What if I told you there was a way to approach surfing differently and while doing so tremendously change your capabilities? It is called the Cardboard Surfer. Well, some of you might already do these things right. Some of you might do these things without knowing they are doing them and some might not have a clue at all. It really depends on where you are in your personal surfing journey and at what stage of progress.
The Cardboard Surfer
-back to the drawing board and setting your fundamentals
-literally no other source out there that addresses the real fundamentals of surfing
-super easy to grasp explanations
-short lasting videos with loads of information packed inside
-real advice and practices to get you where you want to go
-the price might be a bit too much for some surfers out there 88,90 USD (more on that later)
Table of Contents
2. How I stumbled upon the Cardboard Surfer Program
3. My approach to sports
4. What the Cardboardsurfer is claiming to be
5. Thoughts about the methods after completing the program
6. The way the methods are taught
7. Realistic expectations on what it can do for your surfing
8. Conclusion – Is the Cardboard Surfer for you?
This is mainly going to be a review of Clayton Nienabers and Cris Mills Cardboard Surfer Programm – and partly my own thoughts on how one should approach surfing from a performance standpoint (granted you want to perform in the water and progress in the sport of surfing) I heavily believe in the sentiment that everyone has more fun surfing, when they’re surfing better. If that’s you as well – you should definetely read on.
To be transparent and open – I have no ties to Clayton Nienaber and Cris Mills other than being a customer of their products. They didn’t ask me to write this review and I wasn’t paid to do so either. This is just about me sharing what I found to be enormously helpful. So here we go
How I stumbled upon the Cardboard Surfer Program
Cris Mills or online better known as “SurfStrengthCoach” is present for some years now in my pool of surf related resources. I first started following his YouTube channel for surf related fitness and injury preventing content.
He eventually developed an App called “SurfAthlete” which has a lot of different free as well as paid programs available to build a foundation in your surfing fitness. I used that app and its free contents to the fullest – at least I would say so.
I specifically used it (mostly functional movements and stretches) to get ready for a Surf Trip late 2019 and found myself to perform more fluid in the water – I was lacking a lot of range of movement due to tight hips and very limited spinal range. I even incorporated a tiny warm up before every session into my regimen. I was excited with the results I had created for myself and thus willing to start paying for more exclusive content.
That’s fortunately exactly when the Cardboard Surfer Program was brought to my attention. I started thinking about it and later purchased it through the app. It was also the first time I learned about the name and person of Clayton Nienaber, who is integral to that program.
Clayton Nienaber and all resources tied to him being a surf coach are an absolute massive amount of quality information. (Just let me name drop here a little and let you know he once coached Jordy Smith) But tapping into that would totally blow the size of this article. Clayton will have his own article and a review of the sources on my blog soon. So let me refer you to his website, instagram and this free but super high quality podcast episode.
My approach to sports
To put my approach to sports a bit into context – here is a little history of mine in professional and semi-professional sports. I spent the first part of my life with doing Karate. I joined the German Nationalteam, when I was 16 years old and accomplished quite a few international successes including a 7th place in the WKF seniors World Championships of 2010, 2nd places of the WKF German Open 2010 and 2011 as well as a 2nd place in the WKF US Open in 2012 before I went to Med School and concluded my professional Karate career in that same year.
In 2015 I started playing American Football and was able to move into the first league and join one of the Top 3 GFL (German Football League) teams the Dresden Monarchs just 3 years later. Within my first year in that league – widely considered and acknowledged the highest quality and most competitive league outside the US, Canada and Japan – I secured a lasting starting spot within a roster packed with US and international import players.
But all that’s history and I’m only making that point to show that I’m a.) very competitive and performance oriented in the sports I involve myself in b.) well immersed in scientific proven training principles of professional and semi-professional sports and c.) motivated to put in the work it takes to better my own performance.
Unfortunately resources of that nature and quality are hard to find within the surfing community – which in my opinion – is a lack in willingness to be coached and be told what to and how to improve.
Surfing is related and almost integrated into a lifestyle of freedom, style and self-expression thus producing a lot of self-unaware surfers in the amateur world. That is of course only one negative side effect of what otherwise makes surfing so special. But today we are here to speak performance and that is also why you are reading this.
What the Cardboard Surfer Program is claiming to be
The Cardboard Surfer is promoting to teach you the real fundamentals of surfing. So far so good. It further concludes that by improving your skills, you will therefore better your skills and technique in the water. Sounds even better.
And how is it going to do that? Yes you guessed it – hours and hours of in-water drills – No absolutely not. This is all about getting the “feeling” for the right technique into your body. Completely out of the water. Standing on a piece of cardboard. Hence the name – Cardboard Surfer.
