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Why Do Surfing and Jiu-Jitsu Go Hand-in-Hand?

Why Do Surfing and Jiu-Jitsu Go Hand-in-Hand?

Many professional surfers, such as Kelly Slater and Joel Tudor, practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu due to how well both sports complement each other. Since the 1970s, many BJJ practitioners have engaged in surfing, with brands like RVCA sponsoring their surfing equipment. In the 1980s it was the Lightning Bolt BJJ Tournament. Even the famous BJJ coach Paul Shreiner was an avid surfer in his early teens. In this article, you will learn the shared history of surfing and jiu-jitsu..

“All the kids who come here to practice Jiu Jitsu, they surf, too. They come straight from the beach, with sunscreen still on their faces and sand in their hair. We’re always finding sand on the mats.”
( Rafael Mendes ) of the ( Art of Jiu-Jitsu )

1. How Surfing Became Incorporated into BJJ?

Originally, surfing was treated as a recreational activity by jiu-jitsu practitioners. However, because of how much it helped improve physical capabilities, it soon became a part of BJJ training routines. There are many BJJ academies that are located close to a beach. Many famous grapplers who take up surfing as a hobby and form of training. For example, Joel Tudor is an American BJJ black belt under Carlson Gracie who actively surfs. Kelly Slater is also an American surfer who practices BJJ. Surfing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu both complement each other at the same level.

The thing is that the sport of surfing provides so many benefits that not only grapplers but also MMA fighters incorporate it into their training regimes. For example, Richie Vaculik, an Australian mixed martial artist, is an active surfer who competes in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

1.1. The Impact of Rolls Gracie

Rolls Gracie, a member of the Gracie family who founded BJJ, introduced surfing as a hobby to the other Gracies. At the time, no one had considered using surfing to help with BJJ training. When Rolls started surfing, its effects were clearly visible in his fighting style. His athleticism peaked as he started surfing. He became a more fast-paced fighter with enhanced flexibility. Surfing was the reason for his victory in Campeonato de Jiu-Jitsu da Guanabara Championship in 1973 and 1974.

Rolls Gracie incorporated aspects of other sports to become a well-rounded fighter. In Arpoador, many of Rolls’s students surfed as a hobby. Rolls would often talk with his students and surf around Copacabana. Unfortunately, Rolls couldn’t surf daily because of his duties as an instructor. So Relson Gracie, his cousin, took up surfing in Roll’s place.

List of Rolls Gracie’s Accomplishments

Year Event Position
1973 Campeonato de Jiu-Jitsu da Guanabara Champion 1st
1974 Campeonato de Jiu-Jitsu da Guanabara Champion 1st
1975 Brazilian National Wrestling Champion 1st
1979 Pan American Wrestling Champion 1st
1979 Pan American Sambo Champion 1st
1980 Pan American Sambo Champion 3rd

1.2. Relson Gracie

Though Rolls Gracie was the first member of the Gracie family to start surfing, it was Relson Gracie who helped the rest of the Gracies get into surfing, including Rickson and Royler Gracie. Helio Gracie, Relson’s father, didn’t appreciate his surfing activities still, he stuck to surfing. In 1988, Relson moved to Hawaii and became a world class instructor to fulfill his wish of surfing the high waves. He then founded Relson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Relson is now a 9th-degree BJJ black belt, an honor bestowed by his father, Helio Gracie.

Relson Gracie Accomplishments
  1. Won 22 Brazilian National Championships
  2. Founded 12 BJJ Schools

2. Discord Between BJJ and Surfing

Today BJJ practitioners and surfers easily get along but that was not the case back in the 1970’s. Surfers had their own ground which they used to own and didn’t like new people. When Rolls Gracie started surfing with his students, a conflict arose between him and Daniel “Sabba” who was a professional surfer of the Praia do Diabo beach in Rio de Janeiro.

Rolls Gracie, while surfing crossed a surfer named Daniel Friedman. The conflict went for a few days when eventually one day Rolls Gracie and Sabba were surfing alone early in the morning. That day, they became friends and Rolls Gracie even invited Sabba to train BJJ at his academy.

Today you will encounter many surfers who train in BJJ despite being professional surfers.

3. Surfing and BJJ in the United States

BJJ originated in Brazil. When BJJ was brought over to the United States, several BJJ academies were established. Many Americans took interest in the martial arts and established their own BJJ institutes. Many areas where BJJ academies were established were relatively close to the coast, especially popular surfing spots. And it is one of the prime reasons that BJJ gained fame in the West Coast area, California as California has more than 100 beaches.

4. Surfing Being Part of the BJJ Lifestyle

After BJJ training, practitioners often go surfing as a form of stress relief. The BJJ symbol known as “shaka” originated from surfing. Surfers often make the “hang loose” hand gesture to greet other surfers. Renzo Gracie is also credited with the creation of the “shaka” symbol.

5. Benefits of Doing Surfing and Jiu-Jitsu

Benefits of Doing Surfing and Jiu-Jitsu - infographic

5.1. Physical Activities

Surfing and BJJ are extreme physical activities. BJJ requires rolling and sparring, while surfing requires you to adjust your body to roll with the waves. Surfing acts as a cross-over training for Jiu-Jitsu. The warm-up exercises for both the sports are exactly the same. Both sports work all the major muscle groups.

Both activities also encourage the release of endorphins and improve cardiovascular health. Spending one hour on the mat and one hour in the water can both improve your physical strength.

