Interview with the God Father of Surf Fitness, Paul Frediani

Back in 2000, when Scott and I started getting serious about creating Surf Stronger, we did some research on the category of surf fitness. We found that there wasn’t really a category of surf fitness at all. In fact, there was a dearth of information around how to train for surfing. We were surfing the punishing waves of Ocean Beach, San Francisco, and we knew from experience that better fitness equals better surfing. So we started thinking about how to best train for our favorite sport. We were excited to find Paul Frediani’s book Surf Flex, an excellent compilation of well-written, illustrative, surf-specific exercises. Today, we consider Paul the “Godfather of Surf Fitness” and are honored to have him on our Surf Stronger advisory board. Paul is well educated in fitness and health and is an outspoken champion of wellness in America. We recently had the chance to talk to Paul about Surf Flex and his philosophy on health, fitness, and surfing. Enjoy.

Surf Stronger: How did you get started in your profession?

Paul Frediani: I’ve been a personal trainer and fitness author for twenty years. I was a former Golden Gloves boxing champion living in New York City, and a fella saw me punching a heavy bag at the West Side YMCA. He asked me if I could teach him how to box, and introduced me to his friend, Danny Errico, who was opening a studio called Equinox. They hired me as a boxing instructor. Of course you know what happened to Equinox. That was my beginning.

SS: Describe your typical work day.

PF: Up at 4:45 a.m., down coffee and a banana, check my email, do a little homework, then grab a 60-minute workout. My first client is normally at 7:00 a.m. I finish at noon or 1:00, then lunch. Take my boys, Luigi and Bruno (English bulldogs) out for a walk; then I take a nap. Wake up, do a little homework, go back, train two more clients. Finish at 8:00 p.m. One night per week I run a triathlon training program at the JCC; two other nights I swim with a masters’ program. In bed at 10:30 p.m. Wake up and do it again. Weekends: BEACH TIME!

SS: Describe your favorite workout currently.

PF: I like to mix it up. I train with free weights, yoga, fitness balls, kettlebells, and TRX. I used to love to run, but that’s no longer in the picture for me. I’ve got this crazy idea that I want to do a 10-kilometer swim, so I’m working a lot on my swimming technique.

SS: How long have you been surfing?

PF: I started surfing in 1963 in Pacifica, California. To know what it was like, read my article called “Blessings of Water.”

SS: How did you come up with the idea to write a book on surf fitness?

PF: My son, Paolo, is an expert surfer in San Francisco. Around 1999 he called me complaining about knee pain. I did some research on surf conditioning and there was nothing out there.

SS: What was your approach to writing Surf Flex?

PF: I wanted to share with surfers my knowledge of the latest sports medicine and fitness protocols. Surfers were really out of the loop when it came to conditioning. Kinesiology, biomechanics, and exercise physiology were not part of the physical foundation required for surfing. Surfers just surfed.

SS: What was the reaction to your book?

PF: For the most part, the response was great. But surfers of my generation were like, “Dude, you’re selling out,” or “If you want to surf better, just surf!” Let me address the first response regarding selling out, which really pissed me off. If you don’t want to sell out, that’s fine. What you should do is plant a balsa wood tree, wait until it grows, carve it out, and make a surfboard. But if you surf on a foam or fiberglass board, wear a wetsuit or surf trunks, or use surf wax and a leash, you are supporting an industry whose purpose is to make money. Plus, my detractors have no idea about the time and effort it takes to write a book. They think an author makes millions. LOL! In the 10 years since I wrote Surf Flex, I probably made enough money to buy one surfboard. If I broke it down into how much I made per hour of writing, it would be about 10 cents an hour!

