I have made it my business to mock people who ascribe some sort of spiritual quality to surfing. To mock them ruthlessly. I’ve always believed that surfing makes you slightly-to-lots worse as a person. Worse at work, worse in relationships, a worse parent and a worse friend. Not that it is necessarily bad to be bad but let’s all just be honest about it, right? Like, let’s all look in the mirror and admit that the “exercise” and “peacefulness” of surfing is all fake. It’s better exercise to power walk to the store for beer and it’s more peaceful to drink that beer.
Apparently not for the true experts have officially spoken to the UK’s Telegraph. Let’s read!
The US Navy this year embarked on a $1 million (£762,000) research project investigating the potential of surfing to help military personnel with PTSD, depression or sleep problems.
Initial results have already shown surfing can lead to a decrease in symptoms of depression. To active surfers (500,000 in the UK and 35 million globally), this “news” is anything but new.
“Surfing is the best therapist you can go to,” says former British champion surfer Laura Crane. “There is something about just being free and floating in the ocean.” The rhythm of the ocean is similar to that experienced in the womb, says Tom Kay, founder of surf clothing brand Finisterre. “There’s a strong link between health and well-being, and being in the sea.” Salt water contains magnesium, which is calming, and exposure to the sea strengthens the immune system, as well as helping to normalise blood pressure.
Surfing is mindfulness in action. You just need a board, a wetsuit and the sea. Watching waves, waiting for the right one, paddling and catching it demand your full attention. “It’s a focused state – a trance state,” says Gulf War veteran and psychotherapist Rich Emerson. “It gives you a break from everything else.”
It’s immersive, addictive and it both grounds and uplifts. Outdoor therapist Ruth Allen, of White Peak Wellbeing, says: “Overcoming fears, taking calculated risks and riding a wave allows people a genuine sense of achievement, while literally washing away negative feelings.”
And it’s not just negative life events that can be tricky to process. “I got married, started a family and set up a film-production company in one year,” says Harry Anscombe, CEO of Beagle. “Surfing helped me cope with the new responsibilities, because it got me out of myself for a couple of hours.”
It also reminds us that there are always forces beyond our control. “We all try to plan and control our lives,” Anscombe says. “But if you try to dominate the waves, you get beasted.”
Surfing has one trump card that few other physical pastimes, immersive as they are, can beat. You can’t take your mobile phone with you.
“Surfing puts you out of touch with technology and the thought processes around that part of your life,” agrees Joe Taylor, founder of the Wave Project, the UK’s first surf therapy charity. In his experience a great deal of anxiety and other mental health issues, particularly among young people, are amplified by social media and technology. The relentless pressure to be always-on, or to be something you’re not, can take its toll and surfing provides the antidote. “Surfing is completely honest. You can’t fake it,” says Stoy.
But seriously, is there 35 million fucking surfers in the water? 35 fucking million? No wonder everywhere is so fucking crowded.
So over it. Fucking kooks everywhere.