Summer water sports

Taking your workout to water is great for mind, body and spirit. Here are some super fun water sports for you to try, plus healthy benefits and how to get started.
Published 3 February 2019

6 water sports to try


1. Water aerobics


Water aerobics is excellent for fitness as the water supports your joints but also acts as resistance, which means you work harder. From aqua aerobics to aqua Zumba, there are more and more classes that give you a good cardio workout, minus the potential for injury from high-impact exercise. “On top of building your cardio fitness, aqua aerobics and other pool training can help build strength and endurance in any muscle you target,” says exercise physiologist Neil Russell. “Use foam dumbbells or noodles for resistance,” he suggests.


What equipment you need:

A swimsuit. Any other equipment is usually provided.


The skills you need:

Go to a class and take it from there. Or, try deep-water running next time you’re in a pool. “This is treading water in a running style and propelling yourself forward,” says Russell. You’ll get all the benefits of running without the stress on your joints. “Some elite endurance runners who have used deep-water running to maintain running fitness due to injury, claim to have lost just a couple of seconds off their pace in six weeks without running,” he says. Impressive stuff.


2. Lap swimming

Probably no surprises here - lap swimming is the most popular sport in Australia. “Swimming is great cardio, and builds muscular endurance in your shoulders, back, core and glutes,” says Russell. “If your goal is general fitness, swimming can replace jogging if you’re injured,” he adds. “Hydrotherapy is often used in exercise rehab as it can take the load of body mass and gravity off your bones, joints and other articular surfaces.” A wise choice for arthritis.


What equipment you need:

Swimsuit, goggles and a swimming cap, if you want.


The skills you need:

It’s worth checking your stroke is as efficient as it can be so you get maximum benefits. For example, a common mistake is to swim ‘flat’ in freestyle, rather than rotate through your hips. To fix this, try the ‘six-kick drill’: in the pool, lie on one side with your bottom arm stretched out in front, and your top arm lying on your hip. Do six kicks, then repeat on the other side.


3. Kayaking

What’s the difference between kayaking and canoeing? There are a few, but the main one is that a kayak is often a single-seater with a closed-style top, while a canoe is more open and can seat one or two people. A kayak paddle is double-bladed, while a canoe paddle is single-bladed. Manoeuvring yourself down a river, or in and out of coastal bays is so much fun you might not realise you’re getting a fantastic workout. “These activities really build endurance and strength through your abs, back and shoulders,” says Russell. “It can also provide an excellent aerobic workout.”


What equipment you need:

Splashing out on a kayak and accessories (think paddle, personal flotation device, spray skirt, roof rack, etc) can be pricey. There’s also a huge amount of choice, from doubles, singles, sit-on, sit-in, sea kayaks, touring kayaks (for longer distances) and recreational kayaks. Whoa. So always seek professional advice before buying: is a good place to start. Renting is
probably the best option in the first instance. Prices start from about $50 for a full-day hire.


The skills you need:

Start by sitting up straight, with your shoulders relaxed, knees slightly bent, and your feet resting on the footpegs. According to Russell, your legs and torso should be doing most of the work (rotate your torso keeping your arms straight). End the stroke when your lower hand is level with your stomach.


4. Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP)

Originating in Hawaii, SUP now has many variations, including yoga, Pilates and even cardio. “SUP is great for leg, core and shoulder strength plus endurance. It’s also good for stability in your feet, ankles, knees, hips and torso,” says Russell. “The first time you try, your legs may shake and they’ll get tired, but you’ll notice improvement quickly,” he adds. As for cardio, that depends on you. “SUP can be as demanding as you want it to be – you can take it easy or push yourself,” says Russell.


What equipment you need:

As well as a board and a paddle, a leash is advisable if you’re SUPing in the ocean. It’s a good idea to rent equipment at first – about $25 an hour – to get a feel for it. The paddle should be 6-10 inches taller than you and all-around or beginners. Expect to pay up to $2000 for a decent board.


The skills you need:

The technique is important to reap the benefits and to stay safe. “Learning how to shift your centre of gravity really impacts your speed and how easy it is –as does an efficient stroke,” says Russell. Start on your knees until you feel stable, then stand up, one foot at a time, with feet parallel and knees slightly bent. Hold the paddle with one hand on top, the other in the centre of the paddle shaft. When you take a stroke reach as far forward as possible, plant the paddle in the water and think of pulling the board past it.

Tip: SUP can be as tough as you want: Take it easy or push yourself, the choice is yours. But one thing's clear: It's fun!


5. Ocean swimming

To avoid injury, don’t go too hard and fast when starting out. Here’s a tip from Surf Life Saving Coach and Ocean Swimming Athlete, Paul Lemmon: Your weekly distance should increase by no more than 10 per cent. “Ocean swimming works your body in the exact the same ways as lap swimming, but it’s more challenging as you have to dealwithchop and swell,” says Russell. Plus you’ll get the feelgood factor of being in a natural environment. Research published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Wellbeing found that people who exercised outdoors had greater emotional health benefits compared to people who swam inside, although the health and physical benefits were the same.


What equipment you need:

As well as swimmers and goggles, a wetsuit is a good idea for non-summer swimming. A swimming cap (or two) will also help keep you warm in the waves.


The skills you need:

The main challenge is navigating the waves – so learning to duck dive, run in and out over breaking waves, and, where you’re going, are important skills to learn. offers an online training course and lists ocean swims.


6. Surfing

Fun fact: Competitive surfers only spend 8% of their time actually riding waves.

“Surfing requires short burstsofeffort, when you’re paddling out or paddling hard trying to catch a wave,” says Russell. “Surfing gives your shoulders and upper back a huge workout, and it also strengthens your core both through balancing on your board when paddling and sitting on it.” And that’s just for beginners. “When you manage to stand up, your legs get a great workout too,” adds Russell.


What equipment you need:

A surfboard and leash. A large (8ft) board gives you the best chance of catching waves and standing up. Prices start from $200. Hire costs about $25 for two hours.


The skills you need:

First, you need to paddle out then position yourself with your belly and torso on the board facing the beach and take at least three powerful strokes to catch the wave. Next, push down on your hands, which should be parallel on the board and jump into position: one foot between your hands, the other one further back stabilising you.