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How Your Body Type Dictates Your Surf Style

Are you tall and lanky? Medium but sturdy? A little… tubby? 

style // Aug 7, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Have you ever heard of somatotypes – otherwise known as the three human body types: endomorph, ectomorph, and mesomorph?

I learned about them in a high school health class, and for some reason the concept has always stuck with me. For those who aren’t privy, I’m gonna forsake every teacher I’ve met and copy/paste some background straight outta Wikipedia:

Somatotype is a taxonomy developed in the 1940s, by American psychologist William Herbert Sheldon, to categorize the human physique according to the relative contribution of blah blah science stuff.

According to Sheldon’s theory, the three human body types can be described thusly:

Ectomorphic: characterized as linear, thin, usually tall, fragile, lightly muscled, flat chested and delicate.

Mesomorphic: characterized as hard, rugged, triangular, athletically built with well developed muscles, thick skin and good posture.

Endomorphic: characterized as round, usually short and soft with under-developed muscles and having difficulty losing weight.

Now, in the fine year of 2017, I believe it is punishable by death to imply that one body shape is superior to another. We are all special snowflakes designed by God, or evolution, with each of our cuts and folds demonstrating the infinite variations of beauty. Agreed?

Still, it’s interesting to apply the theory of somatotypes to surfing.

What are an endomorph’s strengths and weaknesses? Does a mesomorph throw the most spray? Can a frail, thin-limbed ectomorph even be a professional athlete?

The following concepts are based on general observations, not scientific fact. I understand there are non-conforming examples to each category, but I feel my explanations depict a majority of surfers within their given somatotypes. 

It’s not body shaming, it’s (pseudo)science!

J-Dubs is a masterpiece of mesomorphic proportions.

Mesomorphs are the archetypal athlete — sturdy, fast, and powerful. But is this ideal for surfing? Not necessarily. 

Quality surfing stems from a combination of technique and power. The endomorph’s stocky frame and robust muscles result in significant strength and speed, but can often be detrimental in terms of fluidity of movement. 

Some elite examples of mesomorphs would be: Adriano de Souza, Italo Ferreira, Gabriel Medina, Kelly Slater, Julian Wilson, Frederico Morais, Conner Coffin, Caio Ibelli, Michel Bourez, and Ian Gouveia. Historical mesomorphs include Tom Carroll, Sunny Garcia, and Martin Potter.

The mesomorph’s strength is his strength. Thanks to his meaty flanks and quick-twitch muscles, the mesomorph is able to displace more water than scrawnier competitors. The endomorph’s best maneuvers are generally the forehand carve and the backside snap.

One negative characteristic of the mesomorphic surfer is a wide stance and bowed knees. Something about the mesomorph’s construction has set his hips slightly outwards, which leads to a square, oftentimes squatty approach. Look at the surfers on the above list, and tell me most of their stances don’t look like a meathead in deadlift.

While this may be an aesthetic faux-pas, that certainly doesn’t make it ineffective — as seen through the endomorphs’ majority control of the CT. Still, I’d argue that wide-kneed surfing leaves the rider at a disadvantage when it comes to angle of attack, leverage, and technical/progressive maneuvers.

If Owen were any more more ectomorphic, he’d be an actual skeleton.

Ectomorphs may not be the strongest, but their lanky frames offer certain advantages in the surf.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that tall, flexible surfers are the most appealing to watch. Think John, Jordy, Owen, Joel, Jack Freestone, Yago Dora, Craig Anderson, Michael February, Bryce Young, etc. Something about their leverage, elasticity, and the knocking of knees makes these surfers more aesthetically pleasing than mesomorphs.

Beyond the subjectivity of style, ectomorphs are technically superior surfers. Long, lean muscles allow these athletes to achieve body positions that facilitate both tighter and more elongated maneuvers. Think of John’s turns at Margaret River this year – do you think Adriano could ever achieve those positions? Of course not, and it comes down to limb length and flexibility.

Also, ectomorphs do better airs. Their triangular stance, as opposed to the square stance of mesomorphs, is a sturdier landing base (as proven by the laws of physics). Further, ectomorphs are more likely to inherit a rare advantage in our sport — something I call “soft feet”.

Similar to the “soft hands” of an American footballer, whose fingers appear to be made of glue, the “soft footed” surfer sticks to his board like a gecko and often lands gently despite the altitude of his maneuvers. This ability comes from flexibility in the ankles and knees, and it’s the reason Yago Dora’s airs look so much cleaner than Adriano de Souza’s.

When Yago reconnects with the wave it appears seamless, as if a phase change, from gas to liquid, happens imperceptibly before eyes. When Adriano lands, he tends to bounce off the flats because his ankles and knees are more rigid, and thus unable to absorb the impact.

Jimbo Pellegrine is one talented bulldozer. Endomorphs should be happy to have him.

Endomorphs, despite having the least desirable body type for performance surfing (see QS and CT standings), retain the distinct advantages of effortless power and the element of surprise.

When you’re husky, nobody expects you to blitz a wave. This makes the big-man turn, and even better, the big-man combo, a noteworthy spectacle. There are few things that stoke me harder than a pudgy surfer laying down hammers.

Any increase in wave size, or power, plays into the doughy hands of the endomorph. He surfs his best at Sunset and Bells, but is also known to impress on a long Lowers wall. Some classic endomorphs include Kekoa Bacalso, Willian Cardoso, and the illustrious Jimbo Pellgerine. 

The current CT is, sadly, without one of these chunky monkeys. It’s not that they can’t compete on the main stage, it’s that the QS is a near-impossible task for the big fellas, what with its emphasis on Huntington hops and fin-free sliders. 

The endomorph lives and dies for the Hawaiian leg. If not for the bigger-waved events, then for the pulled pork sandwiches at every BBQ on the strip. While he may not be the most genetically gifted surfer in the world, the endomorph knows how to have a good time. 


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