Surf Apnea Training: Mastering Breath-Hold Techniques

duck dive under wave

In this comprehensive guide to surf apnea training, we will explore the importance of breath-holding techniques for surfers and the benefits they offer.

Surf apnea training might sound like a term from Aquaman’s dictionary, but it is an essential skill set for any serious surfer. In simple terms, surf apnea is the ability to hold your breath underwater for extended periods.

It involves training your body and mind to withstand the physical and mental challenges that arise while submerging beneath powerful waves.

But why would a surfer need such specialised training, you ask? When you’re in the lineup, waiting to catch that perfect wave, there’s so much more at play than just paddling and balancing.

Surfing can be an intense sport that demands strength, agility and a deep understanding of breathwork.

That’s where surf apnea training comes in handy – it equips surfers with the necessary skills to survive those inevitable hold-downs.

Surfer Breath Work for Better Surf Sessions

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Picture this: you’re out in the lineup, the surf zone, or even caught in the washing machine of a massive wave getting a gnarly surfer hold down. Chaos reigns beneath the ocean and surface, and it’s a wild underwater rodeo. But, hey, that’s just another day at the office for us surfers.

This is where the magic of breath-holding comes into play, my fellow wave riders. We’re talking surf apnea techniques, like the epic “survival breath” and those diaphragmatic breathing exercises that sound as cool as they feel.

Oh, and let’s not forget about dry, static breathing – sounds intense, right? But it’s your secret weapon to rock those extended hold-downs.

As we navigate these watery rollercoasters of life, we’re not just working on our lung capacity but crafting the Zen masters of life in the surf world. It’s all about keeping cool in those wipeout whirlwinds where every second feels like an eternity.

In the words of our salty brethren, “The gnarliest battles happen inside your head.”

By mastering breath-holding, we’re not just conquering and surfing the waves; we’re conquering the ocean and ourselves. It’s like a Jedi mind trick but for surfers.

Now, here’s the kicker: you can supercharge your surf skills by diving into the world of surf apnea training. You’ve got these rad courses where pros show you the ropes of survival apnea too, helping you fine-tune your aquatic superhero skills. It’s like joining the Avengers but for surfers!

So, whether you’re a grom itching to ride bigger waves or a seasoned soul looking to level up your underwater game, don’t sleep on surf apnea training.

It’s your ticket to staying chill under pressure, upping your water safety game, and taking your surf sessions to legendary status. Ride on, surf warrior! 🌊🏄‍♂️

Understanding the Basics of Breath-Holding

surfer breathwork - diving under wave

Physiology of breath-holding

When it comes to surf apnea training, understanding the physiology of breath-holding is crucial. Our bodies rely on oxygen to survive, and during breath-holding, it’s essential to know how our respiratory system works. When we breathe in, our lungs take in oxygen that gets transferred into our bloodstream.

Carbon dioxide, a waste product of metabolism, is expelled when exhaling. This delicate balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide is essential for maintaining proper bodily functions.

Role of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body

In surf apnea training, we focus on manipulating this delicate balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide levels within our bodies. Oxygen is necessary for energy production and supplying muscles with the fuel they need during physical exertion, like surfing or breathing underwater.

On the other hand, carbon dioxide triggers breathing by stimulating the respiratory centres in our brains.

During breath-holding, as carbon dioxide levels increase due to metabolism, receptors within our body signal that it’s time to breathe again.

These signals become more pronounced as time goes on and can lead to contractions – involuntary muscle spasms that attempt to force you to take a breath.

How the body adapts during breath-holding

Through surf apnea training exercises like dry, static apnea on land or in a controlled environment, your body gradually adapts to prolonged periods without breathing by becoming more efficient at conserving oxygen and tolerating higher levels of carbon dioxide build-up.

Over time, your tolerance will improve as your body becomes accustomed to these conditions.

During intense situations in extended breath-holds or a surfer hold-down scenario where you’re caught underwater by a wave, these adaptations can make all the difference between panic and calmly enduring the situation until you can resurface.

