In the universe defined by Roxy board shorts and Dakine flip-flops, surfers are the ultimate paradigm of fitness. They have the acrobatic skills of gymnasts, the physical endurance of long-distance swimmers, the fluidity of dancers — and they do things on water that only Jesus should be able to. Olympic swimmers travel up and down the lane in a straight line, but surfers battle currents in open ocean and get pummeled by waves.
So it’s no surprise that Serena Brooke, ranked 16th in the world of women’s pro surfers, has done a series of workout videos with her trainer, Scott Adams.
She plops down in a booth with Adams in Abbot’s Habit café, a Venice haunt. It’s the day after her loss at the U.S. Open of Surfing, at Huntington Beach, one of the qualifying contests on the Women’s World Tour of the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP). Out at high tide, with only 20 minutes to strut her stuff in a four-person heat, her three other competitors snaked each scarce wave.
“Yeah,” she sighs, “I couldn’t get a wave. It’s a bummer, but I stay focused on the next one.”
The ASP Women’s World Tour takes competitors all over the globe, with stops this year in Brazil, Hawaii, Peru and Brooke’s own native Australia. And it’s not necessarily true that the younger surfers dominate. Brooke, who is 32, talks admiringly about 36-year-old Kelly Slater, the world’s top surfer. “He’s beating all these 18-year-old kids, making them look like amateurs. But he’s a freak.”
Every girl who ever saw Blue Crush will want both of Brooke's Surf Stronger videos, so will every guy who mourns the muffin-top gut slouching over his Speedos. Speaking of Blue Crush, remember that scene where Kate Bosworth and her surfer-girl buddies are running under a high-rise parking lot’s worth of water on the ocean floor while carrying a massive rock? Surfers actually do that.
“That was my friend Michelle,” Brooke says about the scene. “That ispart of the training. I’ve done that. It’s for being stressed. You know, when you’re under the water holding your breath and working your muscles at the same time. It’s for building up lung capacity. It’s pretty hard. I’m pretty crappy at holding my breath.”
How long can you hold your breath?
“Not long enough. I don’t know how I haven’t drowned.”
Brooke likes doing floaters, that sleek little maneuver where you skim the curling top lip of a wave and appear to float for a few seconds. That, and tube riding through a tunnel of water, which imparts a mind-emptying, mesmerizing sensation best described, in Brooke’s words, as “You’re like, woo-hoo!”
The sessions on Brooke’s Core Training can be done by surfers and nonsurfers, beginners and advanced. You follow along with Brooke as she does knee tucks and moves on a giant white pearl of an exercise ball. The videos show you how the actions correspond to actual surf moves — like popping up on your board — with footage of Brooke surfing. Adams believes in strengthening the core (i.e., the part of your body that would be left if sharks chomped off all your limbs) because it’s where every movement originates. The core is your center of power. And Brooke’s core is awesome.
Adams asks her to stand. “See? If I try to push her over, she won’t fall.”
“Are we gym rats?” Brooke says. “I don’t think so. A lot of surfers don’t want to go to the gym. They do cross-training. They don’t want to bulk up. They want to be lean and fast.”
“Surfers would never want to train segmentally, the way a bodybuilder does, and only focus on certain areas,” Adams adds. “You want to do integrative stuff, like squatting, twisting, lunging. Things you do when you surf. You can do it just using your own body weight.”
Since Brooke started doing the workouts, or “functional training,” as she and Adams call it, she can stick more maneuvers.
“Before, I would get bounced off. Not falling is what surfing is about,” she says, sipping an Odwalla orange juice. The cashier who rings up Brooke’s bill checks out her short denim skirt, long tanned legs, taut stomach, and becomes instantly fascinated by her Surf Stronger T-shirt. He may not recognize her, but he knows a hot chick when he sees one.
Surf connoisseurs will know that Brooke surfs in a “classic style.” Coming from Australia, she excels in bigger surf, which opens things up and lets her be more expressive.
