How To Surf With Bad Knees

Those Creaky Cranky Clicking Knees

Your knees can take a beating in the surf. Just the other day one of my first frontside turns made knee feel a bit “weird”… previous injury kind of letting me know it was still around. Your knees, when misbehaving can have a really negative impact on your surf. Think of that initial standing up motion and that first bottom turn.

If you’ve got some soreness in those knees, your body is going to inhibit force production, and simply not allow to you produce as big of a bottom turn, or your leg is simply going to crumble….. Not Good Surfing

Knee Muscles and Bones

The other day me and a few guys were out surfing a decent sized day. A buddy comes flying through a section, lays into a pretty good turn to lose some speed…. one of those turns where you put just about all your force through that board and really lay into that rail.

About half way through his turn he just crumpled and fell forward. I asked him what happened, and he tells me that his legs do that all the time…. he says he feels like he doesn’t have the strength in that lowered bent knee position to hold the board there.

WHAT!?!?! I asked him what he’s doing about, and he says “nothing, what can I do about it?” You can do a whole lot!!!! Get some stronger more stable knees!

As a surfer, it’s critical that you have a healthy functioning knee joint, and some quality strength throughout the leg complex. When surfing, your knee can get into some awkward positions, so flexibility is a must, but so is some strength and power to get yourself out of those awkward positions, explode down the line, and surf your ass off.

You need to strengthen various structures in the leg, and you MUST get some good tissue work…… foam rolling, lacrosse ball work, stretching on afflicted muscles, or some manual therapy.

Exercises will give you huge benefits, but you’ve got to get that tissue healthy as well.

Watch the video here


  • Joint dysfunction. If you’ve got degeneration of the actual joint, meniscus, cartilage, or acute injury to the ligaments, then you need to have that taken care of…. maybe an operation if it’s severe, or some really good physical therapy and lots of time to let those structures heal.The acute structural damage is one thing, but if there’s some instability, or displacement of one of the knee joint structures due to weakness or mis-alignment, there is plenty you can do to work on the problem.
    The Knee
  • Referral Pain. Various muscles and tissues could be sending pain into the knee joint. There is such a thing as Pain Referral. Think of it as your nervous system getting confused about signals, so some particular tissue somewhere (let’s say the lateral quadriceps muscle), is actually sending pain that you feel in your knee.The IT-band can often create some form of lateral knee pain, that can be really nagging,and ruin some surfing.For referral issues, you need some good hands on manual therapy, or some Foam Rolling-check out that video!.
  • Mis-alignment / Muscle Weakness. This coincides with joint dysfunction, but is a bit more specific to the movement of the joint. If certain muscles aren’t activating or are weak, primarily your gluteus medius and maximus, it allows motion of the knee that you DONT want.Something called Valgus stress, which tears up knee tissue. Valgus is basically a term that means your knee caves in medially. This strains, grinds, and stresses tissue, which equals some pain and degeneration. You need to strengthen your hip… which can have a HUGE impact on you knee health.

    Valgus Collapse
    Valgus Collapse-Knee Destroyer

That is by NO MEANS an exhaustive list of what could be causing your knee pain, but it is a couple of the major players in knee problems.

There are some basic things you can work on to improve overall leg mechanics and save your knees in the water.

With some Glute strengthening (single leg hip extension in video), and some stabilization work (single leg rotations/reaches in video), you can improve the way your legs can produce force, react to waves, and maintain a healthier knee joint structure. More power surfing, and less aches!

SINGLE LEG STABILITY – if you are able to more efficiently stabilize a joint, you can transmit more force through that joint and not have a loss of power.If you’ve got a ton of leg power, but every time you produce force in say a bottom turn, you go into a Valgus collapse of the knee (already covered what valgus means), then you are losing out on a lot of power, and also sacrificing that knee joint to some serious potential injury and medical bills.

Single leg stability is critical to strong, powerful, durable legs and knee joints…. and better surfing.


Single Leg Hip Extension– this is improving the activation and strength of your Glute Muscle…. your butt cheek. Gluteus Maximus strength is critical to overall leg and knee health… you need to make it stronger.

The glute is a critical piece of the “core” and is huge powerful muscle. It can produce massive amounts of force, and stabilize the femur. If the femur doesn’t stabilize properly and maintain alignment, then some valgus collapse can occur. Stronger glutes = stronger knees, stronger ankles, more powerful surfing.

Single Leg Stance Punches/Rotations– With the previous exercise you’ve fired up the glute muscle, so with this movement you’re going to continue using it, but place some rotational forces through the leg, that all the critical hip muscles and knee stabilizing muscles will have to resist.

This is some quality stability training,which can really help create a stronger and more stable joint structure….. hopefully eliminating some pain.

Single Leg Hip Extension

  • 5-10reps, with 5second holds.
  • Do Not allow the hips to rotate, keep the pelvis level.
  • Place force through your heel, this will help to activate the gluteus maximus muscles. You should feel this movement in your butt cheek…. if not, keep focusing on pressing through the heel. Your butt muscle may have somewhat forgotten how to work properly. Keep on trying.

Single Leg Stance

  • maintain quality alignment of the leg: knee over ankle, no medial collapse.
  • Hold this position for at least 30seconds…. You should be able to bang out 1-2minutes per leg. There will be a small amount of movement from side to side knee/ankle movement when rotating/punching. But focus on keeping alignment and a strong foot.
  • Bent Hip Position- a perfectly straight leg isn’t going to activate as many muscle structures as a bent knee/hip, especially that glute muscle.


I’ve found these movements to be pretty helpful with my knee issues, so hopefully, they can help yours a bit.

Something else you can check out…. Surf Exercise Single Leg Training


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1 Comment

  • [...] This is the article the goes along with that vid, and delves into specific things to do with exercise and surfing with knee pain.  How To Surf With Knee Pain [...]

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