Maverick’s At 180 Beats Per Minute

mavs-rouletMaverick’s. Photo: Seth de Roulet

Boom…B-Boom-ba-boom…Boom…B-Boom-ba-boom. That’s how Lil Wayne let’s the beat build. But a scientist at the University of California Santa Cruz thinks there’s a more effective way to raise the beat — surf big waves.

By beat, we’re talking heartbeat. Doctor Terrie Williams has studied exercise physiology in everything from lions to whales to coyotes, but in an article called “The Healthy Heart: Lessons from Nature’s Elite Athletes” in the September issue of Physiology, Williams strapped heart rate monitors onto an entirely different animal — Maverick’s surfers. Specifically, big-wave power couple Sarah and Mike Gerhardt.

What she found was that during a three-hour session at California’s premier big wave spot, Mike and Sarah’s heart rates redlined at about 90 percent of their maximums (surprisingly, this rapid beat began even before they paddled out). For Mike, this translated to 180 beats per minute with spikes of 200 bpm when he rode waves. This is one of the highest prolonged heart rates ever recorded.

Williams has collected heart rate data on her students at mellower waves like Steamer Lane, and found more predictable results that say the harder you exercise, the higher your heart rate. Mike and Sarah’s data suggest that adrenaline plays an important factor in determining the pace of your heartbeat.

That your heart rate would elevate while surfing big waves is not surprising. But that it goes up so much, and for so long, is interesting. Especially when you consider the importance of a slow heart rate in breath-holding (elephant seals, for example, often dive for 25 minutes and slow their hearts to 4 bpm). Just something to remember when you watch a clip like Mark Healey’s two-wave hold down and think, “I could survive that,” with your heart beating 70 times per minute from the safety of your desk. —Taylor Paul