Why Surfing Makes Us Happy

Nothing like washing the world off with a quick surf. Photo: Eddie Kopp//Unsplash

The Inertia

Surfing makes us happy. Wave after wave, year after year, it brings us joy.

It’s been scientifically proven to reduce symptoms of depression like sadness, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. A study published in BMC Psychiatry found that both surfing and hiking therapies helped members of the U.S. Military suffering from major depressive disorder — the most common mental health disorder worldwide. 

“Surfing brings about great happiness, and even sometimes intense euphoria, by inducing a flow state in the truest sense of the phrase. The magic happens when you’ve lost all sense of time and self and you’re completely immersed in the moment,” said Dr. Shala Kaleka of Australia’s Endeavour College of Natural Health. “In other words, by being completely at one with the waves while being in the Goldilocks Zone.”

Ya’ know, that zone where everything feels “just right.”

Prior studies also discussed the connection between surfing and mental health. They’ve shown that all exercise has positive effects on depression by boosting dopamine, endorphins, and adrenaline, aka “the happy hormones.”

Surfing also feels good because getting sun kissed increases serotonin, the “feel good chemical,” which antidepressant drugs do too. 

What’s interesting about this study is that the surfers were more likely than the hikers to return to normal levels of social function three months later. Essentially, it found that surfing makes adulting a little easier.  Maybe it’s because paddling out offers a break from the real-life troubles waiting back on dry land? 

It does for Love Hodel, a surf coach and former pro surfer who finds solace in the lineup. “I chose to surf because it took me away from all the drama and troubles surrounding life as a young kid. It sent me into a state of calmness, being alone and away from the control of our mother,” he said. “I felt the power within myself and in control of my destiny in those moments surfing.”

It seems there’s something more behind the love of surfing than the perfect balance of chemicals and hormones. Something almost spiritual. Something that soothes the soul. Hodel agrees it does something for us on a “higher physical and mental plane.” 

But what is it?

“It’s hard to put into words. It’s a feeling, a really good feeling,” said Jordan Heuer, owner of Kandui Resort in the Mentawais. 

It’s true. There’s an inexplicable sense of joy and excitement that comes from chasing waves. It puts us in the moment and brings peace of mind. 

“Surfing is definitely one of those things that draw to the core of happiness. For those that do it, they know what I’m talking about,” said Mike Latronic, publisher of FreeSurf magazine. “You combine the challenge of nature with the flow of gravity, inertia, thrills, chills, and spills, and it becomes a lifetime pursuit for those who find their happiness in the ocean chasing waves.”

That happiness pushes surfers through fear and risk, through sunny days and storms, in a bikini or a five-millimeter wetsuit. There’s nothing between a surfer and the elements while suspended in the ocean, where the sea meets the sky, waiting for that wave that’s just right — and finally riding it.

“I believe that energy and mindset have carried into my adulthood, feeling like it’s just the ocean and me to deal with any outside issues that can plague my thoughts. Alone time brings calm from the stormy world,” Hodel said. “At the end of the day, surfing makes me happy and keeps me healthy in mind, body, and spirit.”

It does. Surfing makes us feel like somehow, someway, everything is going to be okay. 


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