Regarding the lame idea that to surf better, you just have to surf—well, that is only half lame. Any activity or sport requires skill for the actual ability to comprehend the neurological movement patterns and put them into action. That’s skill. Yet there is not one sport today where skill levels and performances have not improved because of physical enhancement. Football players in the 1950s didn’t weight train because they thought it would make them slower. Nor did basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball, or track and field athletes. You name it. Can you imagine what the performance levels in those sports would look like today if those athletes didn’t have strength and conditioning programs? Look at golf and how Tiger changed the game. Before Tiger, a gin and tonic was the only weight a golfer would lift. What makes surfing different from other sports?

SS: What is your philosophy on fitness and surfing?

PF: There is no doubt in my mind that surfing will become an Olympic event in my lifetime. There are three types of surfers: a very small percentage who want to compete; those who make it a lifestyle; and those who surf recreationally. Surfers who choose to compete need strength and conditioning. The level of athleticism required for today’s young surfers is going through the roof. Competitive surfing is no place to be if you’re just in shape; you have to be in ultimate shape. For those who chose surfing as a recreation or lifestyle, staying fit enhances the surfing experience and reduces risk of overuse injuries. For the mass majority of us, all we want is to surf as long and as well as we can; staying in shape gives us the best chance of prolonging our surfing.

SS: Some people say what you eat matters much more so than how active you are. Did you see the recent Time article, Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin?

PF: Are you f***ing kidding me? You want me to get started on that fricking article! You know, anything we can do to accommodate the fatties is fine with me, because sooner or later they will be knocking on my door and hiring me for results. There are lots of excellent facts in the article, but the problem that I’m already hearing at the gym is, “See, exercise isn’t going to help me lose weight.” If you use exercise as an excuse to make up for poor nutrition, you are absolutely right.

Several years ago I was hired to train Caroline Rhea, the comedian and host of The Biggest Loser. The deal was she would train once or twice a day for 30 days: spinning, strength training, and Pilates. At the end of 30 days, she hadn’t lost a single pound. In an article she wrote for Shape magazine, Caroline said, “I learned that you can exercise until the cows come home, but if you don’t eat right, you’ll just be another cow.”

We — and I mean this globally — are becoming a society that wants to make fat the new normal. Do you know that ten years ago, size 10 for women was actually size 8? We eat sh**, don’t move, and cry that we’re not getting results. Exercise is an essential part of life. We are meant to move, and if we don’t, we deteriorate. I recently visited my hometown in Italy and was appalled by what I saw. I come from a little hamlet surrounded by farmland, six miles from the Mediterranean. They built a supermarket there and it’s packed with people buying cellophane vegetables and fruits from other countries. You walk outside and 20 yards away, you can pick all the fresh fruits and veggies you want! What the f***? My friends say it’s more convenient to go to the supermarket, because everything is in one place and it’s air conditioned. Guess what? The Italians are getting just as fat as the Americans.

Here it is in a nutshell: If you want to eat healthy, consume fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, and lean meats. If you can afford it, eat organic. Drink water and an occasional IPA. How complex is that? If you adulterate your body with processed foods, refined flour, and sugars, you won’t lose weight and you’ll increase your risk of illness. Exercise every day, period.

End of rant. Now aren’t you glad you asked? LOL!

SS: What do you think about the current state of fitness and surfing?

PF: I’m glad to say that the surf community has heard the message, and the state of fitness in surfing is evolving rapidly. I did my small share to impart the message, and now Surf Stronger has taken it to a higher level with follow-along workout videos, surf conditioning camps, and free fit tips at surfstronger.com. It’s awesome. I’m hoping to put together a surf conditioning expo in New York City, where all the surf conditioning players can show off their stuff.

SS: What’s your favorite wave or surfing experience?

PF: My favorite surfing experience is anytime I can paddle out with my son, Paolo, and my brother, Enrico. My favorite wave is one that I can stand up on!

Paul finishing a 1.7 mile swim in Rhode Island.

Paul training master diver, Jim Peterson, on a floating pier.

Paul and "Louie".

For more on Paul Frediani, check out his web site,  PaulFrediani.com. Or better yet, friend him on Facebook and get a daily dose of the man.

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