Benefits and risks associated with breath-holding

Breath work for surfers, like for other surfers with apnea training, offers numerous benefits. It enhances lung capacity and improves mental focus and relaxation of multiple breathing techniques.

By learning to control your breathing and breath-holding more, you can better manage stress and anxiety in and out of the water. However, it’s also crucial to understand the risks associated with breath-holding.

Prolonged or unsafe breath-holding practices can lead to hypoxia (lack of oxygen), blackout, or loss of consciousness.

It is vital to practice proper breathing and breath-holding training methods and techniques under the guidance of experienced instructors during surf apnea courses to minimise these risks.

Understanding the physiology behind breath-holding or apnea risks allows us to appreciate how our bodies respond and adapt during these challenging situations.

With proper training and precautions, surf apnea training provides surfers with valuable skills to safely survive a breath hold training take-down or navigate demanding situations in the water.

Techniques for Improving Breath-Holding Capacity

Surfer breath work to improve surf apnea survival skills

Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises: Expanding Your Lung Capacity

Breath work for surfers isn’t just about taking in air; it’s about maximising the potential of your lungs. One of the most effective techniques to achieve this is diaphragmatic breathing, also known as deep belly breathing.

Unlike shallow chest breathing, diaphragmatic breathing allows you to engage your diaphragm muscle and expand your lung capacity fully. To practice this technique, find a comfortable position, sitting or lying down.

Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. As you inhale deeply through your nose, focus on pushing out your abdomen while keeping the chest relatively still.

Feel the breath fill up your belly like a balloon expanding. Exhale slowly through pursed lips, allowing the abdomen to deflate naturally.

Aside from expanding lung capacity, diaphragmatic breathing promotes relaxation by activating the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress and anxiety that might hinder breath control during intense surf sessions.

Regular practice of this technique can improve overall respiratory function, improve ventilation,, and oxygen efficiency.

Dry Static Apnea Training Exercises: Building Endurance on Land

When it comes to improving breath-holding abilities for surfers, dry static apnea training exercises are essential. This training involves increasing breath-hold time on land before taking it into the water.

By practising breath holds in a controlled environment first, you can build strength, mind control and endurance without the added complexities of being underwater.

To begin with, dry static apnea training, find a quiet space to focus without distractions. Assume proper posture by sitting or lying down with good back support and relaxed muscles.

Take slow and deep breaths before starting each hold. Start with a duration that feels comfortable for you, perhaps around 30 seconds to a minute.

Gradually increase the duration of each breath hold over time, ensuring you maintain good relaxation and posture throughout.

As you progress, incorporate contractions into your training to simulate the water pressure experienced while surfing.

Understanding Contractions: Embrace the Discomfort

During longer breath holds, you may encounter contractions – involuntary muscle movements that can be uncomfortable or even alarming to some surfers.

They are a natural response of the body to increased carbon dioxide levels. Contractions signify that your body is adapting to low oxygen conditions and trying to conserve energy.

While contractions might initially feel unnerving, it’s crucial to understand their significance in surf apnea training.

By embracing and accepting contractions as part of the process, you can train your body to tolerate them and maintain calmness during challenging situations like being caught in a hold-down.

For more information on CO2 training, I have an article dedicated to that here.

Safety Precautions: Train Responsibly

Safety should be the top priority in any physical training while practising contraction exercises for surf apnea training. It’s crucial to listen carefully to your body’s signals and never push yourself beyond reasonable limits.

Ensure you have an experienced partner or instructor nearby who can assist. Always conduct these exercises in a safe environment, such as a swimming pool, or with proper supervision if practicing in open water.

Remember that breath-holding abilities are built gradually over time through consistent practice. Rushing into intense breath hold training exercises requires proper preparation to avoid unnecessary risks or injuries.

Prioritise gradual progression and prioritise safety when engaging in dynamic breathing and apnea in surf training.

By incorporating diaphragmatic breathing techniques and dry static apnea training exercises, surfers can significantly enhance their breath-holding capacity and improve overall performance in the water.

These foundational practices lay the groundwork for more advanced techniques covered later in this article, allowing surfers to easily tackle bigger waves and survive hold-downs. So, let’s dive deeper into the world of surf apnea training and explore additional skills that will take your surfing to new heights.

