There is a long-standing connection between surfing and jiu jitsu. There is even a dedicated entry on the relationship at BJJ Heroes (see here). Indeed, a number of world champion jiu jitsukas are surfers--e.g., several members of the Gracie clan (see here, here, and here), Ricardo Arona (see here and here), and jiu jitsu world champion and UFC champion B.J. Penn. On the flip-side, a number of world champion surfers practice jiu jitsu--e.g., Joel Tudor (see here) and Kelly Slater (see here and here). The overlap between surfing and jiu jitsu is even a prominent feature of many BJJ camps around the world (e.g., see here and here). In short, surfing has long been part of the so-called "jiu jitsu lifestyle" for many practitioners.
Now just because the two go together, it might not be obvious why. Indeed, one might wonder "What the f#ck does jiu jitsu got to do with surfing?"--see here for details! For present purposes, I will not be exploring the relationship between surfing and jiu jitsu, I only wanted to highlight how deep the roots go (e.g., from the shores of Brazil to the shores of California and Hawaii). Figuring out why surfing and jiu jitsu have such a longstanding and ongoing relationship is a task for another day. I am sure it has a lot to do with the birthplace of Brazilian jiu jitsu and the good waves one can find in Rio de Janeiro. But unpacking this historical and geographical relationship would take me off course. The aforementioned BJJ Heroes piece is a good place to start.
My goal in this post is instead to suggest that stand up paddle boarding may be an even better fit for practitioners of jiu jitsu than surfing (especially for the 40+ crowd). At least in my experiences recently as someone new to stand up paddle boarding, I find that the sport requires you to work on the following skills:
- Proper breathing (otherwise, you'll tense up and fall off the board)
- Proper posture (otherwise, you'll tense up and fall off the board)
- Proper balance (otherwise, you'll tense up and fall off the board)
- Relaxation (otherwise, you'll tense up and fall off the board--do you see the theme here?)
- Awareness and anticipation (you must pay attention to the water and offset your balance accordingly)
- Ability to apply counter-pressure (you must use your legs and/or your paddle to apply counter-pressure)
- Endurance and cardio (paddling in the wind or against the wind can be a drag--pun intended)
Working on the skills and techniques required for paddle boarding can be done in lakes, creeks, and rivers. Because flat paddling eliminates much of the "bump" one gets in the ocean, it is an ideal place to hone one's abilities. Moreover, it doesn't take long to get the basic hang of things. As someone who also recently tried to learn to surf, I think it is much easier to get up and paddling than learning the basics of surfing. You can be up and flat paddling in no time. Surfing takes longer to learn even the basics (here again, especially the older or heavier you are). With the right size board, anyone can comfortably navigate the water with a stand up paddle board. It's only been a month in my case, and I am already paddling out in the ocean (albeit still falling hear and there). It's a great work out plus it forces one to work on the skills I listed above.
Moreover, as an auxiliary benefit, the scenery can be really lovely. In the past month I have seen pods of dolphins, a bonnethead shark, a leather-back sea turtle, sting rays, hermit crabs, and myriad species of fish. But even if you don't live close to the sea, you can take advantage of local water ways--yet another benefit of stand up paddling over traditional surfing. You can do it damn near anywhere so long as there are deep enough creeks or lakes, whereas surfing is mostly limited to the coast (except in the case of artificial waves like these). So, stand up paddle boarding opens up the water to far more people. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, if you want to surf, you certainly can:
And if surfing's not your speed, then you can even do yoga on your board--which will further help you to develop the skills I listed above. So, for me, stand up paddle boarding and jiu jitsu are a perfect match. The former helps cultivate a number of capabilities that are important for the latter. And stand up paddling can also induce a since of awe and cosmic awareness. Navigating the lull of the water, often in silence and often with just a horizon ahead of you, calms the inner nerves and helps foster a since of humility and existential awareness (or so I speculate based on my scientific research on environmental awe and humility). So, grab a board and a paddle--new or used--and start you own SUP journey. Much like your jiu jitsu journey, it's one you can pursue around the world (even together if you'd like-albeit not at the same time)!
p.s. Just so I don't get angry comments or emails, I am not saying people shouldn't surf. I am also not saying stand up paddling (or even stand up paddle surfing) is better than surfing as a general matter. What I am saying is that stand up paddling is a good fit for people who do jiu jitsu and it is available to far more practitioners than surfing. While I also happen to think it is a better fit than traditional surfing for jiu jitsukas, I leave that for each of you to decide for yourself. Either way, when you're not on the mats, grab a board and start paddling! I don't think you'll regret it.