Can Fat People Surf?


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While fat people are often thought of as unathletic, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In some cases, extra body weight actually gives fat folks an advantage when it comes to some athletic endeavors.

But what about something like surfing that requires not only upper body strength but also balance and the ability to swim efficiently? Can fat people surf?

Yes, they can! Not only can fat people surf but some fat surfers like Jimbo Pellegrine, Shawn Briley and James Mitchell have been the best to ever do it. Fat people may have a steeper learning curve and benefit from a larger board but can certainly still learn to surf.

Just check out the video above to see the legendary Jimbo Pellegrine absolutely shredding up some waves at well over 300+ pounds to see what a skilled fat person can really do a surfboard.

But you don’t have to aim for the giant waves of Hawaii! You can be big, fat, or heavy and just learn to surf on vacation or at your local beach.

Let’s take a closer look at how surfing is different for fat folks and what you need to consider if you’re just getting started.

Fat Folks Will Need A Different Board

If you’re fat and have already tried to surf on a “standard” board from any old surf shop then you already know that these boards just aren’t ready for any person of size.

In fact, just 200 pounds is usually too big for these boards which are usually marketed towards young twenty-somethings or teens. So if you’re above 200 pounds, and most fat people are, you’re going to need to make sure you’re getting the right board.

We’ve got an entire guide to finding the best surfboard which you can see here, but here are just a few of the easy-to-fix factors that can make things much harder for big, heavy, or fat surfers.

Heavy People Need To Turn Up The Volume

The volume of a surfboard is the amount of water it displaces and by extension the amount of buoyancy it provides to the rider. It’s based on Archimedes’ Principle and you can see the technical details here but what’s really important to know is that most shortboards have a volume of around 30 liters.

So what the heck does that mean?

Well, consider that most experts suggest that folks match the volume of the surfboard to their weight in kilograms when they’re just starting out. To convert your weight in pounds to kilograms, just divide it by 2.2.

If you weigh 350 pounds you’re looking at 159 kilograms which means you want roughly the same volume. I don’t think you need me to point out that there’s a big difference between the average displacement of around 30 liters for a shortboard and the 159 needed for a 350-pound person!

If your board is having trouble keeping you floating on the water then of course surfing is going to be harder!

Picking the Right Board

First, dump the shortboard. Longboards are of course longer and as a result, they have a larger volume. On average, longboards have a volume around 60 to 100L which is a big improvement but still may not be enough for some fat folks.

If you already know you’re going to be surfing for the long term you can consider consulting a shaper, which is someone that builds surfboards, to get a custom design with extra volume-increasing foam.

But one of the best options is to pick up a SUP board for surfing. SUP stands for stand-up paddleboard and these boards can easily reach 250L or more. Converted to kilograms, that means these boards could support more than 500 pounds. This is perfect for the fat or heavy beginner that needs extra buoyancy to ride their first wave.

While the higher liter boards can cost a pretty penny, you can pick up something like this 175-liter ISLE  board on Amazon without breaking the bank.  At 175 liters this board is perfect for folks up to 400 pounds and should give them the displacement they need.

At 10 feet long, it will feel like riding an aircraft carrier for smaller folks but fat people will probably find that it’s just right!

Bigger Waves for Bigger Folks

Not only will a bigger board work better for fat folks but you’ll also want to practice with some bigger waves. My husband and I have practiced surfing in Hawaii and more recently the Gulf of Mexico.

I can tell you that most waves in the Gulf of Mexico just didn’t have the power behind them to really get us moving, especially my husband. While a skilled surfer, fat or not, could probably ride some waves we’re just beginners…or even more accurately just vacation surfers.

But in Hawaii, surfing seemed not only more fun but it was actually easy to catch a wave or two! As you’d expect, the waves in this legendary surf spot and just plain bigger.

So if you’re fat, heavy, or just plain big, make sure you practice surfing where there are actually waves big enough to support you and your board. If you’ve only got knee-high waves to work with, you’re going to have a hard time.

Is It Harder For Fat People To Balance On A Surfboard?

I recently wrote about why fat people waddle where we talked about some of the balancing issues that a fat person may face. Are those balancing issues going to impact a fat or heavy person that wants to surf?

It really depends. Balancing on a surfboard is a whole different beast compared to balancing anywhere else or even on something like a snowboard. The water has a give and take that makes it a truly unique experience.

So in most cases, fat folks won’t have a significantly harder time balancing on a surfboard as compared to anyone else in part because there’s so much that goes into staying balanced in the first place. As with anyone else, it will take time and practice to master.

Is Anything About Surfing Easier for Fat People?

Once a fat or heavy person has the right board underneath them, there’s not much else that harder or easier for them.

But the biggest advantage you could argue for a fat person is they have an easier time floating in the water. That’s because fat floats easier than muscle.

Still, this isn’t much of an advantage considering that surfers always have their board to lean on while waiting for a wave. But fat people will have a slightly easier time floating with their arms on the board waiting for that perfect wave.

Fat folks will also be less likely to get tossed around by strong waves. While smaller folks can make up for some of this with pure strength, it’s still something that may give us fat folks a small edge.

What’s Harder for Fat People?

Besides finding a board that actually works for them, the biggest challenge fat folks will have when they surf is making sure they have the upper body fitness to lift themselves up. You don’t need to be able to do a pushup but you do need to be able to use your whole body to quickly go from on your belly to on your feet.

However, you can actually use your belly to give you a leg up. By pushing out on your stomach you can actually lift yourself up a bit and make it easier to get your feet. It certainly takes a little practice to pull off still!

How Many Famous Fat Surfers Are There?

A lot more than you might think at first! We’ve already mentioned the legendary Jimbo Pellegrine, who is the biggest of them all at well over 300 pounds. Then there are greats like Shawn Briley who completely dominated the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii throughout most of the ’90s.

Of course, the exact number depends on what you define as fat.

But one thing is clear, surfing is not just for skinny folks and there have been dozens of jumbo surfers over the last century.

Closing Thoughts

Not only can fat people surf…they can actually excel at the sport!

But if you’re just starting out, you need to make sure you’re setting yourself up for success by picking up a big board to match your big body along with practicing in areas with waves that are big enough to get your going.

Even if you don’t aim to be one of the greats, surfing is still a great way to enjoy the ocean- whether you’re fat or not!

Camila R.

Camila is a body positive blogger and fat activist that's focused on helping people of all sizes live life big! That means accepting yourself at any size and just enjoying life! She lives in New Mexico with her husband and two chihauhuas.

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