Surfing makes you feel euphoric. When there’s a wave, there’s a way, right? But is it actually any good for your health? Take a deep dive into the science and philosophy behind the pleasure.
1. Cardiovascular, Systolic & Diastolic, And Heart Health
Paddling out against waves is no easy feat, it requires a tremendous amount of physical fitness. Consistent paddling gets the cardiovascular muscle pumping hard whilst using the muscles in your shoulders, back, arms and buttocks. Its certainly a work out! When you train your body to the point of being out of breathe overtime this lowers your blood pressure & resting heart rate, which decreases your risk of heart attacks, stroke and other diseases whilst keeping you fit and healthy! Surfing is a great way to add a healthy dose of cardio into your life.
2. Shoulder & Back Strength
Functional movements such as the single shoulder dislocate movement that is carried out whilst paddling through waves, strengthens the arms and the shoulders. It is a repetitive movement that contribute to the overall tone and strength of the deltoid, pectoral, and rotator cuff. The supine position used whilst lying face down on the board subtly engages the lumbar muscles which works to strengthen the back as a whole. Having a strong back leads to better stability, flexibility and endurance - essential for surfing.
3. Leg & Core Strength
Leg strength is another benefit of surfing, think of an hour session as the equivalent of a session of squat jumps/burpees. You are constantly changing levels from, chest pressed to the floor, to fully extended whilst in a standing squat. This contributes wildly to leg strengthening exercises, and can match any “big leg day” you had planned for the gym. Abdominal muscles are used to stabilise you in a solid position whilst lying, sitting and standing on the board. Your balance comes entirely from your core, and this part of your body is being worked during all stages of a surf session.
4. Outdoors In Natural Environment
Remember that feeling when you were a child of the wind in your hair as you flew high on the swings, running through puddles in your wellies, and rolling in fallen autumn leaves in the park with your family. Breathing in fresh clean air helps to combat stress, low mood and fatigue.
5. Calorie Burner
According to various government health sources, the exact figure is hard to land on. On average an 180-pound person surfing for 30- 60 minutes can burn as many as 130 to 260 calories. This depends on the intensity of the session. Battling through dumpy sets is much for taxing on the body, that paddling out at ease and catching smooth, clean, green waves. Regardless of the figure the benefits of getting out there, massively outweigh the alternative of sitting on your bum!
6. Tone Overall Body
Your physic stays trim with regular surf training, its a constant resistance training exercise as you use your own body weight. Paddling strength is hard to replicate in a gym or at home, so the best way to tone up your arms, bum, legs, and back muscles is to paddle whenever possible! All the pros train on flat water days by just paddling without waves. Start by doing 20 minutes paddling in one direction and back.
7. Cool Water Good For Body/ Boost Immune System
Regular submergence in cold water has been cited as having an incredible benefit on the body. It promotes a feeling of invigoration due to the release of stress hormones. Cold water pressure is hugely anti-inflammatory and can ease tension, headaches and pain. Hence why we’re always being told to bathe injuries in ice. Cold water is rumoured to heighten your body pre-disposed metabolic rate, as the temperature of the water forces the body to heat up at a much faster rate than normal, switching on the fire and burning calories.
Note: (Please be warned of the effects of cold shock - which can be fatal. See link in references.)
8. Vitamin D Dose
The vitamin D you get from being out in the sun is essential for strong bones, as it regulates the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. Being deficient in Vitamin D can lead to low energy, low mood and fatigue. Being out in the fresh air and the natural sunlight regulates your circadian rhythm and releases happy hormones. D-elightful!
9. Improved Sleep Quality
Being outside increases melatonin which, hand in hand with your circadian rhythm helps you maintain a healthy sleep pattern, eg, falling asleep faster and promoting a more restful sleep. Physical exercise also helps you sleep due to physical exhaustion, helping you fall asleep faster, for longer, and gets you into a deeper sleep as your body needs to repair the muscles worked from the day before. Being outside, being colder than usual, and facing the elements and being tumbled by waves requires energy, this will make you feel an energised version of depleted by the evening. Enjoy your evening meal and take it slow with a warming cup of tea.
10. Improved Balance
The most appraised benefit of surfing is the quality of your overall body balance. Without balance and agility you would not be able to remain standing on the surf board. Enhanced balance is a functional movement that is vital for everyday function, ie, bike riding, standing up straight using your core, skateboarding, yoga, standing a particularly wobbly tube!
11. Increased Flexibility
Better levels of flexibility enable for fluid surfing and also aids in the prevention of injuries both on and off the surfboard. You are situated mostly in a straddle position, this transposes into frog pose in ashtanga yoga, which widely opens the hip ball and socket, increasing movement and freedom around the joint. The motion used by your shoulders (over head then down by your side) is what is called “shoulder dislocates” in sports such as gymnastics and Crossfit. This motion helps to lubricate the joint and allow for an easier range of movement if practised over time. Have you ever noticed your initial overhead paddle strokes of the session are stiffer compared to being on the water for 20 minutes?