Practical Applications for Surf Apnea Training

wave, surfing, sea surf apnea survival

Enhancing Performance in Big Wave Surfing

When riding big waves, surfers face unique challenges that require mental and physical fortitude. This is where surf apnea training programs can make a significant difference. Surfers can enhance their performance in the most demanding conditions by developing breath-holding skills.

One crucial aspect of surf survival training is the development of mental resilience under extreme life situations. Picture this: you’re paddling out to catch a massive wave, adrenaline pumping through your veins as you anticipate the drop.

Suddenly, you are thrown off your board, submerged underwater, and facing an intense hold-down. In these moments of intense situations, it’s easy to panic and lose control.

However, surf apnea training focusing on breath work for surfers teaches you techniques to remain calm and composed even amid chaos. With improved breath control and mental resilience developed through apnea surf practices, surfers can keep their cool during wipeouts or extended hold-downs.

They are better equipped to handle challenging situations by staying calm, focused on conserving oxygen and maintaining composure until they resurface.

These skills are invaluable for big-wave surfers and riders facing larger risks and seeking greater rewards.

Improving Underwater Confidence and Safety Skills

freediving, deep, underwater

Surf apnea training goes beyond enhancing performance and addresses safety concerns when venturing into the depths beneath crashing waves. As a surfer, having confidence underwater is crucial for exploring reef breaks or navigating through treacherous conditions such as strong currents or underwater obstacles.

Advanced equalisation techniques are essential in improving underwater confidence during apnea surf sessions. The Frenzel and mouthfill techniques are commonly practised methods that allow divers to equalise pressure within their ears effectively.

These techniques ensure comfort while diving deeper or spending extended periods submerged. Additionally, surfers can benefit greatly from swimming exercises and honing their underwater navigation surf survival training skills.

Orientation using natural markers, such as rock formations or distinctive landmarks on the shore, aids in maintaining a sense of direction underwater. Understanding how to utilise bottom contours—identifying sandbars or reef formations—further enhances one’s ability to navigate safely underwater.

By investing time in surf apnea courses and practising these techniques regularly, surfers can gain the confidence and skills necessary for safer, more enjoyable dives beneath the surface.

Remember: while surf apnea training is valuable for improving performance and safety, always prioritise personal safety and consult with experienced professionals before venturing into unfamiliar or dangerous waters.

Exploring Advanced Concepts in Surf Apnea Training

CO₂ tables: Increasing tolerance to carbon dioxide buildup

Surf apnea training goes beyond basic breath-holding techniques. As surfers progress, they can explore advanced concepts like CO₂ tables to increase their tolerance to carbon dioxide buildup.

CO₂ tables involve holding your breath for specific intervals while monitoring your oxygen levels and consciously managing the urge to breathe.

These exercises simulate the conditions experienced during intense surf sessions, where prolonged hold-downs can lead to an increased buildup of carbon dioxide in the body.

By practising CO₂ tables regularly, surfers can train their bodies to tolerate higher levels of carbon dioxide, improving their ability to stay calm and composed under extreme conditions.

Progression from beginner to advanced CO₂ tables

Just like any other training regimen, it is important for surfers new to CO₂ tables to start with beginner exercises and gradually progress towards more advanced techniques.

Beginners may begin with shorter breath-holds and longer recovery periods, gradually increasing the duration of their breath holds as they gain confidence and experience.

As they improve, surfers can introduce contractions into their practice by gently squeezing on exhales, simulating the feeling of water pressure at depth.

Beginners must take their time with this progression and listen closely to their body’s signals. With consistent practice and gradual progression, surfers can unlock new levels of breath control.

Surf survival Courses

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Hawaiian surfer Ha’a Keaulana © Paul Nicklen/National Geographic/Getty Images

Surf Apnea Australia:

Apnea Survival offers a range of courses to enhance breath-holding abilities, stress control, and overall health for surfers and aquatic athletes. Their Surf Apnea™ course, backed by over a decade of research and experience, equips participants with robust breath-holding skills and stress management tools applicable not only to underwater situations but also to everyday life.

