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Why Surfing on the East Coast May Be Better Than Catching Waves in Hawaii (Seriously!)

Post-wave riding with my Hot Wax Surf Shop instructors!

Surfing. It's on everyone's bucket list. And when you imagine yourself crossing that particular item off the to-do list, I'm sure you envision white sandy beaches, lots of palm trees and, well, hot surfer dudes in Hawaii. At least, that's how I pictured it.

When I actually crossed it off my list earlier this year, though, it happened somewhere I never would've expected: North Carolina! More specifically, North Carolina's Crystal Coast at Emerald Isle Beach. I met up with Mike Crews, owner of Hot Wax Surf Shop, who's been surfing since he was five years old, and instructing for the last 15 years. After getting zipped up in an oh-so-sexy wetsuit (insert sarcasm here), I hit the beach - not the water - for lessons on how to power through the waves, nail my timing, paddle like I'm about to die, and pop up to catch and ride that glorious wave.

One lesson Crews stressed that I wasn't expecting: yoga is a critical component to successfully surfing. Wait, what? I knew you needed balance, core and upper body strength. I felt I had a decent amount of all three, but hadn't been "om-ing" regularly. Would I be able to hang ten?

Not only does Crews instruct surfing, he's also been teaching yoga for the last 15 years. So it made sense to get the low-down on both sports from him. Read on to find out what the big deal is, and why you should pop up on the Crystal Coast this summer (August kicks off their season). Spoiler: While I definitely got knocked around a bit, I rode a wave by the end of the day. Success!

Why are yoga and surfing so closely related?

Yoga is something most people have at least dabbled with, so if I make the connection between the activities, it's often easier for them to relate the two. They understand that when they've popped up on the board and are riding, they're basically in a Warrior II pose. Downward-facing dog is another similar pose because it's how you shift from lying on the board to popping up to that Warrior II pose - if you can jump between those two poses quickly, then that simulates jumping up to the position you need to catch a wave. The only major difference is you're on a surfboard instead of a yoga mat.

What are some top poses you recommend for surfers outside of the water?

I would always recommend that you do a few sun salutations before you go out. They're going to stretch your entire body every way, and it gets your breath going. Yoga is so great for surfing because it helps with flexibility and expanding your breath, which are both critical components to being a successful surfer.

Why is the breathing part so important?

A lot of different yoga programs teach retention of the breath, which helps you inhale quickly, hold the breath and then release it slowly. If you're about to hit the water, you need that quick inhale. As you swim to the top, you're not necessarily holding your breath, but slowly releasing it. By the time you run out, you should be at the surface. So the practice of letting it go slowly and deliberately can really help you out. Yoga and breath retention helps you learn to keep calm during stressful situations, too, which is big if and when a scary situation pops up.

Um, scary situation? 

A lot of people forget how strong the ocean is. If you get stuck under water, it can be like God holding his thumb down on you. You have to be able to maintain that sense of calm while having a lot of lung expansion. You don't want to panic and  fight - that only makes it worse.

How often would you recommend a beginner surfer practice yoga?

If you asked that in a yoga class, the instructor would likely say, "Do whatever you feel comfortable with." While that's true, I would say that you should really become proficient at yoga and go around three times a week if you want to surf.

Ready to hit the water.

OK, what about if you're heading out into the waters for the first time. How many surf lessons should people take before heading out on their own?

Three or four lessons, definitely. But no matter what, you shouldn't be surfing alone - always go with a buddy. Most people go together; there's a lot of camaraderie within the sport. You get almost as much joy watching somebody else catch a killer wave as you get when you catch one yourself.

Why is North Carolina such a great surf spot for beginners?

You can come out and hone your skills from paddling in choppy, two- to three-foot waves. As a beginner, you need to really get down your ability to paddle through waves, out to where you want to catch 'em, and then paddling into them. Without the strength and practice, you don't have the ability and timing to paddle and catch.

When's the best time for vacationers to visit if they want to hit the waves? 

The real surf season is August to December. You get the North Canadian breezes, which is good for us because we're a south-facing beach. If you're an experienced surfer, you could catch a good four- to six-foot wave. If a tropical storm swells, you can ride anywhere from 12- to 19-foot waves. So there's good action around here, no matter what you're level.

For more information on planning a visit to North Carolina's Crystal Coast, visit Emerald Isle Realty.


Samantha Lefave

Samantha is a writer who is living, eating and sweating her way through NYC. You can find her running half-marathons like it's her job, Instagramming her favorite food and fitness finds or, let's be honest, eating peanut butter straight from the jar.

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