12. Encourages To Fuel Body With Correct Nutrition
Here’s a fun fact. Surfing makes you starving. ‘Hank marvin’ kind of starving. Being in the water is calorie burner, especially for long periods of time. Your body has to adapt differently to what it’s used to on land, it has to balance itself constantly to stop you toppling over, it has to maintain your head a level above water for obvious reasons, and be constantly on the look out for threats (big waves, scary sea creatures, other surfers, the location of your board) whilst keeping your body at a constant core temperature that the water will be trying to adapt. All this inner computing requires energy. Energy comes from our food. You’re more than likely going to need the correct amount to fuel your sport. What a great excuse to eat properly! Vegetables like sweet potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli and beans are all full of protein to nourish the fibres of your muscles and give you enough gusto to get through a session. Eat 30 minutes after surfing to avoid feeling sluggish and overly exhausted.
13. Skin & Hair Health
Salt water is a natural exfoliant, it detoxes the face of pollutants gained from products, chemicals, and pollution derived from city dwelling. The salt also acts as an exfoliant to the scalp and hair, effectively naturally cleansing from root to tip. Everyone loves salty beach babe hair! Don’t buy it in a bottle, get in the sea. Seaweed and saltwater are used in most blemish fighting skincare, so going directly to the source gives your face a healthy dose of natural cleansing.
14. Cognitive Function
Learning to read the ocean, having a wider meteorological knowledge breadth, upskilling on tides, rips, and currents widen your scope of knowledge and open your mind to new facts and information. It’s like one big old soaking wet soduko puzzle!
15. Offset Disease
Physical exercise, distinctly an activity as fun as surfing, contributes to the offset of the negative effects of stress, which can lead to low mood, depression and anxiety. Studies have revealed that regular exercise has a more profound effect on the health of the body and the decline in re-production of ‘bad cells’, whilst reduces inflammation, and detoxifying the body.
16. Stress & Tension
Riding your body of stress and the negatives effects that correlate couldn’t be more of a priority. Stress and inflammation has been identified as a root and trigger of physical harm within the body. If you persistently feel, overwhelmed, anxious, wound up, suffer with headaches and problems with sleep then there is high chance you are struggling with symptomatic or real stress. Stress can make life feel tough and make day to day task completion a real challenge. It can seep into your home life, work life, and impact important relationships. A combination of exercise, being outdoors amongst nature, doing something fun and challenging releases stress hormones like cortisol, and endorphins the natural painkillers linked to improving mood and easing pain! What’s not to love?
17. Self Gratification & Body Confidence
It takes time, dedication and perseverance in order to advance when surfing. So once you commit and overcome this barrier, the rewards are immense. Proving to yourself that you can achieve your goals than once seemed unattainable give you a sense of enormous wellbeing. Individuals with a fear of water or the ocean are gratified more intensely after learning how to conquer the waves.
18. Stress relief & ‘The Zen Zone’
Stress can derive from all areas in modern life. Work life, home life, relationships, friendships, money, health, politics. Surfing allows an avenue for you to release your stress. You can momentarily forget your problems, become liberated, un-choked from the shackles of society. There is nothing else for you to think about apart from your board, your leash, and the oncoming waves. We coin this “the zen zone”. The Zen Zone is where you forget the presence of time, of others, of mundane problems that seem totally redundant or at least more manageable after a soul searching session in the sea. L - theanine is the chemical released alongside dopamine (the happy hormone habitually produced during exercise) and contributes to those delicious endorphin hits. Being in this “zen zone” and zoning out of life and into the sport inhibits the production of these hormones consequently making you scientifically feel happier!
19. Meeting Like Minded People; Finding your Tribe
“You become like the five people you spend the most time with. Choose carefully.”- Jim Rohn
The importance of finding your tribe is understated in this modern world. We are, more often that not, flung together with people we tend to share little in common with and would never have collided with in the natural world. Circumstance dictates your tribe.
The people around you have a significant impact on the choices you make, the energies you give out and the lenses you see this beautiful world through. Plus it’s easier to find people to go surfing with if they’re already your buddies. Road trips, surf trips, and camping are all better with friends! The community that the sport provokes is astonishing, actions as simple as parking the car, needing spare change, forgetting your towel, asking what size board people are on, wether they have any wax, a broken leash, a lost dog, a car key hub cab security swap. Surfing puts you in positions you wouldn’t be doing any other sport. You have a compulsion to talk about it! If you are starting out you are bound to crash into someone on the water, or drop in on their waves. There you go. Conversation started. No awkward small talk needed. You’ve found your tribe.
20. Purpose & Meaning
Having a reason to wake up. A reason to breathe. A reason to speak. A reason to smile. A reason to put on a cold, wet wetsuit makes life infinitely better. Whilst surfing might not be your life purpose - it’s a damn good start. Having a goal gives you unclouded clarity on what is important, and puts seemingly ‘unbeatable’ problems into perspective. Yielding a consistent drive and passion for something, engages your the inner computer mechanisms in your brain. Having passions and even a sense of purpose will assist you with goal setting, achieving hard tasks, feeling more purposeful and productive - and more creative and awesome. Try it with surfing, make it your challenge to double the amount of times you got in the water last year. Even if last year was only once; this year make it the year of two surfs!
You can do this. You can get healthy. You can wake up feeling energised. You can enjoy the salty dreadlocks the sea brings. You can pretend you are a tether less piece of driftwood floating towards the next adventure. You can be a flexible length of seaweed, wrapping its arms onto new things each day. Surfing gives you a burst of energy, a pop of adventure, a blowout of tension, and that warm happy feeling when you’re finished.
There are 20 reasons why you should at least give it a chance…
Written by personal trainer and windsurfing athlete TeamVivida India Bornhoft