While the Winter Olympics typically connote sensible thoughts of fluffy snow, aerodynamic spandex, and Tonya Harding conspiracy theories, 2010's crop of U.S. Winter Olympians has sourced a less likely association: surfing. As it turns out, nearly one third of the 85 American competitors polled confessed a healthy addiction to saltwater. And it wasn't just the snowboarders. Ice hockey players, aerial skiers, and skeleton sliders (who reach speeds of up to 80 MPH while drafting headfirst down an icy spaghetti chute) all cited surfing as a significant component in their Olympic lifestyles.
"Both cross country skiing and surfing are 'all-body' sports," says aspiring Olympic medalist Andy Newell. "I’m always surprised at how tired my legs get in addition to my arms after a long surf session. Both sports are big in what we call specific strength, and definitely both require a lot of endurance that has to be built up and maintained over the years. I’ve definitely had some days in the water where my heart rate has been high enough to count it as a workout in my training log, but I'm not sure if my coach knows that."
Natalie Darwitz, captain of the Women's U.S. Hockey Team, agrees on the overlap between the two disparate sports: "Hockey and surfing are a lot about balance. With hockey you need to have great balance because you are essentially skating on one leg at a time, so you need to have strong legs and core. The same goes with surfing.”
While Darwitz and Newell have been discreet in their use of surfing as a method of cross training for the Olympics, other sects of the U.S. Olympic Team have openly embraced the utility of coastal field trips.
"[The U.S. Ski Team] does training camps every year where we go to San Diego and we surf," says aerial skier and 2005 World Cup Champion Jeret "Speedy" Peterson. "It's just a conditioning camp where we'll go run on the beach and lift weights and surf a ton every single day. We do a lot of different exercises strengthening ankles and keeping your legs firing; if you can do all of that while you're having a good time out in the ocean then you can't beat it."
“The U.S. Ski Team does training camps every year where we go to San Diego and we surf.”
Peterson, who is best known for inventing "The Hurricane," which consists of three flips and five full rotations also appreciates surfing's relatively forgiving playing field. "We fall from 50 to 55-feet up in the air," says Peterson. "When you crash surfing it doesn't hurt as bad as falling on snow all the time…unless you hit the reef."
While many surfers consider rapidly overcrowding lineups a curse exclusive to the lineups of the world, our frost-bitten Olympic brethren negotiate the same trials – and sometimes with better attitudes.
"We both have to deal with crowds and weekend warriors," says Newell. "But I think surfers could chill a little bit in that department. Trust me, it pisses me off so much when I’m trying to ski and there are gapers getting in my way and falling all over the trail, but you have to remember that without the master blaster types, we would be out of a job and we wouldn’t be able to have the lifestyle we do. They’re the ones that are paying full price for boards and skis and fueling the companies that sponsor us…so without them we’d be screwed. So next time some d-bag gets in your way on the trail or in the water instead of yelling at them you can thank them for your pay check."
Jeret Peterson distills the essence of his interests' overlap more optimistically. "It completely fits the lifestyle of freestyle skiing," says Peterson. "It's not about who has the most money. It's not about who's the coolest guy or who has the hottest girlfriend. Surfing and skiing are all about being happy and living free."
Be sure to tune in to NBC’s Olympic coverage and support our (surfing) Olympians as the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games begin on February 12, 2010