Additionally, Apnea Survival provides Instructor Certification programs, allowing individuals to share these valuable skills with others. Whether you’re a water enthusiast or a fitness coach, these courses empower you to unlock your potential and excel in demanding scenarios, fostering self-awareness and self-control.

I am a qualified instructor with apnea survival and absolutely loved attending this course on the Gold Coast. For me, it was life-changing – discovering how your mind can overcome discomfort and push through was incredible!

Ready to hit the waves – Check out this guide to the best surf towns in Australia.

Shark Eyes Australia Surf Apnea Course:

Boost your ocean confidence and surfing skills with the Shark Eyes Australia Surf Apnea Course. Led by experienced watermen Russell Ord and Shanan Worrall, this comprehensive course covers vital topics, including breathwork theory, mental training, relaxation techniques, and wipeout training.

Suitable for surfers of all levels, the course offers a full day of face-to-face learning, including theory, practical sessions, and ocean training.

Participants should be 15 or older and bring their dive mask, wetsuit, lunch, water, and sun protection. Book your spot for $249, and choose from various course dates and locations. Don’t miss this opportunity to enhance your surfing abilities and ocean confidence.

Performance Freediving Academy:

The Performance Freediving Academy offers a comprehensive Freediver Course designed to teach fundamental freediving techniques, making it suitable for both beginners and those seeking to enhance their skills.

This course covers essential safety procedures, proper breathing techniques, static apnea practice, and techniques for depth diving, among other topics. Whether you’re new to freediving or looking to improve your breath-holding abilities and diving skills, this course provides valuable knowledge.

Students are required to demonstrate skills such as safe buddy rescue, static breath-holding, and proper diving technique to receive PFI Freediver certification. The course includes classroom sessions, confined-water and open-water training, and various prerequisites. Join the course and explore the aquatic world with confidence.

Hawaii Eco Divers:

Located in the heart of surf culture, this course is praised for its focus on ocean fitness and developing mental strength. Surfers appreciate the camaraderie fostered within the course, and many return for advanced training.

Hawaii Eco Divers & Surf Adventures offers an engaging Apnea Surf Survival Course designed to enhance breath-holding abilities and boost confidence, whether you’re a surfer, diver, or simply looking to improve your breathing and mental control. Over two days, participants learn various apnea techniques, breathing

Ocean Warriors:

The Ocean Warrior Course is a comprehensive program designed to enhance breath-hold capabilities, water confidence, and safety in high-stress aquatic situations. This course, suitable for individuals of all skill levels, offers practical training in safety measures, land-based techniques, and water skills, equipping participants with the tools to remain calm and confident in challenging water scenarios.

With insights and contributions from elite water athletes like Kelly Slater, Kai Lenny, and Shane Dorian, this course provides invaluable knowledge and techniques.

The Ocean Warrior Course offers two packages, including beginner and advanced levels, both accessible online with lifetime access and an Elite Mindset Program. Take advantage of the limited-time offer to join this course and gain access to The Ocean Warrior Foundation Series, a bonus 3-week training program. Boost your water skills and confidence with this engaging and expert-led course.

Pure Apnea:

Pure Apnea offers the unique Surf Apnea specialty course, designed for surfers and water users who may encounter situations where they need to involuntarily hold their breath, such as during a wipeout or in turbulent surf conditions.

Unlike trained freedivers, individuals in these scenarios often need more preparation and training, which can lead to life-threatening consequences or lingering fear of water activities.

Surf Apnea equips participants with essential breath-hold techniques, physiology, and safety skills specifically tailored to surf conditions. With certified instructors available, Pure Apnea ensures that water enthusiasts can enhance their confidence and safety when facing unexpected breath-holding situations in the water.


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Surf apnea training isn’t just a toolbox for surfers; it’s a treasure chest of skills that can turn the tide in challenging conditions while keeping you safe below the surface.

By weaving breathwork into your surf routine, you’ll unlock your lung’s hidden potential, forge mental steel to ride out those gnarly wipeouts and hold-downs and become a fearless underwater explorer with mad equalisation skills and ninja-like navigation know-how.