5.2. Improves Mental Capabilities

Learning BJJ techniques and positions requires a lot of practice and concentration to learn. You need to be mentally sharp to learn how to execute submissions and escapes. Similarly, surfing requires paying attention to the timing, size, and speed of the waves to avoid wiping out.

Surfing in fresh water brings positive changes. Practicing all day in a BJJ gym can make you feel tired. Spending one hour at the sea can make a huge difference. It relaxes your mind and freshens your skin. It enhances blood circulation and immunity.

Surfing for at least one hour can help you relax your mind. This is best for fighters who suffer stress due to the pressure of competing in professional competitions since they find it easier to sleep better at night.

5.3. Improves Balance

Learning how to maintain balance when practicing BJJ and surfing can be beneficial in both sports. In BJJ, you need balance to dominate your partner when grappling, while in surfing, you need balance to stay on your surfboard. Surfing and Jiu-Jitsu both go hand in hand as during the winter season, surfers are forced to stop surfing. Or even when the tide is too low or the water pressure is too high. In those days BJJ helps you to keep your strength levels full.

5.4. Encourages Calm Behavior

There is a stigma that BJJ is a violent sport due to its submission techniques. Surfing can help fighters relax and calm their minds.

5.5. Body Posture

Having good body posture ensures better performance when surfing and practicing BJJ. For surfing, you can practice paddling, popping off and standing on the surfboard. For BJJ, you can practice hip lifts and squats.

5.6. Flexibility and Body Coordination

Surfing and BJJ account for flexibility in the practitioners’ body. BJJ athletes can then easily apply submissions and initiate takedowns when they can move in all possible directions. Surfing demands your body to move in synchronization to stay on the surfing board. The same prospect arises in BJJ where practitioners have to escape their opponent’s moves.

6. RVCA and Surfing

RVCA is a brand owned by PM Tenore that primarily focuses on surfing, BJJ and MMA. RVCA has sponsored many BJJ fighters and surfers. Fighters such as Kade and Tye Ruotolo have been sponsored by RVCA since they were 10 years old. This brand’s slogan is “The Balance of Opposites.” One of its co-founders, Conan Hayes, is a professional Hawaiian surfer.

In the 1980s, the Lightning Bolt BJJ Tournament was the one that used to sponsor surfers. It proves that BJJ and surfing both go hand in hand since the day BJJ practitioners started surfing to improve their BJJ skills.

7. BJJ Fighters and Surfers

7.1. Marcelo Behring

Marcelo Behring is a BJJ black belt trained by Rickson Gracie. He is a famous surfer, MMA fighter, and multiple-time Rio de Janeiro State champion.

7.2. Marcus Almeida Buchecha

A 13-time world champion, Marcus Almeida is also an active surfer. He is a 2nd-degree BJJ black belt under Rodrigo Cavaca. In a Youtube video by GRACIEMAG, Buchecha said that surfing is a personal hobby.

List of Marcus Almeida Bucheda’s Achievements:

Year Championship Position
2012 IBJJF World Championship 1st
2013 IBJJF World Championship 1st
2014 IBJJF World Championship 1st
2016 IBJJF World Championship 1st
2017 IBJJF World Championship 1st
2018 IBJJF World Championship 1st
2019 IBJJF World Championship 1st
2013 ADCC World Championship 1st
2017 ADCC World Championship 1st

7.3. Ricardo Almeida

Ricardo “Cachorrão” Almeida is a 4th-degree BJJ black belt under Renzo Gracie. He gained fame because of his surfing style which he later incorporated into BJJ. Almeida became famous due to hisperfect execution of the guillotine choke. He currently works as a professor at the Renzo Gracie Academy.

List of Ricardo Almeida’s Achievements:

Year Championship Position
1996 CBJJ Brazilian National Championship 1st
1997 CBJJ Brazilian National Championship 1st
1999 Pan American Championship 1st
1998 ADCC World Championship 2nd
2000 ADCC World Championship 3rd

7.4. Alexandre “Soca” Freitas

Alexandre “Soca” Freitas is a BJJ black belt under Carlos Gracie Jr. During his early life, he was an active surfer. Freitas started jiu-jitsu in his teenage years but never stopped surfing.

List of Alexandre Freitas’s Achievements:

Year Championship Position
1998 ADCC World Championship 1st
2000 Pan American Championship 1st
2008 Pan American No-Gi Championship 1st
1996 Brazilian National Championship 1st
1993 Champion of the Desafio Renzo Vs. Wallid 1st
1999 ADCC World Championship 2nd
2000 ADCC World Championship 2nd
1999 Brazilian National Championship 2nd

8. FAQs

8.1. What Role Did the Mendes Brothers Play in Promoting Surfing in BJJ?

Rafael and Guilherme Mendes are sponsored by RVCA. They promote the importance of surfing as part of the BJJ lifestyle and most of their students surf regularly.

8.2. Does Surfing and BJJ Help with Physical Conditioning?

BJJ and surfing can help improve muscle strength and increase muscle mass.

9. Conclusion

Despite surfing and jiu-jitsu being very different sports, they actually complement each other. By engaging in both exercises, practitioners can improve their strength and body posture. Perfect balance is necessary to grapple and stay on the surfboard. Surfing can be a recreational activity that can help fighters relieve stress after a full day of BJJ training. Famous BJJ fighters like Marcus Almeida, Ricardo Almeida, Rafael Mendes, and Guilherme Mendes highlight the benefit of incorporating surfing into the BJJ lifestyle.

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