“If you have a canvas and you’re drawing waves on it, she draws a smooth and powerful line, like sine waves,” Adams says, moving his hand up and down. “Versus someone who is faster and steeper but a little more off-balance and choppy. They do one move and nothing after it. Serena’s also fluid. She can connect several maneuvers together, one after the other, without stopping.
“The longer the paddle, the more rigorous the conditions, the more she’s gonna have an advantage,” he continues, “Twenty minutes out, she’s not even tired. We’re used to smaller waves here in Los Angeles, where you’re not paddling that much. But riding a bigger wave, where there’s more currents, requires more strength. She does great on the Hawaiian leg.”
The subject turns to whether she’s ever scared being so far out at sea. The ocean is so big and humans are so small.
“No, I love it,” she says, her eyes going distant.
She is constantly in motion, whether fiddling with her cell phone, or her sun-bleached blond hair, which dangles between her shoulder blades. She twists in her seat to look out the window in the direction of the sea, trying to catch a glimpse of it beyond the houses and shops. She’s like a wild thing, a bird that’s flown into the room, surprised almost to find itself indoors, wanting nothing more than to be outside.
“It’s a funny feeling,” Adams adds, “with soccer players running in the field, that’s their playing area. For us, that three-quarter-mile away from shore, that’s home.”
For now, Brooke will keep surfing the rest of the season’s contests so she can keep racking up the necessary points to qualify her to surf in the World Championship Tour finals. Twice in her career, she surfed her way to No. 2 in the world. Second-best female surfer on the planet is not so bad. The No. 1 spot, currently held by 20-year-old Stephanie Gilmore, has eluded her so far.
“Stephanie Gilmore is aggressive. She has a natural instinct for wave selection. She won last year,” Adams’ voice trails off as Brooke rejoins us. She squeezes into the back seat of Adams’ truck next to their surfboards, and we drive out to the Venice Beach shore. “I see surfers who are in the finals and they get tired after 15 minutes,” Adams says, “That’s no excuse. It’s like, ‘Dude, you’re in the finals.’”
Brooke nods. “It’s so crowded these days, with all the young kids out in the water. They’re so aggressive! I say just go out there and wait your turn, then enjoy the wave you get. If you try to drop in and snake every wave ...? Some people are like that. They’re superagro, and they piss off the locals.”
It was like that, she says, with the girls in Brazil. Sometimes “bitter old guys” try to snake her waves but not usually.
“When I die I’ll know I used my body,” she says.
And how. Several years ago, her surfboard fin smacked into her eye socket and sliced through the lids. She almost passed out and drowned but managed to cup her hand around the eye and hang onto both her board and eyeball. Doctors removed the eye and repositioned it.
She has that thing athletes have, which blurs the line between pleasure and pain, that quirk of the brain that tells you it’s kinda cool when you’re being spun around in that washing-machine whirl of a submerging wave, one breath away from a foamy, salty demise.
“Sometimes it hurts,” she admits, “sometimes it’s fun.”
On the beach, Brooke pauses to pose for a photograph with a girl in a bikini. The girl’s soft, voluptuous body looks pudgy next to Brooke’s svelte one. Brooke’s abs flex as she twists to display the elegant new tattoo of a swallow on her right flank, just beneath the rib cage. It represents freedom — “a leaf on the wind,” as her motto goes.
“Can you teach me to surf?” the girl asks Adams, flirtatiously. She looks over at Brooke, who has strayed away to walk along the wet part of the sand, board in hand. A pair of dolphins frolicks along the shoreline.
“You wanna look like her?” Adams says, nodding toward Brooke.
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“She’s Top 16 in the world,” says Adams, proudly.
The girl squints. “That is so intense,” she says, “I would die.”
Surf Stronger, Vol. 2: Core Training With Serena Brooke, $29.95, www.surfstronger.com.