Professional surfer Jamie Sterling is one of the few people in the world who willingly paddles into and surfs waves over 50 feet in height. As you can imagine, being able to do this requires him to be in peak physical condition, physically and mentally. I recently sat down with Jamie to learn how works out and eats to prepare his body to become champion big wave surfer. After reading the interview that follows you’ll not only know how Jamie builds and prepares his body for peak performance but how you can as well.
Surfing 30 Foot Waves At 15 Years Old
Stayfitcentral (SFC): I read on your website that you started surfing on the North Shore at 5 years old. Was your focus always on surfing big waves?
Jamie Sterling (JS): I went the big wave route early on in my career. I was never on the pro tour. I paved my own niche in the surf industry instead. Because I was doing something different at the time I was able to get sponsors early on in my career. Funny enough, the big wave tour is now part of the ASP, which runs the pro surfing tour.
SFC: At what age did you begin surfing big waves, say 15 plus feet high?
JS: I was about 13 years old when I started to surf bigger waves at a break on the North Shore of Hawaii called Sunset Beach, which gets pretty big (15+ feet). This is also when I got my first ‘gun’ (editors note – a gun is a big wave surfboard which is often 9+ feet long. Surfing sunset with guys like Mark Healey, another big wave surfer is what helped pave the way.
Then, at 15 I started surfing 30+ foot waves at Waimea Bay on the North Shore of Hawaii. Its been onwards and upwards from there.
SFC: You must have had some gnarly wipeouts while learning to handle waves the size of medium sized buildings. Do you have any in particular that you recall? How did they affect your attitude toward becoming a top big wave surfer?
JS: Yeah there were a few. I had a near death experience surfing Waimea Bay when I was 17. It was one of the first big wave wipe outs that rattled my cage for sure. I was held under for about a minute. It actually feels like 3 minutes of being held underwater where you have no idea of which way is up or down and are totally at the mercy of the ocean.
It was a heavy experience but after surviving something so scary I also thought maybe I can do this and make a career out of surfing big waves.
SFC: When you were surfing these waves were you towed in by a jet ski or did you paddle into the wave as surfers traditionally do?
JS: All paddle surfing. Paddling takes a lot more skill. Anyone can get towed into a wave. It takes a lot more fitness and skill to paddle into a way. Its like the difference between taking a ski lift and walking up the slope.
SFC: Do you have a favorite wave?
JS: Pipeline. Tube riding is the best thing you can do surfing for sure and that’s what Pipeline offers.
SFC: What’s your favorite big wave outside of Hawaii?
How Jamie Works Out For Optimal Performance
SFC: When in your surfing career did you start lifting, etc. for surfing?
JS: Probably in my Freshman year of high school, when I was 15-16 years old. The workouts were basic high school weight room routines: squats, bench press, military press, curls. Stuff like that.
I really enjoyed lifting weights and quickly saw benefits from the gains I was making. Then I read about how real athletes train which helped my workouts evolve. Over the years it’s continued to evolve based on the different people I meet with their own techniques and styles.
I’ve used these experiences to adapt my training into a very diverse set of techniques that I now use on a daily basis.
SFC: I understand that you’ve gotten into Crossfit. Is this how you currently work out?
JS: Crossfit is currently my primary form of workouts. I do about 5 sessions a week. Two that I train at often are Crossfit760 and Waialua Crossfit. I also do surfing specific Crossfit workouts on my own and yoga at least 4 days a week.
SFC: How have you benefitted from Crossfit?
JS: I’ve definitely made the most gains of my training career from Crossfit. I’m super competitive and I love how your peers in class push you to train your hardest. My overall conditioning and cardio are definitely much better too. Doing lots of Olympic lifts has increased my strength and power. I’ve also lost 10 pounds since starting Crossfit and also going on a Paleo diet.
Crossfit makes me feel like a way better athlete. This helps me feel better on a surfboard and in the water in general.
SFC: What are your surfing specific Crossfit workouts like?
JS: These workouts were developed with the help of the trainer at my local Crossfit box. They’re done on sand and in the water. There are several that we do during the week.
SFC: How often do you work out this way?
A few of my favorites are:
- Kettlebell Swings or Burpees for 10 reps to increase my heart rate followed by swimming underwater as far as possible and then a 50 yard sprint in the sand. I’ll do this for 10 sets. This really trains me to hold my breath when I’m hypoxic and mimics a big wave wipe out.
- Paddle sprints for 30 seconds followed by a 20 second rest. Repeated 10 times.
- Underwater rock running and crab walks on the sand for 50 yards.
- 50 yard beach sprints in soft sand.
- Single leg broad jumps on the beach.
JS: The amount of training I do depends on the waves. When the waves are good, I train less. Since I’m training to be a world champion big wave surfer I’m surfing whenever they’re big. When there’s no waves I work out 6 days a week, at least 2 times a day.
I’ve definitely made the most gains of my training career from Crossfit. I’m super competitive and I love how your peers in class push you to train your hardest.
The types of workouts I do vary each day. Some days I do Crossfit followed by yoga, other days it will be a surfing specific workout followed by a session at my Crossfit box. When the waves are small I’ll even go surfing and then do a Crossfit workout.
SFC: I know you are traveling in pursuit of big waves several months of the year. How do you work out to stay fit when you’re on the road, often in another country and a remote location?
JS: Since it’s become so popular, I’m typically able to find a Crossfit box almost anywhere in the world so the first thing I do is drop into different boxes.
