To say that having good balance is the key to surfing well would be an understatement. There are so many components to consider when training for surfing, mainly because surfing is such a dynamic task. Being able to shift and recalibrate your body to the accordance of a moving wave is a highly advanced skill that meddles core and lower extremity strength, your balance systems (comprised of vision, inner ear, and sensatory/reflex mechanisms), as well as mid-back and shoulder endurance to paddle you into position. The purpose of this article is to emphasize the importance of attaining proper ankle flexibility, that will thus improve all systems geared toward surfing performance -- please welcome the soleus stretch.
The calf musculature is group of 2 main muscles that attach to the back part of your leg: the gastrocnemius (attaching across the ankle and above the knee joint), and the deeper soleus (attaching across the ankle without crossing the knee joint). In general, when your calf musculature is tight, then your ankle flexibility into dorsiflexion (foot moving upward) is limited. More specifically, a tight gastrocnemius will limit your dorsiflexion mobility when your knee is straight; soleus tightness will limit your dorsiflexion mobility when your knee is bent -- this is due to the anatomical attachments of the muscle.
Surfing on a wave is an activity that usually involves the knees to be bent. Even during stand-up barrels, you'll often see that there's just a slight bend in one or both of the surfer's knees. When your knees are bent, your ankles will be forced into dorsiflexion due to the fixed surface in which you're standing on (i.e. your surfboard). This becomes more apparent with deeper knee bends. In other words, the more you bend your knees, the more dorsiflexion is needed to accommodate this. Imagine you're getting low to fit into a barrel -- it is your soleus length that allows this ankle position. If one doesn't have the dorsiflexion range of motion to accommodate such a deep knee bend, then the ankle will essentially do the opposite motion (plantarflexion -- foot moving downward). This plantarflexion motion shifts your center of gravity forward, causing you to lose or struggle with balance. Obviously this leads to wipeouts and/or surfing that really isn't that graceful.
By having a properly lengthened soleus muscle, you will increase your ankle's ability to dorsiflex when your knee is bent. The more lengthened your soleus muscle becomes, the greater ability you'll have to dorsiflex while undergoing deeper knee-bent positions -- hence the better balance you'll have on your surfboard. In summary, if you're goal is to fit into tighter barrels (deeper knee-bent position), then a properly elongated soleus is necessary.
Set-up: Position yourself facing a wall. Place your hands on the wall about shoulder high and shoulder-width about. Have your feet about shoulder width apart as well. Allow your front and back knees to bend slightly. Keep your back heel attached to the surface of the floor.
Response: You should feel a comfortable pulling in your back leg -- in your calf muscle belly.
Regimen: Hold each stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat 4 times. You can do these nearly daily as comfortably tolerated on both sides.
DISCLAIMER: THIS STRETCH IS NOT MEANT TO BE PHYSICAL THERAPY TREATMENT. DO NOT CONTINUE STRETCH IF PAINFUL/UNCOMFORTABLE. IF YOU HAVE ANY ANKLE PATHOLOGY HISTORY (SPRAINS, FRACTURES, ETC), PLEASE CONSULT WITH YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER BEFORE PROCEEDING. DO NOT DO THIS STRETCH IF YOU'VE HAD SURGERY IN THE LOWER EXTREMITY WITHOUT CONSULTING WITH YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER.