Maybe it's their glowing tans or their sun-kissed hair, but professional surfers always seem to be radiating with good health. I checked in with four of Southern California's biggest names in the sport to find out what they're doing to look so damn good in their wetsuits while the rest of us—or is it just me?—look like sausages bulging inside our casings.
I found that unlike other pro athletes, surfers are pretty chill about how they eat and train.
"I kind of just go with what my body is telling me," Conner Coffin told me in his family's dreamy Santa Barbara backyard. (Butterflies flew by while we were talking and I'm not kidding.)
Coffin is a newcomer to the World Surf League's (WSL) Men's Championship Tour—basically the World Cup of surfing, where the top 34 surfers on Earth battle each other in 11 events around the globe. When this article was published, Coffin was ranked second in the world.
Coffin tends to avoid gluten and dairy, opting instead for barbecued meats and home-grown produce.
"When I have my garden going, I like to eat and cook vegetables," Coffin said. "I go through phases of having green smoothies in the morning. I really like doing that."
Courtney Conlogue is another fan of the green smoothies. The Santa Ana native competes in the WSL Women's Championship Tour, battling against the sport's best 16 women for the world title in ten events throughout the year. (She's ranked number one in the world right now, NBD).
"My health is very important to me," Conlogue said in our email interview. "Of course, what I eat has a direct affect on how I am feeling, my personal performance, mental focus and awareness, training routines, energy levels, sleep patterns, and quality of life."
Conlogue's nutritional awareness doesn't translate to calorie counting or extreme limitations. She's all about steamed veggies and trail mix, but still eats pasta.
"I enjoy a lot of different foods and I don't put down too many restrictions."
As you'd expect, the surfers all seemed to avoid fast food.
"If I'm surfing a lot, I stay away from the processed stuff but I will eat a lot of food. I'm kind of a bottomless pit," Nathan Yeomans told me on the phone. Yeomans is a WSL Qualifying Series (QS) regular and lives in San Clemente with his wife and two young children.
"After a long day of surfing, the last thing that sounds good is driving through Del Taco."
The clean eating continued when I met up with Kelia Moniz at The Source Cafe a few blocks from her Hermosa Beach home. She had a frittata while I went with one of her other favorites, the avocado toast with cashew cheese, radish, parsley, flax oil, Celtic sea salt, and sumac.
Moniz was born and raised in Hawaii and comes from a family of surfers. She's a two-time ASP (WSL's former name) Women's World Longboard Champion, a title determined by one single contest held at the end of the year in Hainan Island, China.
"You don't compete all year and then you have to turn it on—you just get one chance to not mess up," Moniz said of her event. "It's so easy to mess up in surfing. It's so easy to get nervous or not be on the right wave."
After a freak accident in the Maldives, Moniz wasn't able to compete for the title in 2015. She still surfs professionally, albeit in a different capacity. Moniz is part of the Roxy Surf Team, a role that requires taking copious photo shoot trips around the globe to create content for the brand.
"There are times when I'm like, 'Hold up, you need to lay off on the cookies.' It's all in moderation," Moniz said when I asked her about preparing for a photo shoot. "To be honest, I try to keep it consistent. When I'm my happiest and I'm feeling really good, it projects in my appearance more than anything. I try to do things that make me happy, genuinely happy."
Surfing for Instagram likes versus championship titles isn't always pretty. Moniz takes on epic challenges like riding 15-foot waves in Fiji, even when they end in bloody gashes from reef-clashing wipeouts.
Eating internationally is another perk for most professional surfers.
"That's one of the beauties of traveling to all the different parts of the world," Conlogue said. "I truly enjoy all the countries and take in what is local when I can."
"Japan is definitely my favorite for food," Moniz said. "I grew up eating authentic Japanese food, so when I go there I really appreciate the weird shit."
Not all of the destinations offer the same sort of culinary appeal as Japan. It turns out that the most difficult places for these athletes to eat well is closer to home than you'd think.
"America is one of the more challenging places to eat well in," Yeomans said.
"[In] some random little towns in the US, it's a bit harder to find healthy food," Moniz said. "We had to stop for gas in this one town and there was literally only fast food."
Coffin relies on snacks like Lärabar and PROBAR energy bars when he's in transit.
"Eating is the hardest. You can stretch anywhere, you can bring a yoga mat, a foam roller, and piece yourself back together," he said. "But some places, it's hard to get good food. Especially when you're in an airport. I get so hungry and you end up eating whatever's in front of you."
In addition to basics like avoiding raw produce in less developed areas, Coffin relies on natural aids to avoid getting sick.
"I've found that charcoal works well for stomach stuff. Grapeseed extract and Wellness Formula—I'll do a little concoction when I'm traveling to boost my immune system."
Conlogue and Yeomans are in the same boat. Both take plant-based powders with them on trips.
"It seems like it helps with your immune system," Yeomans said of his Vitamineral Green™ supplement. "With all the airplanes and jumping time zones, it seems like I'm not getting as sick as I used to. It helps to be getting your full array of vitamins."
When it comes to working out, surfing is obviously an essential part of training. When the surfers hear the siren song of a swell, they will binge on good waves for hours. Yeomans recalled a day at Kirra—an Australian point break regarded as one of the best in the world—when he surfed for so long he tweaked his back from exhaustion.
But now more than ever, surfers are training outside of the water.
"I have a lot of different routines that I enjoy outside of the water," Conlogue said. "It keeps things interesting, changing, fun, progressive, and dynamic."
One part of Conlogue's routine is heading to Extreme Athletics in Costa Mesa, California.
"Training for surfing is starting to trend up," Extreme Athletics CEO and cofounder Paul Norris, CPT, told me over the phone.
"When I started training surfers ten years ago, everybody used to think that surfing was the best thing you could do for surfing. It wasn't a traditional sport. Whereas basketball, baseball, football—people have been training for those sports forever."
With the ever-changing motion of a wave, surfers have to constantly engage many different muscles. Norris, a surfer himself, focuses on stability and balance training with his clients, paying special attention to core, joint, lower back, and knee strength. He incorporates tools like Indo Boards, BOSU balance trainers, and TRX straps in addition to body weight exercises.
"When you look at the dynamics of the sport, they need to be really strong and powerful in their lower bodies, not so much in their upper bodies, but they need to be flexible and mobile."
Yeomans regularly goes to DSC Performance Physical Therapy to work with Kevyn Dean, MSPT, OCS. The workouts are fusions of yoga, pilates, and plyometrics designed to correct imbalances and prevent injuries.
"I think with surfers you want to be strong, but you want to be nimble and flexible too," Yeomans said. "You want to be light, kind of like a running back situation."
Moniz chooses higher-intensity activities like Muay Thai and CrossFit-inspired personal training to keep her strong and work off comfort foods favorites like glazed Spam with rice.
"[Exercising] is part of what I have to do—but honestly, it makes you feel good. You have to give back to your body."
At the end of the day, there's no secret behind what keeps these athletes lithe. Not only do they spend hours incessantly paddling against open water currents, but they pay attention to what they shove in their mouths, just like we're all supposed to do. If you want to look as good as professional surfers do, take their advice and hang loose.
This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in April, 2016.