Balance boards probably deserve a little more respect than they’re given in terms of training. And convenience. Photo: Vew-Do Boards

The Inertia

Balance boards often get lumped in in with surfskates and foam boards as kooky, somewhat unnecessary surf gear. At best, they’re a piece of equipment for groms and beginners, but undignified to the more seasoned rider.

I viewed them as something I’d outgrown years ago. When I was younger, a friend of mine had a couple different boards, courtesy of running a snowboard shop. We bruised our shins learning ollies and kickflips, or broke them out for late-night beer-and-balance games that never ended well. But that was pretty much the end of it. Or so I thought.

A few weeks ago, I was searching for home workout equipment and a balance board popped up in my feed. I took it as a sign and got one. Since then, it’s led to a shift in my perception of the device. I’ve found it can be yet another tool to help surfers (and all board riders) get their board-balance reps in, burn some workday calories, and add variety to their workout plans.

Here’s a few uses I’ve found after countless “sessions” on some sweet boards.

The Standing Deck

Maybe this one hits harder for me, because I spend my workday either standing or sitting at my laptop; but these days many of us work from home and spend long hours staring at screens. Using a balance board for even part of your workday can provide a sneaky leg and core workout, improve your balance, and allow you to stretch tight muscles. It can even upgrade your mental game, too.

Any balance board can be used at your desk, but I prefer boards with more surface area, so the focus is still on the task at hand and you have some freedom of movement. Blue Planet’s Balance Surfer, a unique board created by Hawaiian paddleboarder Robert Stehlik, allows you to adjust the difficulty level using different balance modules. You can spend the morning taking it easy and ramp it up for a leg-shaking workout after lunch.

The wide, stable board quickly adds a new dimension to my workday: my back can decompress, my legs get a much-needed stretch, and my core strength is tested. It also makes the workday a little more active and dynamic, while challenging my core.

What’s even more interesting is that, when balancing, my mind becomes a bit freer and more creative. There’s science behind the idea that mundane, repetitive acts like driving, walking and balancing can be inspiring. According to Dr. Shelley Carson, author of Your Creative Brain, routine tasks place the brain on cruise control and allow the subconscious to shine through, inspiring more inventive, unedited thought. Sure, some of my “creative thoughts” were to check the snow conditions at Mammoth, or see what the waves were doing, but I digress.

The Workout Machine

When I was more of a gym rat, a Bosu ball was one of my key tools for adding balance and difficulty to basic exercises. I’d never realized that a balance board can provide the same challenge and add some useful surf/skate/snow vibes to the equation.

There are countless exercises that transfer well to balance boards. I’ve added squats and squat variations on the Balance Surfer to my workouts, as well as all sorts of yoga balance poses that suddenly become much more challenging. Different boards help with different workouts, as you factor in size, difficulty, and your own workout goals. Many boards are also adjustable, so you can dial in the workout to your needs and preferences.

The Whirly Board, created by Erik Olson, can add a skate-inspired dimension to strength exercises. Essentially a skate deck with three half-sphere balance points (a bigger one in the middle and two small ones on the nose and tail), the Whirly Board’s smaller size makes even easy workout movements more challenging. I’ve used it for core workouts like planks and plank variations, as well as pushups and dips for arms and one-legged balancing.

I’ve also played around with free weights on balance boards, from bicep curls and military presses to shrugs and tricep extensions. For cardio, I tried two exercises from my Bosu ball days: burpees (push-up, jump, and then use the board as the “weight” to lift over your head), and mountain climbers, which got my heart rate soaring.

All balance boards also offer easy ways to stretch your legs. For example, a hamstring or calf stretch with one leg on the board adds the challenge of not tipping over. When I included balance boards in my workouts, I was reminded of different balancing and stretching exercises I’ve done in physical therapy for my various injuries. That struck me as a good sign.

The Surf (and Skate) Simulator

To improve at surfing, there’s no substitute for riding more waves. On the other hand, if skateboarding and snowboarding can help us stay in surf shape, why can’t balance boards join the party? Nothing will ever feel the same as flying down the line, but if you’re landlocked, traveling, or the surf is flat, you can still get some carves in.

Boards like the Vew-Do Surf33 are specifically crafted to get as close to the feeling of riding waves as possible. The Surf33’s creator, Mike Jenkins, says that the board’s roller “was designed to mimic the smooth flowing motion of a wave, and adds that riders can “take [the] boards up on edge in a carving motion,” which makes it feel more surf-specific than other models. With a quick adjustment, this board can also be used to practice shuv-its, 180s and 360s, which makes the Surf33 a favorite of wakeboarders who want to up their game.

Depending on how you play with the Surf33’s attachments, you can practice your surf balance in a variety of ways. I had a lot of fun trying to ride the nose, grabbing rail, compressing and extending, and just laying into carves. Sure, it’s not snapping off the lip and throwing buckets (I asked my fiancé to spray me with water as I “surfed” the carpet and she politely declined) but boards like this can help riders increase muscle memory so that when they paddle out, popping up on that first wave feels more natural.

As a bonus, boards such as the Whirly invite riders to throw their sneakers on and work on their skate and snowboard style. I haven’t skated much recently, due to injuries, but throwing shuv-its and practicing rock and rolls on the Whirly made me want to get rolling again. Meanwhile, spinning on the board is a great practice tool for throwing 3s and corked 5s in the terrain park. It can also be easily used as a standing desk or workout tool.

Another Tool for Shredding

In the surf world, cross-training often runs the risk of being denounced as not hardcore enough or, worse yet, uncool. However, if you tune into any number of YouTube videos where pros share their surf workouts, you’ll see ab rollers, Bosu balls, kettle bells and more. In the end, the wide variety of balance boards out there can be just another way to keep board riders less bored, more balanced, and ready to rip.


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