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Carving a Niche

Trainer Stephanie Lay identifies a new market in the surf industry.

photo: Karin Kovalsky

Strength and fitness training is a standard practice employed across the board in the “major” sports such as football, baseball and basketball. So, as the popularity of surfing continues to rise and the world’s best athletes come to Hawaii for training and competition, one local entrepreneur posed the sensible question: Why not train surfers?

Stephanie Lay got the ball rolling with the creation of Extreme Surf Fitness – a surfing-specific program that promotes natural performance enhancement and rehabilitation through the use of core- and balance-training exercises. Lay explains that her training regimens, which include stability ball exercises, squats and abdominal strength training, not only add to an athlete’s overall strength, balance and quickness, but also correct previous injuries and tight-ness caused by the predominantly upper-body movements associated with heavy arm-paddling.

“There are not a lot of surfing-specific trainers actively working in the industry, so it is relatively new,” Lay says.–“Most athletes work only with coaches and do not have a specific training regimen.–This used to be the same for baseball, football and golf but now it is required to work with strength-training coaches and personal trainers to keep up with the competition.”

Lay’s passion for surfing and her enthusiasm for training others has drawn a diverse clientele, including mainstream surfers like Keala Kennelly and Rochelle Ballard – stars in the movie “Blue Crush” and HBO television program “John from Cincinnati.” Her client list also includes Bethany Hamilton, a young female surfer, who survived a shark attack that cost her an arm, as well as big-wave surfers Kahea Hart, Cody Graham and Dean Morrison – the No. 10 surfer on the Men’s World Championship Tour.

Lay even trains a group of youngsters, known as the “super groms” and “Hawaiian Rippers,” who receive regular lessons from surfing legend Tony Moniz at the Kewalos surf break.

“The sport of surfing has a huge amount of potential for growth with adding the element of sports-specific training,” says Lay, who started teaching general fitness while in the U.S. Army and later earned her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology with an emphasis on corporate fitness. “This is my vision and it is catching on.”

Lay is doing well in growing her business, for which she generally charges $65 per hour. But as with the big swells that roll in, her business is seasonal. To remain financially stable, she runs a training business at Gold’s Gym in Honolulu, but the goal is to convince a large surf brand, such as Volcom or Billabong, to hire her as a full-time strength and conditioning coach who would travel the world with that brand’s surf team and train them along the way – similar to trainers with major professional sports organizations.

“I think the most unique part of my business is that I am creating all of the time and not just training the same exercises over and over,” Lay says. “I feel like I am pioneering in this new market.”

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Hawaii Business,November