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Hands-on with SurfSET Fitness: The waterless surfer’s workout

SurfSET RipSurferX

Living in New York City has its advantages and disadvantages. Apartments are small, cost of living is sky high, the city is always loud and crowded, but there’s never a dull moment. Even when it comes to the great outdoors, our metropolis has figured out a way to bring what’s outside into a tiny pop-up shop. Introducing SurfSET Fitness: The waterless, indoor surfing exercise class. We may not get the year-round sun and access to the beach, but it doesn’t take all of that to work your way to a toned surfer’s body.

SurfSET Fitness began with three co-founders, all of whom were attempting to design a workout routine that combines traditional exercising moves with the added difficulty of stabilizing your body on an unbalanced surfboard. The company is just about six months old and has already expanded to major cities in the states, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and Boston. A summer launch tour is also taking SurfSET to the south and along the west coast. But how does a replica of a surfboard help enhance your workout routines? And does surfing indoor prepare for real tides on the beach? Follow me as I take you along my experience at a SurfSET Fitness class.

Preparation

I first heard of SurfSET from my cousin who had retweeted a photo of her at a session when the pop-up class appeared early this month at the posh Chelsea Market in New York City. Not much of a healthy and regular exerciser myself, I figured this might be a fun way to get into shape while experimenting with a new sport. For your reference, I weigh 108 pounds at 5-foot-2, and I work out about two to three times per month (a.k.a not a lot at all). I’m a petite person with an above average metabolism, but I consider myself a pretty unfit American.

SurfSET allows you to choose your class online depending your schedule, difficulty level, and body focus. There’s everything from Beginners to Full Body to Advanced High Intensity Cardio. Each class costs $35 per 45-minute session, and there are several trainers manning different sessions. Since it’s close to summer, I chose the “Surfer Sixpack” class which was advertised to help train my core. With my past experience in figure skating, I figured my core could handle the nonstop burn. It’s also taught by Sarah Ponn, one of the co-founders of SurfSET Fitness. I got a chance to speak with her before the class about the concept, and she ensures the class is suited for everyone interested in the innovative way to work out.

“Regardless of if you ever want to surf, the physical benefits are just awesome,” Sarah explains.

The RipSurferX

RipSurferX

Walking into the small shop, there were 19 machines on top of yoga mats spread across the air-conditioned room. This contraption, known as the RipSurferX, is essentially a surfboard firmly set on top of three air-blown balance discs. At the front of the machine is a resistance pull for the surfer to pull back as if they are paddling through water. The machine had three resistance levels, but I didn’t know this and went along with whatever the previous person had set it as.

What makes SurfSET different is the RipSurferX allows you to use all your muscles in maintaining balance, and “surfers” can feel it in many more places via the machine, my trainer ensures.

SurfSET NYC“You’re not only working out physically but also mentally to keep balance,” Sarah says. “The biggest thing we hear all the time is ‘I can’t believe that was 45 minutes.'” Comparing the RipSurferX to a static bike in a spinning class, Sarah says the exercisers tend to focus on not falling rather than being in one place and dreading when the class will be over. 

Before the course began, I tried standing on top of the RipSurferX to test out my balance. It doesn’t feel too wobbly until you begin to squat. As you lower your center of gravity, the weight shifts and makes the board more unstable. Balancing on the board in a squatting position helps to control your core, further extending the workout from just your legs to your inner muscles. Don’t worry, you can’t actually slip off the board. The RipSurferX is designed to let the surfer slide and tilt from side to side, but not fall off the board completely (unless you physically remove your feet from the board).

But can you become a surfer after a few sessions with SurfSET?

Again, Sarah compares it to a spin class. “If you get on a spin bike and do it for hours, your body is in a great shape and has the muscle memory of pedaling. But there are other elements of the tipping when you’re on a real bike,” she tells me. “This class similar in that it teaches you the basics of surfing by simulating the experience. If you pop up on this board hundreds of times, and you go out in the water, your body knows what to do.”

Surf’s up

My primary concern was the ability to handle the course despite being slightly out of shape. But Sarah reassures me she’s had students who are way more inexperienced and older who have been able to adjust to the machine. 

“We had somebody who was 72 years old, and his balance was really struggling,” she says. “After six classes, he was able to do fine, though of course it took him a little longer [than other students].”

SurfSET NYCThe class began with a lot of paddling through the resistance pulls, jumps up and down the board, rocking your abs back and forth while planting your feet sideways, and lying back and doing crunches with your feet in the air. The 45-minute session was much like Sarah warned me: It flew. The mental state of trying not to fall sideways while performing the exercises truly did distract you from time, especially as the routine sped up toward the end. Admittedly, in the last five minutes of the class, I was struggling to continue as I became strained and sore from the continuous workout. I stopped for a good minute as an excuse to take a picture of this plank position while catching my breath.

Although the class was supposed to focus on my abs, I left the facility feeling it most in my arms. The routine required a lot of resistance paddling, and I felt a huge burn in my triceps. Overall body burn was also there, but not completely unbearable. But would I go back the next day for another session? I honestly needed two days to recover from the butt-kicking, though for a true difference in fitness I probably should have toughed it out in a more routine schedule.

Is SurfSET Fitness worth a shot? Absolutely. It’s a fun and fresh way to incorporate a sport not often available in most parts of the country to your workout. It might cost just a teensy bit more than the average zumba, yoga, or spinning class but it’s a neat investment for a short six-course session to change up your routine, just like one might partake in a full course of pole-dancing exercise or boot camp. For the triceps workout alone, I’d definitely go back to SurfSET before the pop-up store disappears.

For those living in New York City, the SurfSET Fitness shop will be available in Chelsea Market until May 1. After that, Sarah says she hopes they will find a permanent location in the city because of the interest generated here. The company will also attempt to continue on its “road show” so private gyms can learn about the machine, and get them to place RipSurferX machines in your local cities.