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Surfing as therapy: the benefits of surfing for mental health

Not all people have the advantage of living near the sea and being able to surf any day of the week, but for those who do, it is a great opportunity to stay healthy in all its aspects. Surfing is a fun and recreational activity that has a culture of its own, and offers great benefits to physical health.

Although surfing is largely about physical and coordination skills, understanding the mental aspects of surfing is also important. This is due to the fact that our mind controls everything from our thoughts to our movements.

In recent years, surf therapy as an alternative form of “mental healing” has been gaining momentum. Different international organizations combine the therapeutic elements offered by the ocean with the adventure of surfing to create a positive impact on people’s lives.

Just because we are waiting for a wave does not mean that we have to just sit there and wait for it. Surfing is more than waiting and catching a wave. This sport can work as a very effective method for various types of mental conditions , including autism spectrum disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

Surfing as PTSD therapy

Being in contact with the sea gives you life, it helps us to escape from our problems, to rest our minds and relax; at that moment we only thought about taking the next wave.

The American surfer and producer Josh Izenberg, began to conduct research on the power of surfing, and its uses not only in sports, but also as therapy. This together with researchers, found that being in the ocean and doing surfing can reduce the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

What is post traumatic stress disorder?

Post traumatic stress disorder is a mental disorder that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a threatening or highly stressful event. This can be a life-threatening event, such as combat, natural disaster, accident, or sexual assault; but it can also be an event that puts the life of another individual at risk, of which the affected person is a witness.
Personal factors, such as previous traumatic exposure, age, and gender, can predispose a person to developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

Those who suffer from this type of disorder may have disturbing memories, feel nervous, suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep paralysis, or have continuous intrusive thoughts that do not allow them to continue with their daily activities. Most people with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) begin to feel better within a few weeks or months of the event.

Benefits of surfing for the treatment of PTSD

Evidence suggests that surfing can help people consciously focus on their body and how it feels. This helps the nervous system “take off” and begin to break out of the immobilizing stress response that characterizes PTSD.

Resurface, the documentary directed by Izenberg, aims to show the world the benefits of surfing on mental health. It shows the benefits that the sea provided to the military who suffered physical and mental trauma in their fighting. The director aims to motivate people to explore the therapeutic benefits of being in and around the sea, understanding the forces of nature and mastering a sport as challenging as surfing.

Researchers claim that surfing offers great promise as a therapy. We are talking about challenging exercise in an outdoor environment; where only we find ourselves facing the force of the sea.

For the military, who refuse to attend traditional group therapy, surfing helps them open up to their common experiences when talking to other surfers on the beach. They talk about surfing and then get into things that are deeper than that, common experiences and common traumas. It’s therapy disguised as recreation, says Helen Metzger.

Surfing as therapy for autism

Research on surfing as a therapeutic system is recent, scarce and limited, but still existing. According to the research that has been carried out on this sport as a therapeutic system, they have shown that surfing can work as a highly effective therapy to treat children with autism spectrum disorder, and can even help reduce the severity of the condition.

The disorder of the autistic spectrum is a condition related to the development of the brain that affects how the subject perceives other people and socialize with them. This causes serious problems in social interaction and communication.

In general, children with autism have quite independent cognitive functions and are not interested in playing group games or interacting with others. But since surfing began to be used as a therapy for autism, most children have shown a willingness to interact with each other, and have even forged friendships.

With surfing, children with autism spectrum disorder can “find peace” in the water , learning to ride waves or simply being in contact with the sea. “The process of learning to surf is a lot like learning to be. You have a problem with balance that causes you to lose control of your body and that happens when you learn to walk. The research source derives from there ”, says Jesús Borrego, director of the Asociación Gaditana de Solo Surf.

There are several surf camps, specialized in therapy with autistic children. These therapeutic surf camps can be used as an intervention to encourage the development of social skills in children with autism. Some of the camps serve only school-age children, while others include participants ranging in age from 5 to 18 years old and with varying levels of developmental disabilities and behavior problems. The therapeutic surf camp program is divided into 2 parts: first the participants are taught the physical skills necessary to surf, and then group, social and self-taught activities are carried out that help improve communication.