And hey, you’ll even boost your tolerance for CO₂ buildup with those epic CO₂ table exercises.

Whether you’re blazing your trail or joining a crew of fellow wave warriors in surf apnea courses, these techniques will elevate your surf game to the next level.

So, charge up with dedication, ride the waves consistently, hold your breath, and remember, the depths are yours to conquer. Dive right in and explore the boundless world of surf apnea training – the ocean awaits your empowered presence! 🌊🤙🏄‍♀️

Are you ready to apply this knowledge and conquer your fear of surfing bigger waves – I have a article with the best tips to learn how to surf bigger waves here.

If you need some inspiration for your next surf trip, have a look here.


What is surf apnea?

Surf apnea is a specialised training technique for surfers that enhances their ability to hold their breath for extended periods.

It helps surfers remain calm and composed underwater in challenging conditions, such as wipeouts and hold-downs, by improving their lung capacity, breath control, and mental resilience.

How do surfers hold their breath for so long?

Surfers develop the ability to hold their breath for extended periods through surf apnea training. This training involves various breath-holding techniques, including diaphragmatic breathing, dry static apnea exercises, and CO₂ tables.

These gradually increase their tolerance for carbon dioxide buildup and improve their overall breath-holding capacity.

How long can surfers hold their breath?

Surfers’ breath duration varies depending on their training and experience. With proper surf apnea training, some surfers can hold their breath for several minutes, which is crucial for surviving wipeouts and hold-downs.

Is apnea training good for you?

Yes, apnea training offers numerous benefits for surfers. It enhances lung capacity, mental focus, relaxation, stress management, and overall breath control.

However, it’s essential to practice apnea training safely and under the guidance of experienced instructors to minimise risks.

How can I improve my breathing for surfing?

Improving your breathing for surfing involves practising breath-holding techniques, such as diaphragmatic breathing and dry static apnea exercises, which can enhance lung capacity and breath control.

Enrolling in surf apnea courses or working with experienced instructors can also be beneficial.

How long should I be able to hold my breath for surfing?

The ideal duration for holding your breath while surfing can vary, but surfers often aim to hold their breath for at least a minute or more to navigate challenging situations like hold-downs effectively.

With proper breath training, you can gradually increase your breath-holding capacity.

Is surfing good for the lungs?

Surfing can positively affect lung health, promoting deep breathing and cardiovascular fitness. However, surfers must also prepare for breath-holding situations by practising surf apnea techniques to enhance lung capacity and control.

How do you relax while surfing?

Surfers relax by staying focused, practising deep and controlled breathing, and maintaining a calm mindset. Surf apnea training can help surfers develop resilience and composure in challenging situations.

What is a hold-down in surfing?

A hold-down in surfing refers to a situation where a surfer is held underwater by a wave after wiping out or being caught in the impact zone.

It can be intense and challenging, requiring surfers to hold their breath and remain calm until they resurface.

How long will a 10-foot wave hold you down?

The duration a 10-foot wave holds a surfer down can vary based on several factors, including wave strength and the surfer’s skills. Sometimes, a surfer may be held underwater for several seconds to a minute or more.

How long can a wave hold you down?

The time a wave can hold a surfer down depends on wave size, power, and other factors. Surfers may sometimes experience hold-downs lasting several seconds to a minute or longer.

Why do surfers put their hand in the wave?

Surfers may put their hand in the wave to maintain balance, control their body position, or stabilise themselves during a ride. It helps them navigate and perform maneuvers effectively.

How long can the average surfer hold their breath?

The average surfer can hold their breath for around 30 seconds to a minute without training. With proper surf apnea training, surfers can significantly extend their breath-holding capacity.

How do I start apnea training?

To start apnea training, consider enrolling in surf apnea courses led by experienced instructors. These courses provide structured training and guidance on breath-holding techniques and safety precautions.

How often should you do apnea training?

The frequency of apnea training can vary based on individual goals and preferences. Some surfers incorporate apnea training into their regular surf routine, while others may opt for dedicated training sessions a few times a week.

Regular practice is essential to maintain self control and improve breath-holding skills.

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