Thoughts about the methods after completing the program
After completing the program I really think the methods are fundamentally sound and proficient in teaching something that’s super hard to achieve in the water – feeling.
If you want to get a feeling for the right movements while surfing, especially as a beginner, you have to spend hours and hours in the ocean. Still you will experience that feeling only once a week or so. On a single wave…maybe…when you’re lucky. Massively because so much more goes into a surfing session, than the actual surfing part. In fact we only spend 8% (when your name is Kelly Slater) or as few as 0.1% of the time on our feet surfing.
99% of the time we are looking for waves, paddling for waves, missing waves, screwing up the take off or having to forfeit a wave to that hot headed local.
So it makes a lot of sense to develop a feeling for the right movement on land, where we can repeat the movements almost infinitely. On land it’s also easier for an amateur without a film crew to film yourself, watch it and readjust.
I want to put a special emphasis on the way the cardboard surfer teaches you a new pop up method. What they call the “walk-up to pop-up”. Honestly just for that part of the program it is worth its money. I didn’t realize in the beginning. But after doing it over and over again, I finally saw how wrong and unnecessary hard I made it for myself the last 10 years.
If someone would have asked me before the program about my pop up, I would’ve answered without a doubt that I think it was super solid and working for me – little did I know there was not only a more, but a most efficient way to pop up, and be ready to surf no matter the circumstances.
This became evident when I had the movement internalized and surfed bigger, faster and more hollow waves. Situations where I would usually struggle with my first bottom turn (unknowingly it was my pop up that had set me up for failure) I smoothed into my stance and started making so many more waves. In tougher conditions where I would usually get stuck behind or missing sections 40-50% of the time, I started making these almost 90% of the time.
The way the methods are taught
Honestly there are only a few sentences to be said about the way Cris and Clayton teach the cardboard surfer. More than just a front on presentation of the content, imagine sitting in a room with two fellow surfers. They are discussing surfing technique in short, to the point sentences, while demonstrating to each other (yes, you are part of that) how that looks in actual movements.
There will probably be more than just one moment, where you feel like your eyes just got opened to something you already knew deep inside – after watching hours and hours of pro surfing. But you just weren’t able to articulate it, or get what differentiates Mick Fanning from yourself.
Cris and Clayton have a phenomenal rapport in the videos and sometimes it comes across, as if they are just talking about surf technique and fundamentals behind shut doors. But get that – you get to listen in on them. And I think you really should take that opportunity.
Realistic expectations on what it can do for your surfing
If you are still a beginner or early intermediate I literally see no scenario where you aren’t going to massively improve using the cardboard surfer. Of course given that you practice the movements and really hammer them into your nervous system and muscle memory.
If you are already further ahead in your surfing journey I still think you have tremendous upside through the cardboard surfer.
Just like I was doing mistakes, I think we are all doing more mistakes in the water than we are recognizing or willing to admit at times. If you aren’t sure, if it’s for you – watch a video on YouTube of Clayton and Cris surf a wave and how fluid they look. Do you consider yourself on par with them or somewhere close, or your technique at least resembling what they are doing? If not – this program will do great stuff for you. And if you do – awesome for you, but in that case the program is probably not for you.
So if you are like me, the cardboard surfer will help you stop spending money on all the wrong things without getting anywhere. You could be a better surfer next week already by just applying and practicing the techniques taught by the cardboard surfer program. When was the last time you bought a new set of fins or surfboard and it really fixed your surfing?
Conclusion – Is the Cardboard Surfer for you?
The cardboard surfer has brought tremendous value to my own surfing and even surfskating. As I have stated in the section “what it can do for you”. Watch a video on YouTube of Clayton and Cris surf a wave and how fluid they look. Do you consider yourself on par with them or somewhere close, or your technique at least resembling what they are doing? If not – this program will do great stuff for you. And if you do – awesome for you, but in that case the program is probably not for you.
I know a lot of us aren’t willing to pay the price tag for a digital download. Let me explain why I think it is worth its price in a simple equation.
I spent X amount of money on surfing gear before in my life, that I have thought would make me a better surfer. The cardboard surfer costs Y amount of money. And for my personal case X is an enormously higher number than Y. If you get what I’m saying – then just for 2021 – don’t buy the new fins or the new board that you think will fix your surfing. Spend the 88,90 USD on the cardboard surfer this year.
Medical Student future Psychiatrist, Semiprofessional American Football Player and Surfer.
Did you know, that if you improved 1% every day for a year, you would end up 37 times better than you have been, when you started. I truly believe we can all be a better version or ourselves tomorrow than we have been today and getting there together is more efficient and a lot more fun.