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With surf therapy, children have improved their symptoms, reporting more confidence, greater social interaction, increased initiation of communication, greater verbal production, improvement in peer relationships, and fewer aggressive explosions.

Health benefits of surfing

We often do exercises thinking about the physical improvements we can achieve, such as toning and increasing muscles, marking abs, improving our circulation or having those biceps that we want so much, but exercise not only serves to improve physical health, it is also one of the most effective ways to improve mental health.

Exercising regularly can have a positive impact on different types of disorders, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder ( OCD ), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), among others.

Surfing for its part, on a purely physical level, is a highly effective training for the whole body , combining upper strength and arm exercises in the paddle, resistance training, and lower body exercise. while exercising the leg muscles to guide the board once we are on it.

On the other hand, surfing, in addition to being a physical exercise that works almost all the muscles in our body, is an excellent natural therapy. Not only to improve the symptoms of PTSD and ASD (as we mentioned above), but also to decrease the symptoms of other types of mental conditions.

In terms of mental benefits, the ocean is a different world and an environment far removed from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, making it a great way to unwind and clear your mind.

Benefits of surfing for mental health

Among the various benefits that surfing offers to our mental health we can highlight:

It reduces stress

Surfing is an effective way to break the cycle of stress . In addition to releasing endorphins in the brain, it helps us work and relax the muscles, and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and the mind are closely linked, when the body feels better the mind is likely to do so as well.

Being on a force as great as the sea, with all its immensity, allows us to relax the mind, free our thoughts and reflect. We are there, on a table, just us connecting with nature, with nothing to interrupt us, just becoming aware that we are part of it.

Increase the state of consciousness

Surfing is a sport that largely uses consciousness. Since we entered the sea we are fully aware that we are part of it, we must know its forces and achieve harmony with them.

Kelly Slater, one of the best surfers internationally, says that when he is in tune with the sea and the waves, all his body asks of him is to surf. “I watch the waves and feel the movements in my body that are useful.”

At the time of paddling, we must already be thinking about the movements that we are going to perform, so that when we take the wave our brain sends us the appropriate impulses to perform those movements, either to perform a correct take off, takeoffs or perfect turns. . Therefore, we are aware at all times of what we are doing and what movements our body is going to make. Just as the practice of mindfulness places us in the present, with surfing we can also achieve it.

Keep balance

One of the best benefits associated with surfing is the improvement it creates in your balance. To stay on the surfboard, you must have a great ability to maintain balance, find the correct position and mold your body for that. Balance is a skill that carries over into everyday life.

Increase perseverance

Surfing is not an easy sport to learn. It can take months to leave the foam zone and enter to start riding waves, it can even take years to be able to run a wall (part of the wave without foam, where we surf and advance); it all depends on the time that is devoted to it.

Surfing is a sport that requires time, commitment and perseverance to progress. Once that commitment is made and the frustration barrier is overcome the first few times, the rewards are enormous.

Thanks to perseverance, we will not only be able to enjoy the physical and mental benefits that surfing offers to our health, but we will also have shown ourselves that we can achieve goals that at some point seemed unattainable.

Encourage social interaction

Surfing is a sport that unites all social classes. Although in some countries it is considered an upper-middle class sport, in others, such as Hawaii or Brazil, it is practiced regardless of the social class that it is possessed. In the water, social classes disappear. Everyone is looking for the same thing, to take a wave.

Although surfing is a sport that is usually practiced individually, it is also a sport that involves social interaction. Thanks to this sport we meet people who share our same passion and interest. It also helps us to respect the place of the other, since there are certain preference codes that must be followed to avoid injuries and unnecessary confrontations, for example: the surfer who is paddling closer to the peak will have priority to take the wave; once taken it is yours alone, unless you want to share it.

The best surfer is the one who has the most fun!

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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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