A Chat with SurfSET Founder Mike Hartwick

Finding the time, let alone the motivation, to workout can be a challenge, regardless of the shape you’re in, so I’m always excited when I hear about a workout that seems both innovative and effective. I tend to find that most out-of-the-box fitness classes are more fluff and that old school step workouts based on high intensity interval training and indoor cycling classes are the most time effective when it comes to calorie-bruning, body-sculpting workouts. Nevertheless I went to SurfSET, a new workout inspired by surfing, with an open mind. Each student in the class spends the length of the session on a surfboard-like machine conceived by founder Mike Hartwick and he’s touring 11 cities across the country in the next nine months, offering “pop-up” classes in fitness clubs and boutique studios, so that people can check out the total body workout that it offers.

I was surprised that the workout was not only challenging, but it was actually fun. The teacher was engaging and spending 45 minutes on a surfboard-like contraption adds an element of instability for added challenge to classic workout moves. I spoke with Hartwick about how this workout came to fruition, who it's best suited for, what we'd find if we looked in his fridge, and more…

The Fashion Spot: Have you always been into surfing? Sports?

Mike Hartwick: I have been surfing since I was 9. I learned on the East Coast: New Hampshire, Cape Cod, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. As I got older, I became more involved in organized sports: hockey, baseball, soccer, and football. This took up most of my free time, but I still got away to the waves on family vacations, trips, etc. I went on to play college hockey at Dartmouth, which required even a greater commitment to training and off-season workouts. However, my sister lived on Ocean Beach in San Francisco and this became my greatest escape. After I turned pro, I spent my entire off-season surfing up and down the West Coast. When I played in Europe, I had the opportunity to surf Cornwall, Biarittz, Peniche – so yes, I have always been involved in sports and surfing.   

tFS: What was your workout regimen like before SurfSET? What is it like now?

MH: Before SurfSET I worked-out/trained for hockey. Lots of Olympic movements like squats, hang cleans, bench press, sprint, and agility work. After retiring from hockey, I wanted to get away from traditional gym workouts, so I trained for the Boston marathon and a number of the Mud Runs. This was tough on the knees and overall body. Today, I am 100% SurfSET. The variety of class genres allows me to target all the muscle groups, while improving my cardio conditioning, balance, and core. 

tFS: Can you describe a typical SurfSET workout? Why should people try it?

MH: The workout is designed around a surf session and the physical excursions a surfer goes through. With SurfSET we are able to amp up the fitness benefits by cutting out the recovery time usually found between sets of waves. The surf specific movements are slightly modified to ensure a whole body workout. People should try SurfSET first off because it is extremely fun, but also because it is unlike any workout they have done before. I haven't come across any other workout that can boast a core, balance, strength, coordination, flexibility, and cardio training rolled into a single session. The workout is simply revolutionary!  

tFS: Any favorite moves on the RipSurfer X?

MH: I am a huge fan of the Duck Dive Push Ups and Barrel Squats.

tFS: Do you recommend the workout for people trying to lose weight or is it more for people already in decent shape looking to tone-up?

MH: I would recommend the class for anyone looking for a more engaging workout. The great part about SurfSET is it provides people who are already in great shape the opportunity to take their athleticism to the next level. SurfSET is also great for people looking to find an experience that will propel them to their target fitness level, the workout focuses on progression and improvement. Each person works at their own pace, so no matter whether they are new to the gym or a tri-athlete they will be able to elevate their fitness

tFS: How did the idea for the RipSurfer X? come about and how long did the whole process take?

MH: SurfSET was born out of necessity as I found myself away from decent waves for more than a month at a time. The idea for SurfSET started with a week long surf trip on the Pacific Coast Highway. I paddled out with my sister at Pebble Beach and was in the water for the better part of 3 hours, the 'ah ha' moment came after we were recounting the day over a beer and she kept asking how I could stay out and consistently pop up, paddle, and catch waves. It didn't really come to fruition until almost a year later. I walked out of my job in finance and developed two prototypes of the RSX (RipSurfer X) that you see today. We launched the class in Boston in November and landed in NYC in December. So the company has been up and running for close to 6 months.

tFS: Does the workout prepare you at all for real surfing?

MH: Anyone who has tried surfing will agree that those initial instructions on the beach don't prepare you for the chaotic environment of the ocean, however, I feel the greatest hurdle next to developing the proper balance and technique is stamina and fitness. It takes an incredible amount of upper body and arm strength to paddle into a wave, set yourself, and pop up. If you still have any energy left, it is then directed towards positioning on the board and what you are trying to accomplish, whether that be a nice long right or a cutback. If you are physically fit, you can expedite the learning curve by focusing on technique, which goes a long way! 

tFS: Have you found the reaction to SurfSET to be different from city to city? Are some cities better than others at getting through the classes?

MH: NYC is far and away the best classes we have instructed. It is a great city for fitness and there are a lot of undercover surfers. 

tFS: What have been some of the biggest challenges as a young entrepreneur?

MH: The biggest challenge is SurfSET is all consuming. I am having so much fun, I don't have room for much else, it's hard to even call it a job.    

tFS: You seem to be in really great shape, what would we find If we looked inside your fridge?

MH: Anything Mexican, limes, and tequila!

SUP Challenge from SurfSET Fitness on Vimeo.