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20 Benefits of Surfing for Health and Wellbeing

Couple walking with surfboards at sunset

I’ve surfed on and off for years. And by surfed, I mean flailing around in the white water attempting to get to my feet! However, since moving to Cornwall three years ago, surfing has slowly and inextricably become part of my life and who I am. Flailing white water sessions have evolved into moments of sheer joy gliding along green faces with the biggest grin on my face. It’s a truly wonderful sport that becomes a lifestyle for many. But the benefits of surfing don’t stop at enjoyment and fun. There are numerous health benefits of surfing, both physical and mental. Not to mention all the extra stuff you’ll learn about yourself, the ocean and nature. There are also lots of social benefits of surfing.

So, if you’re new to the watery world of wave-riding and are unsure whether to give it a try or not, then read on so see all the amazing benefits of surfing that you’d otherwise miss out on.

The benefits of surfing

Before I get onto the health and social benefits of surfing, it’s important to note these other reasons why making surfing part of your life is a great idea.

01It’s free to do

Sure, you need to invest in a few key pieces of equipment: a surfboard and wetsuit, at least. However, once you have those, the only thing you may have to pay for to actually be able to go surfing are parking fees. Otherwise, surfing is free to do!

02Surfing connects you to the water and nature

This may sound a little airy-fairy, but many surfers talk about a deep connection that they have with the ocean. The more time you spend in the water and on the waves the more understanding you gain of the movement of the ocean and everything that goes with it. You’ll learn to read it better and not fight it when you get held under a wave for longer than you’d prefer! This is both a physical and mental thing that will develop over time. And the result is that some people feel more at home in the water than on the land! Each time a seal swims near you in curiosity, for example, you’ll start to feel more at ease in its presence. You may even find yourself setting your schedule around tide times, as many surfers do. But it’s the inexplicable emotional connection that keeps people coming back for more. The lure of the ocean and deep-rooted need for vitamin sea!

03You learn about sea life

Surfers tend to spend as much time watching the waves from dry land as they do riding them. It’s an excellent way to learn more about how they form and when they are best surfed. Time spent watching and talking to other sea-lovers unavoidably equates to learning more about the ocean, its inhabitants and issues that surround human impact upon it. It’s impossible not to be drawn in by birdlife on the coast and by the fish that you swim alongside. Knowledge of tidal patterns and weather cycles will soar and your respect for sea life and all that surrounds it increases. Sea life is so tightly connected with surf life that many surfers drive positive change through beach cleans and campaigning against sewage disposal. The knock-on benefits of that are endless.

Woman sitting watching waves

04You grow a passion

Surfing is a highly addictive sport that can get a hold of you. And once it becomes part of your life, your passion for it will grow. With passion comes meaning. A reason to get out of bed in the morning. A point to being the best you can be. The impact of this has huge physical and mental benefits on a personal level but also on a social level.

05You can do it on your own

Though it is not advised to ever get into the water if no one else is around, by nature, surfing is a solo pursuit. You don’t need to rely on your buddy to get out of bed in time and you can fit it around your own schedule. Of course, this is assuming that there are other folk already in the water.

06Surf spots are usually really beautiful

Another huge benefit of surfing is that almost all surf spots are located in incredibly stunning places. Even city beaches with surf breaks tend to be visually appealing in one way or another. Perhaps that’s just the nature of being by the sea? But it’s a very appealing bonus to the sport, especially for the days when the surf isn’t on.

07It’s fun, even if you’re not very good!

Whenever I watch the beginner surfers at my local beach, they never fail to make me smile. Most of them can barely stand up on their boards. But they are ALWAYS grinning from ear to ear, even if they’re just catching the waves on their bellies or knees. And when they do eventually manage to stand up and catch a wave, the grins turn to shrieks of joy! Yes, there are times when learning and improving your surfing can be frustrating. But if you go into each session with the right attitude, you’ll rarely come out of the water without a grin on your face, no matter how few waves you caught!

Cliffs beach and sea

The health benefits of surfing

There are numerous health benefits of surfing. Not only is it great for strength, balance and fitness, but there’s also a huge number of benefits to mental health. Additionally, more and more research is supporting the numerous benefits of cold water exposure, both mentally and physically.

The mental benefits of surfing

08Mood booster

Nothing makes you feel more alive than the thrill of whizzing along a wave on your board. Along with adrenaline, the body releases endorphins, which are chemicals in your brain that energise you and make you feel good. The simple act of paddling will release endorphins too. Plus there’s endless research supporting the positive effect of cold water on mood. Cold water therapy can even be an effective treatment for depression.  So it really is no wonder that surfers are always stoked!

09Mental clarity and focus

Unless you find yourself sitting out back for ages, surfing provides very few opportunities to let your mind wander. This is, in part, for your own safety! If the waves are on the chunky side then you really can’t afford to let yourself take your eye off the incoming sets. Also, surfers are constantly reading the waves and adjusting their position in the water to give them the best chance of catching waves in the right place. And finally, once you’re on the wave, the only thing on your mind is riding it! And if you’re in any danger of losing your focus then a splash of cold water in the face is sure to bring you back to being right in the moment, like it or not!

10Builds confidence

As with any activity in which you become proficient, surfing can be hugely beneficial for your confidence levels. Yes, it’s a tricky sport to master. However, there are so many elements to the activity to focus and improve upon that you will never come out of the water without having learned something valuable. It may be that you managed to push through a tough paddle out. Or you pulled off a wave with expert control to prevent yourself from dropping in on someone. Even a successful and efficient duck-dive or turtle-roll can equate to feeling more confident in the water. Sometimes, simply being in the water is the only really important thing. You showed up and did something for you. The sense of accomplishment that even the small things went well, contribute towards a greater sense of self-worth and will leave you wanting more time in the water.

