Researchers Focused on Surfing Performance
If you thought that scholars and PhDs were just terms thrown around in academic circles then you’d probably be surprised to learn that these roles are playing a big part in the surfing industry.
Meet Oliver Farley and Josh Secomb - PhD scholars based at the Hurley Surfing Australia High Performance Centre (HPC) who are undertaking research focused on enhancing and increasing the performance level of professional surfing.
What are your roles at the Hurley HPC?
Oliver: I’m the Lead Exercise Physiologist for Surfing Australia at the HPC. I’m undertaking research focused on surfing performance enhancement and I work with the athletes that train at the HPC doing breath enhancement work, heart rate monitoring, and blood lactate sampling. I’m also involved in running the testing completed in the swimming pool and assisting during the gym sessions.
Josh: My role is Strength and Conditioning Scholar. I work as an assistant strength and conditioning coach, to Dr Jeremy Shepherd, on the Elite Athlete Program, as well as being a lead strength and conditioning coach for junior athletes, and the surfers without an HPC scholarship competing on the World Qualifying Series (WQS).
How is the term ‘scholar’ received in the surfing industry?
Oliver: I’ve actually been told it’s pretty cool - people think it’s unbelievable that we study surfing!
Josh: I tend to get asked more questions about what ‘physiology’ or ‘strength and conditioning’ mean. The hardest part is often trying to differentiate between what we do from a research and uni background compared to a personal training certification, which is a totally different line of work.
How did you get involved in doing research work at the HPC?
Oliver: After completing my Masters research on surfing performance at AUT University, with the aid of Surfing New Zealand, my supervisor told me about Dr Jeremy Sheppard and his work at the Hurley HPC. I contacted Jeremy and he suggested I apply for a research scholarship at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia. I was fortunate to be awarded the scholarship as well as the bonus research excellence award and began study as a full time PhD scholar in February last year.
Josh: I also contacted Dr Jeremy Sheppard, while completing a Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science (Honours) at Newcastle University, and he asked me to work as a strength and conditioning coach for regionally based scholarship surfers in Newcastle, which I did. From there I applied for a PhD scholarship, through Edith Cowan University, to focus more on research into strength and conditioning.
Tell us about your research…
Oliver: My research focuses on the performance analysis of competitive surfing - done through GPS monitoring, and videoing and time-motion analysis – which is helping to develop specific training programs and provide insight into the surfers’ workloads. I am also designing a new fitness test and training program, which examines surfers’ repeat sprint ability - a key aspect for performance relating to paddle battles and catching waves.
Josh: My research is focused on establishing the strength and power variables associated with better performance of surfing scoring manoeuvres (turns and airs), and the muscle structures associated with increased strength and power of the lower body. I’m also researching the effects of strength and gymnastics training methods on muscle structure and strength and power, and how these relate to the athletes' ability to perform manoeuvres.
Are sports medicine and research new to the surfing world?
Oliver: Over the last five years the sport has turned more professional and surfers are now seeking specialist advice and guidance for training. The guys are at the top are working harder and are hungrier for success, they are also trying to increase the longevity of their careers so they are seeing the importance of what we do and how it can help them. When it comes to physical preparation and sports medicine it’s still very infant in surfing, in fact, I think Australia is one of the only countries approaching performance enhancement through research.
Josh: Sports science and sports medicine have only become recognised in the surfing industry over the past few years. The general approach has been for surfers to use fitness trainers, personal trainers, yoga instructors etc., so in comparison to most sports, surfing is decades behind in the area of sports science and sports medicine.
How will your research contribute to the sport and the nature of surfing?
Oliver: I believe it’s already starting to change things. The biggest thing is trying to increase the overall level of professionalism within surfing and to get our work out there and making inroads to the way surfers are training. One of the benefits we have from using research is that we can apply methods that have been used over the past 20 to 30 years in other sports. This helps to get buy in and to raise awareness of the benefits of certain training methodologies. Ultimately, achieving greater results can also put surfing and our athletes in a more even playing field with other mainstream sports.
Josh: I think that if we can increase the physical qualities of the athletes, which then allows them to perform more highly-scored, technical manoeuvres, then we’ve done our job. Overall, our research – particularly identifying gaps in the athletes’ physical qualities, which then limit their technical abilities - will bring up the level of surfing. Additionally, we hope to create a training culture for junior surfers to ensure that by the time they’re competing on the WQS and World Championship Tours their physical qualities are more developed than the athletes who are currently competing at this level of competition.
Is being able to surf a pre-requisite for undertaking research in the sport?
Oliver: Not necessarily but there is probably a bit more buy-in from the athletes if you do. Having an appreciation and understanding of the laidback surfing lifestyle helps but the ability to relate to the athletes is a more critical component.
Josh: Due to the infancy of this scientific approach to surfing, I think that if the athletes have seen you in the water you’re likely to get a little more buy-in but it’s not essential to be surfer. If you’ve got the right people skills, and the ability to effectively communicate, you’ll be sweet.
What advice can you offer to others wanting to get involved in research relating to surfing?
Oliver: Firstly you need to get into uni. I didn’t pass High School so I had start by doing a diploma. From there I completed a bachelors degree, a post-graduate diploma, then a masters and before undertaking a PhD. If you apply yourself to something that you’re really interested in a career path will naturally evolve.
Josh: You definitely need to get the right qualifications, but it’s also about practical application - you need to be hands on and get experience actually working with athletes. The best way to do this is to volunteer as there are a lot of athletes that don’t get support, especially at a regional level. I’d also suggest hitting up a coaching association, for example the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association, and progressing through the coaching certification levels. You have to be personable with the athletes so having a few basic coaching skills helps, but ultimately it is about getting experience with lots of different athletes, and building relationships – that’s not something that you can pick up from reading books.
Where can we find you online?
Hayden Jackson - SEAduction Photography
Shannon Glasson - Ocean Photographer
James McMillan - Byron Bay Surf Festival Director
Shannon Hughes - WSL & ISA Commentator
Craig Sims - White Horses & Surfing Life Publisher
Luke Kennedy - Editor of Tracks Magazine
Simon ‘Swilly’ Williams - Surf Photographer
Jarra Campbell - the Bondi Alchemist
Greg Gordon - Owner of CR Surf
Shayne Nienaber - Surf Photographer