When I’m in a remote location I workout on my own using resistance bands and body weight exercises. I do lots of exercises like burpees, box jumps, breath holds under water, pull ups, sprints, and yoga. There’s always something you can do on the road, you just have to be creative.
SFC: If you had to recommend 1 exercise to improve surfing performance, which is it?
JS: If I had to choose one thing I’d stick with yoga. It keeps me limber and the body weight exercises help maintain my strength. What I really love about yoga are the meditation and visualization exercises. They’re very powerful tools that help me with what I do.
SFC: Training so hard and often must require you to really focus on recovering between workouts and surf sessions to keep your performance high. What do you do to help ensure that your body and mind are fresh?
JS: I do several things. I do foam roller work every day. It’s like a free massage. Instead of sitting on the couch while watching T.V. I’ll lay on the floor and mash out the muscles I’ve worked out that day. It really helps crush the deep tissue fascia and enables me to recover faster. Many times I’ll fall asleep on the floor after doing foam roller work. I also use lacrosse balls which are really hard to massage my muscles.
On top of that I do lots of yoga stretches, drink plenty of water and sleep. The magic really happens when you get 8 hours of restful sleep.
SFC: What about seeing a massage therapist or other health practitioner for more formal work?
JS: I do lots of bodywork including rolfing which really goes deep into the ligaments and muscle fascia to help recovery and workout injuries. I also do something called Polarity therapy which helps balance out my energy. It’s basically 4-5 types of massage in every session.
The session starts with Thai massage to stretch me out then moves on to pressure points to alleviate chronic stuff. Next he does deep tissue massage. The session ends with chiropractic type of adjustments.
A therapist named John Baseheart is my guy for this, he’s an awesome, karmatic guy that has a special knack for healing people.
SFC: How About Acupuncture?
JS: Acupuncture is awesome. It’s helped me heal broken eardrums and recover from a really bad shoulder injury. Using acupuncture is great for increasing blood flow into areas that need to be healed.
How Jamie Eats And Supplements His Diet
SFC: You mentioned earlier that you follow a Paleo diet. Could you explain this in greater detail?
JS: Sure. I’d say my diet is 80% Paleo, so I’m not super strict. I don’t feel it’s substantial enough for an extreme athlete like myself whose working out 2-3 times a day. I feel better eating a little more carbs from bread or rice. I don’t eat a lot of either. Just 1-2 pieces of bread a day or some rice with my fish. I will also eat cheese and have yogurt with my fruit.
If I were only working out 5 days a week at Crossfit then I could eat strict Paleo and perform well.
I feel more charged mentally since I started eating Paleo. I can definitely feel the difference.
SFC:Do you eat organic grown and raised foods?
JS: Yeah. 95% of the foods I eat are organic. All of the meats I eat are locally sourced. The beef I eat is raised here in Hawaii and all the fish is locally caught. Produce too. If I buy it and it’s going into my fridge it’s pretty local and organic.
SFC: What benefits do you get from eating a Paleo style diet?
JS: I feel more charged mentally. More mental and physical energy for sure. I’ve also lost 10 pounds of fat since I started eating this way. I can definitely feel the difference.
SFC: Do you take any nutritional supplements?
JS: Yeah, I try to stay as natural as possible with them too. Some of the supplements I take include Sol Raiz Organic Maca and Sachi Inchi oil from Peru. Sachi Inchi is a nut from Peru that’s a vegetarian source of omega 3, 6, and 9 fats. It has more omegas than fish oil. You can get it in capsules and liquid form and cook with it too.
I also take spirolina and bee pollen. I add them to my smoothies and yogurt. I also drink Jay Robb whey and egg protein shakes. They’re great. Clean shakes with hormone free protein and sweetened with stevia.
Using Technology To Surf Big Waves
SFC: Many of our readers love technology and using it for their workouts and sport. What do you use to help your surfing?
JS: Basically the forecasting websites are awesome. Using sites like Surfline and Stormsurf means we don’t have to wait around to catch waves. We can instead stay home and fly in a couple of days prior when the surf peaks. That in turn saves a lot of time and money. Google Earth is awesome too for scouting out new spots and swell.
SFC: What about GoPro? Do you use that to record your surfing?
JS: Yes. I video myself with my GoPro camera. It’s great because you can attach it to the nose or tail of your board, hold in your hand, even put it in your mouth for different views. With its POV footage I can see how I’m turning and positioning my feet. Mix that with land footage and you can see how you’re surfing, how your boards working, things like that.
SFC: Thanks very much Jamie. Speaking with you has been great. I think everyone will learn something helpful from this interview, whether they surf or not. Before we go do you have any upcoming contests or anything else you’d like to mention?
JS: Sure. There are 4 Big Wave World Tour stops coming up. The waiting period for Mavericks and a contest in Spain start on November 1st. Our Oregon contest waiting period begins on December 1st and Todos Santos begins on January 1, 2014. All of these events are paddle in events. The most prestigious event of them all the Eddie Aikau which is held at Waimea Bay begins its waiting period on December 1st.
Editors Note: Waiting period refers to the time – most often a month – when the contest may be held. None of these contests are held unless the waves are deemed to be large enough to qualify them as a big wave event.
Thanks Jamie. We’ll look for you to do well at these events. By the way, who are your sponsors?
I also have a surf guide business where I’ll take you to the best sports around the world and also do surf yoga retreats. You can learn about my surf guide business at my website and the yoga retreats at junayoga.ca.
We at Stayfitcentral.com also recommend you ‘Like’ Jamie’s Facebook page to stay up to date on his latest surf related conquests. The pictures he publishes are unreal!