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Surf; so much more than just a sport.

If you dove into my website, you’ll know that for me surfing is so much more than just a sport. It’s essence for many of us salty heads, is about being in nature and surrendering to it. We truly feel connected to the rhythms of the oceans, and for many of us it’s our happy place. When we come out of the water we feel reset and refreshed. Sharing this extraordinary feeling with so many others made me curious to how this can be explained. So I plunged into a long stretch of research, which I'll briefly share about here.

This feeling we experience, has been explained in depth in the book ‘the blue mind’ written by Wallace J. Nichols. In his book he writes about the physiological and psychological effects of the water. After reading this, It didn’t shock me to see that surfing is now applied, and even recognized as an official therapy in several countries. Let's dive in.

Photo by Iseastories

Physiological explanation

In his book ‘the blue mind’ Nichols writes in depth about the influence of water on the brain. Which I will touch on just briefly, or else I'll risk getting to nerdy.

Being near water triggers a resting mechanism in the brain. This can be explained by the fact that water is relatively predictable. It moves in certain rhythms, and there are not many surprises happening, in contrary to walking on the street for example. This predictability and familiarity then leads to a resting response of the brain.

Nichols also writes about a neurochemical reaction that happens from being around water. In his research he discovered water releases a stream of feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine (pleasure), serotonin (well-being, peace), endorphins (euphoria), oxytocin (love and bonding), and GABA (calmness).

If you are hungry for more in depth information, I would highly recommend reading the book ‘the blue mind’.

Emotional effect

Because of the physiological effects water has on us, emotional benefits automatically follow. Research has shown that being near water mainly results in reduction of stress, and anxiety. It also increases focus, creativity, empathy and memory.

It has therefore been shown to provide therapeutic effects for managing trauma, sleep and dealing with anxiety. Which is particularly helpful in treatment of PTSD, addiction, depression, and anxiety disorders. It is also now used for people with autism, and down syndrome.

Surf Therapy

After learning about this all some time ago, it made my heart skip a beat to find out there is a thing called surf therapy. Here surfing is used as the port way to being around water, which then provides access to the benefits of the blue mind.

There are however some additional benefits in using surf, to make the good even better. Surfing requires a tremendous level of focus, which than shifts your attention away from other thoughts. It also gives many of us an adrenaline rush, which together with the focus helps build mental and physical well-being.

Luckily I was not the only one who’s heart skipped a beat. The non-profits providing surf therapy for a variety of conditions are rapidly growing. There is even an international surf therapy organization. Which is a global community of surf therapy practitioners and researchers harnessing the power of the use of surf therapy as a mental and physical health intervention. The existence of surf therapy is particularly large in the US. However, in France it is now acknowledged as an actual form of therapy by the government.

The Netherlands is on the rise too. Great initiatives have opened their salty hearts to people in need of a little surf therapy. And of course, I am one of them! I am really curious to how this new development will evolve, and even more so to contribute to it.

Photo by Itsonlywater


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