2 October, 2013 2 October, 2013

Dry-Docked – (Cramps) How to prevent them from cramping your style

It strikes at any moment, leaving you grimacing in pain as you grab your spasming appendage with no idea how to correct the malfunction. Cramp is many a surfer’s worst enemy – especially if you’re halfway through the session of your life.

You want one more, but your cramping arms won’t allow it.

Zag’s trusty biokeniticist buddy, Schalk van der Merwe, has the answers whenever we complain of another niggly issue that is preventing us from shredding, and this week he talks to us about cramps.


How To Prevent Cramp From Cutting Your Session Short
By: Schalk van der Merwe

How often has this happened to you:  You’re enjoying an epic session, the weather is good, the lineup is empty (for a change) and you are getting shacked off your pip.

Then suddenly, it appears, like an unexpected visit from your unwelcome relatives. Nothing puts a damper on a great session quite like a dreaded bout of muscle cramps. Cramps present themselves without notice, and can be pretty damned painful and debilitating.

Let’s face it, there is nothing less stylish than trying to pop up on your board, as your calf muscle tightens and spasms, resulting in you getting smashed by the set because you couldn’t stand up properly. To make matters worse, cramp doesn’t only necessarily affect our calf muscles, but lower back, hamstrings and shoulders, which could make the swim back to shore in the event of losing your board severely tricky and dangerous.

Don’t let cramp get in the way of the barrel of your life.

A great surf session, curtailed by muscle cramps can leave one feeling pretty down as you try to hobble back to the carpark.

“So, like bro, why do I cramp?” This is a question that I get asked frequently. It’s a good question too.

Let’s investigate a little deeper.

Firstly, let’s try to understand what a muscle cramp is.

A muscle cramp is an involuntary and forcible muscle contraction, which does not relax. The muscle involved tightens up to such an extent that it starts to become painful. When a muscle initially tightens it forms a spasm. If this spasm is forceful enough it will become a cramp. Any of your muscle groups, which are under voluntary control, can become prone to cramping – especially those in the legs and arms. This is known to be even more common when surfing in cold water.

And don’t forget to stretch.

Now that we know what cramps are, let’s look at some of the main causes of cramping.

So, unlike running for example, where you would be sweating excessively and losing valuable electrolytes through perspiration, you could still become dehydrated whilst surfing. Being out in the water for prolonged periods with nothing to drink, on a hot day and getting mouthfuls of salt-water, are all going to contribute to overall dehydration. This kind of dehydration will lead to the highest likelihood of true cramps. There are varying degrees of dehydration, and scarily enough, by the time you realize you are thirsty, you are already in the upper levels of the dehydration scale. Make sure that you drink enough fresh water (8-10 glasses) per day. Sometimes even more after a long session. Check your urine often; if it has an orange to yellow colour, chances are you’re dehydrated. Clear urine is ideal.

What you put in is what you will get out. This couldn’t be truer in terms of activity and diet. Muscle cramps are closely linked to dietary problems or deficiencies. Magnesium, potassium and calcium play an important role in reducing cramps. Bananas, apricots and salted nuts will help to keep all of these in check. Make sure that you eat a well-balanced diet.

Klapping those beers seemed like a great idea last night, but your body is tuning you otherwise today. Alcohol is a natural diuretic, which means that it reduces fluid to the muscle. It also has a way of screwing with your nervous system, which means that the contract reflexes of the muscle are compromised, thus causing cramp. This can last for up to two days afterward, depending on how much alcohol is consumed.

Prone to cramp? Try this recipe.

¼ teaspoon table salt, mixed with 1 teaspoon sugar in a quarter glass of water. Increase this increment and fill a sports bottle and sip on it slowly during the day after a long session.

Now go surf…





Schalk van der Merwe is a qualified Durban based biokineticist, who has extensive experience in working with rehabilitation of orthopedic injuries. Not only has he worked with many of SA’s surfing elite, but also has helped with the conditioning and rehabilitation of high profile sportsman and woman in all sporting codes. When he is not out at backline, you will find him at Kings Park Sports Medicine Centre (Glenwood Branch).



If you’ve got a surfing injury that needs some attention, why not try contacting one of Zag’s friendly neighbourhood biokineticists:

For KZN:
Schalk van der Merwe

For Boland:
Philip Nel
Le Roux and Nel Biokineticists

1 Comment

  1. Frankie
    2 October, 2013 at 9:35 pm · Reply

    Jordy double

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