Surfing for Total Health

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

-Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986.

Everything is about speed today: how fast can a project get finished, how fast can I drive, how fast is the wireless internet? So much speed and efficiency and yet nothing ever seems to get finished. So many questions, so few answers. To some degree even our vacations seem to be stuck on fast-forward: rush to the airport, hurry to a hotel, get to the buffet, the show, the tour bus on time. So much scheduling and stress - is it any wonder that so many Americans are medicated nowadays? We are just not designed for this much unabated hustle.

Even worse, we can make the time we DO carve out to invest in ourselves equally stressful. Exercise has long been a universally agreed-upon option for reducing stress, but so many forms of exercise are both competitive and anxiety-inducing. We are so organized, we take away the spontaneity and joy of the pursuit. Instead of running outside in nature, we’re on a treadmill multi-tasking (reading a magazine, listening to a podcast or TV) or taking on gigantic though admirable challenges like a Tough Mudder or a Spartan Sprint.  As a culture, we just don’t seem to be able to just let go. Life moves too fast - it did for Ferris Bueller back in 1986 and it certainly hasn’t gotten any slower.

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Finding an activity that blends the exercise our bodies need with the soothing discipline our minds require seems nearly impossible - until you look out to the ocean. In the water, free and unplugged from the distractions of our digital world, surfing may be a near perfect stress reducer for modern Americans. More than just a sport, surfing is a beautifully logical counter to the strains of the modern world. The benefits of surfing for both body and mind are extensive, having been proven to be an effective whole-body workout coupled with outdoor meditation.

At www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au, they approach total health and wellness by taking small steps each day to exercise. They go on to say that going to the gym or playing a sport is even more important to boost overall health such as a stronger immune system and improved heart and lung function. Surfing, among other water sports, is physical and mental exercise, truly promoting total body health.

The common parental refrain to children everywhere of “Go outside!” shouldn’t be forgotten as we become adults ourselves. Outside adventures with fresh air, room to move, along with time to just think or create never lose their value. As great as the ‘Great Outdoors’ can be, there is perhaps no better outdoors than that found seaside, on the beach or in the ocean itself.

Time spent seaside has often been lauded as a great improver of disposition. Sheer proximity to something so enormous helps provide perspective, the sounds of the ocean is a natural white noise to calms our senses and quiet our mind, and even modern science is starting to investigate the impact that negative ions produced by the ocean have to lift our spirits.

Simply spending time at the beach affords moments for mindfulness. Surfing takes that to next level. Surfing requires you to pay attention to the sky, the wind, the waves. Focus is required to be able to read the world around you, from current patterns and wave formation to the angle of the sun and weather changes. The accumulated mental hubbub and chatter we carry to the ocean have no place there, for distraction will get you a face full of seaweed or an unexpected cold dunking.

Surfing teaches patience and keen observation skills, and rewards them with a glorious adrenaline rush. Waiting, adrift, while watching for that one perfect wave to come narrows your focus down to the purity of being absolutely in a moment. It engages all the senses, from the taste and smell of saltwater to the sound of crashing waves and the calling of gulls.

The shading of sunlight on water surrounds you, and physical sensations abound: cold or warm water, pulling currents, the board under you. Nothing comes with you except what you absolutely need: no excess gear, no thoughts, and especially no cell phone or other digital tether. A whole wide world of clamor narrows down to waiting for the next wave and solving the problem of how to ride it best. In short, the soothing elements taught in stress management classes are all waiting for you out there on the water. All you have to do is engage with the environment to disengage from the fast lane.

Developing a passion for surfing and a healthy addiction to the accompanying Zen peacefulness also have satellite benefits that cascade into aspects of everyday life. Surfing is a sport that chases the dawn, so being up early gives surfers a chance to go out and play well before any work or school commitments have a chance to cloud our minds. Starting the day with a brisk, fun activity makes the rest of the day run more smoothly, fueled by a greater perspective and natural endorphins.

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As a demanding and very physical activity, food and diet become essential to getting the best out of any given trip because a body must be fueled well for optimum performance. The exertion also counteracts one of the most diabolical aspects of stress in the modern world: insomnia. Peaceful yet exhilarating, surfing is a full body workout coupled with intensive meditative concentration. Together these components help to provide a deeper, more rejuvenating, and restful sleep, a sleep that allows you to greet the dawn on your board morning after morning with vigor.

It is just as important to support a full body workout on the surf with the right equipment, such as protective clothing and leashes. Maximizing your workout is easier to do when you are comfortable and protected from burns, rashes and scrapes.

Examined as a whole, the benefits of surfing coalesce swiftly into an argument as convincing and inevitable as the tides. Nature. Meditation. Exercise. Awareness. Escape. Ferris Bueller was right - if you don't slow down, life is easy to miss- but it can also be one amazing and enjoyable ride, where hard work and a mind at ease allow the balance we find on a surfboard to find its way into the rest of our day.

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