Talk to virtually any mental health expert and they'll bring up two of the easiest things to do to boost optimism, reduce stress and anxiety, and alleviate depression: Get outdoors and get some exercise. It's really that simple. Surfing can be your therapist's couch, to an extent, and one that is mercifully free of a billing department.
That goes beyond surfing, sure. Scottish doctors prescribe hikes for patients. Mountain biking programs are popping up for sufferers of mental health illnesses. Trail runners show increased levels of happiness compared to treadmill runners. But we all know that surfing's version has its own special sauce-you're in nature, but you're also propelled by it. Doesn't even matter if you're scoring life-changing barrels or just chasing scraps at your local beachie, a newb on a funboard or a seasoned, globetrotting hero. Surfing provides. Even more so when times are tough, strange or feel too big to handle.
In the following gallery, you'll find gorgeous images of our preferred escape along with musings on what it means to all of us. With everything that's happening right now, between the difficult work of fighting for racial justice in America to the global health crisis of COVID-19, it's perhaps never been more important to have a means to mentally recharge. We hope that you're able to surf safely in this difficult time wherever you are, but if not, let this be a reminder of what you can look forward to.
"Surfing is all about being in the present, letting go, being still and focusing on the moment in front of you. The ocean washes the rest of the world away and for an hour or two of my day it's just about riding waves and having fun. It's easy to get caught up in the rat race of the world and when I'm in the water time slows down and it's simple."
"I don't believe there is any escaping the madness that exists within the walls of our fast-paced modern world. What you can do is learn to control where you focus your attention and how you react to your surroundings regardless of circumstances. That's one of the most prominent and primal lessons surfing teaches us, whether we realize it or not. Worry about what may happen too far ahead, or that which has already passed and you are likely to falter. Fight too hard against the flow of energy around you, and you will struggle. The best version of ourselves exists when we are living and operating within the present moment."
"For me, surfing is the best escape. I don't know how people live without it. You're in the ocean with wildlife swimming or flying or floating freely by, riding waves stimulates creativity, it's a physical exercise and the intermittent rewards are addictive. It's a healthy habit."
"Surfing is a great and humbling way to acknowledge all that we feel-frustration and satisfaction-and that we have to live in peace with those feelings. It reminds me to stay present and to be in tune with the demands of my environment."
"I think of surfing more as an outlet than an escape. It keeps me super present. On land, it's more challenging to quiet my mind, but as soon as I hit the water, I feel completely free. It's a place where the rest of the world takes a back seat and it's all about my connection with the ocean and the feeling of riding a wave."
"Surfing and the ocean is absolutely a type of therapy for me. Need to escape the craziness of this modern world? I find the most secluded spot I can and surf."
"Surfing connects me with the earth. It reminds me of what the meaning of true isolation is. Nothing can compare with just you and the ocean."
"Surfing puts me in a perfect flow state. For a brief time, the only thing that matters is being present and aware of your surroundings. It's just like being a little kid again."
"Surfing forces you to be in the present no matter what is going on. Even more so in waves of consequence. You have no time to think about anything else but what you're doing right then and there. It's a feeling that is hard to achieve elsewhere. I can only imagine what people must feel riding big waves."
"The ocean is a powerful and mystic energy source. When you jump into her beauty, you are reborn. She cleanses you of your sins, her power humbles you. The amount of positive energy in the ocean slows time down. This is why sessions stretch longer, getting barreled seems to stop time, and being held down feels like forever. You turn off from normal realities and experience a unique clarity."
"Surfing allows an escape into nature and the unpredictable forces of the ocean. There's something about feeling waves pour over you. Each duck dive feels like it's washing your soul clean."
"Surfing has been the only way I've been able to actually get away from dealing with other people and the mental noise they bring-that's always been something I choose to avoid if I can. If I'm not surfing Rockies or Pipeline, I'm surfing somewhere else by myself, and that has always been by design. Being in nature, especially in the ocean, you're forced to stay in the moment. You can identify what's happening around you and give yourself the best chance to predict what will happen next. It's about attentiveness, for me."
"Surfing helps me escape the madness of the modern world simply by getting away from my phone. I hate being on the phone, mindlessly scrolling through Instagram and wasting time. Kids these days are so addicted to the thing, it's disgusting. The more you surf, the less you are on your phone and the happier you will be. I'm so lucky to be able to go surf every day. Surfing with my friends will be my favorite thing to do for the rest of my life."