“Surfer’s stoke” describes the blissful, Zen-like state that comes with catching and riding waves. This natural high is addictive enough that some people will quit their jobs, devote themselves to surfing, and call it a life.
It’s also powerful enough to help people recover from addictions that are far more damaging.
According to Saltwater Sessions activity in the presence of nature improves both mental and physical health, reducing stress, improving attention capacity, mood, and general well-being.
Surfing produces a powerful rush of neurochemicals associated with happiness and well-being, including oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine. This rush of chemicals aids in the reduction of stress and the enhancement of attention capacity and mood.
Lessons learned in the water become skills for increasing emotional intelligence. The challenges of surfing mirror many of the challenges and stressors we face in relationships and in daily life.
In these cases, healing on the water actually comes from replacing the excitement of addictive drugs with the natural dopamine high produced by surfing, whitewater kayaking, sailing, or paddle boarding. Surfing and similar sports satisfy the brain’s desire for stimulation, novelty, and a neurochemical “rush,” while also getting addicts out of their usual environments and providing new settings, new friends, and new routines.
“The goal of surf therapy is not to teach people to be surfers,” says Bryan Flores, who works with the Monterey County Mental Health Commission. “It’s to get them to use surfing to change their brain chemistry.
“You stand on the beach and get amped up, and all kinds of chemicals rush through the brain,” he explains. “Different ones are in play when you’re paddling out or have a monster wave chasing you to the beach. All of those chemicals can have incredible effects on how people cope with depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental-health issues.”
There are many online interviews with surfers in which surf board riders state what they love about the sport.
There are also quotes from well-known surfers which describe the feelings that are generated when riding the waves. Gary Sirota sums up his beliefs in saying “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf” There are no more committed people on the planet than surfers. We fall down a lot. We turn around, paddle back out, and do it over and over again. Unlike anything else in life, the stoke of surfing is so high that the failures quickly fade from memory.”
Most health professionals acknowledge that surfing provides many health benefits including cardiovascular fitness, shoulder and back strength and leg and core strength. They also widely agree that surfing has mental health benefits including the provision of a good outlet for stress and tension.
Anti-depressants, music and exercise are all important in keeping depression at bay…. and there are sufferers that will get benefits from the peace of the ocean and the joy of surfing. Just watching surfers enjoy their sport and approach the water with enthusiasm every time they jump in is uplifting. Watching the swell and predicting the best wave to catch stop the mind from wandering to low thoughts. And the thrill of riding that wave and the comradery developed with other surfers are powerful tools in stopping negative thought patterns.
At Bondi Beach in Australia, the OneWave project was founded by Grant Trebilco. Surfers across Australia have now joined this group which is aimed at breaking down the barriers regarding mental health. At the core of this not for profit community is the promotion of their belief that OneWave is all it takes to give you hope. Suffers of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder can benefit from surfing with the OneWave recipe of salt water, surfing and good friends. OneWave supporters are there to let people know that they are not alone and encourages fellow surfers to talk about their problems. “It doesn’t matter if you’re riding a wave for the first time or the hundredth time…..you never forget the feeling of being on a wave, of letting everything go and enjoying the moment. OneWave is all it takes… To free the funk. To give you hope.”
OneWave holds surfing sessions called "Fluro Fridays" where surfers wear the brightest colors possible. It is believed that doing this makes you smile and out in the surf is a good conversation starter to open the door to discussions for mental health sufferers and their careers…and family and friends who are all effected in some way by mental health issues.
Whether you are surfing alone or as part of a club or competition don’t forget the most important thing is to have fun. If you’re feeling down and lonely, give surfing or paddle boarding a go….it might just work miracles for you too.