It’s called surfing.

You don’t really feel the full effects until you get older. In high school my buddies and I used to laugh at the older guys who stretched before paddling out. We might’ve even muttered a derogatory remark or two as we ran past them toward the ocean, something like: “Go get ‘em, stretch guy.”

But now, a couple of decades later, I’m that stretch guy. I have to be. Otherwise, after a surf my back will feel like somebody tightened it with a lug wrench. In this precarious state the slightest wrong movement can incapacitate me. Recently I was sent to the couch for days after climbing a flight of stairs too fast after a stretch-less surf session. Not exactly hero material to the younger me. If I could enter a time-warp, the conversation would go something like this:

“Wow, a surf injury,” the younger me says, voice filled with awe. “Were you charging triple-overhead bombs?”

“Uh, no,” I say. Cough. “I hurt myself climbing stairs two at a time after surfing a chest-high day without stretching.”

A stretch before surfing really helps your flexibility, but it doesn’t work if you rush through it. You have to be patient to get the muscles loose. I admire those yoga types who contort themselves for long periods, but I don’t have the patience for it, just do the bare minimum to get limber. It’s hard to pretzel on the beach, watching waves peel through an empty lineup, agitating to catch a few before the crowd hits, wind blows, or world ends.

At least you get smarter through time to compensate for your increasing brittleness, and the act of surfing becomes richer and more enjoyable in many ways. Maybe it’s the better understanding of the ocean and all the elements that go into riding a wave, or maybe you just appreciate things more when you get older because you’ve endured your share of crap.

But none of this chin-tugging would matter to the younger me. Back in the time-warp, as I’m contorted awkwardly on the sand before a surf, he’ll still run by and say, “Go get ‘em, stretch guy.”

To which I’ll laugh modestly and wish him well, knowing in ten minutes I’ll use my veteran cunning and superior wave knowledge to burn him on the set of the day.

Tom Mahony is the author of the recently released book, Pacific Offering. Check it out and purchase a copy here.


  • http://www.facebook.com/jose.baeyens Jose Baeyens

    I didn’t have to be older to have severe back pains, and unfortunately good advice (which I had to look up) came only (too) late for me.
    So yes : stretch, exercise and fortify those vertebral skeleton muscles especially of the lower back. And don’t say it will never happen to you, because when it does, it will be too late.