11Stress relief

The mood boosting endorphins that are released when you surf are also rather good at helping combat stress and reduce feelings of pain by helping to control the pituitary gland during stress. Add to that the naturally calming effects of being in or even near water (that are largely unexplained!), being outdoors, in the sunshine and having fun, and you’ve got yourself a situation in which it’s almost impossible to feel stressed.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t always the case! Surfing itself can, occasionally, be highly stressful. A big set of waves rolling in can induce a minor sense of panic if you are in a bad position. And being held under as the monster sets break on top of you can cause physical and mental stress. The good news is that you can train yourself to better deal with these situations through improved fitness and meditation. Experience also helps.

Woman on surfboard in the sea

The physical benefits of surfing

12Improves cardiovascular fitness

Though you may not immediately associate surfing with cardiovascular fitness, it can be a highly effective way of working your heart and lungs. Paddling out through strong waves and duck-diving or turtle-rolling every 10 seconds can take up to 15 minutes or so in certain conditions. Once you’re there you’ll be constantly paddling around to adjust your position in the water, related to the incoming waves, before a last frantic paddle to get on each wave. And all that’s before you’ve even started actually surfing!

13Improves strength

Good muscular strength is a hugely important part of surfing, especially as you start to advance in both skill and the conditions in which you surf. But if you’re starting out, or re-visiting surfing after a break, you will improve your basic strength just by doing it. The repetitive nature of paddling is an excellent way to build strength in your shoulders, back, chest and core. And once you’re up on your board you’ll also be working all the muscles in your legs and hips (and core, back and arms) to balance and maneuver the board along the wave.

14Good for the skin and hair

Correct, the act of surfing itself ain’t gonna do much to give you shining locks and a glowing complexion. However, exposure to sea salt can do wonders for your skin and hair. It contains minerals like magnesium, calcium, and potassium which promote healing and restore oil balances, amongst other things. Plus, salty sea water does a pretty good job at absorbing toxins on the surface of the skin and in the body. If cold water surfing is your thing then you’ll also gain the benefits of increased circulation, closed pores and improved firmness.

15Vitamin D boost

In the same way that many surfers have to brave surfing in cold water, the rest of the surfing community only have the option of surfing in sunny conditions (poor them!). They may miss out on all the incredible health-boosting benefits of exposure to cold water, but instead they gain the ever-powerful benefits of vitamin D, absorbed from the sun. This essential nutrient promotes calcium absorption for strong bones, as well as a whole host of other immunity boosting, disease fighting, health enhancing benefits.

16Burns calories

Unlike some activities, most people don’t surf to burn calories. But if you’re needing to keep your weight in check then burning calories is a rather nice little bonus to an exceedingly fun sport! How many calories you burn is highly dependent on very many variables, like the duration of your session and your weight etc. But you’ll also burn more calories in different conditions. A cruisy longboard session in 2 foot peelers won’t come close to negotiating (and conquering!) 6+ foot barrels, in terms of calorie burning. As a guide, an hour of surfing will burn upwards of 150 calories.

17Improves balance

Good balance is essential if you want to progress on a surfboard. But if you’re not renowned for your ballerina-like poise then don’t let that put you off giving surfing a go. The more you get used to the wobbliness of your board, the more your core muscles will strengthen. As they become more active they’ll help stabilise the rest of your body which in turn will improve your overall balance and proprioception. And before you know it, balancing on your board will feel as natural as standing on the sandy beach.

18Improves reactions

The nature of surfing means that you have to make last minute decisions and act upon them quickly. From reading and catching waves, to riding them, turning and avoiding other surfers, your reactions are constantly being challenged. Additionally, the thrill of surfing releases adrenaline into your system. This raises your heart rate which in turn increases your reaction time.

Woman walking with surfboard into the sea

Social benefits of surfing

So your body is in ship-shape, you’re enjoying all the emotional and mental benefits of surfing, and you’re learning a load about the ocean, sea life and yourself. But what about other people? Many surfers enjoy the solitary aspect of surfing and get the best out of it, mentally and physically, when they ride alone. However, surfing can also be exceptionally sociable. The beauty of it is that you can choose whether it is or not! But if reaping the social benefits of surfing is high on your agenda then you’re in luck.

19You meet new people

There’s no denying that some surf breaks can feel a little hostile. Some surfers cherish every wave so deeply that they’re not able to let being sociable get in the way. Or perhaps they just enjoy having alone time in the water. Most beginner and intermediate surf spots (and many advanced breaks), however, are incredibly welcoming. A little bit of eye contact and a friendly smile goes a very long way if you are new to a break. And the more you frequent a spot, the more easily you’ll get to know people. Nothing beats sitting out back on a beautiful day to get even the most closed surfers to open up (mostly!). Before long you’ll find yourself meeting up with your new like-minded surf buddies to explore other breaks together and share stories at your local watering hole.

If you don’t like the idea of chatting with other surfers in the water, then the best way to meet new people is to join a surf club or to take group lessons.

20Gain a sense of belonging

Sharing your passion with other people is a solid foundation for creating a community. This rings so true when it comes to surfing. Surfing communities tend to be tightly-knit groups of like-minded individuals put on this planet with a single common purpose: to ride waves! And even if you don’t know many or even any members of your surfing community, it doesn’t really matter. The sense of belonging that you will feel from quietly knowing that you’re not the only one day-dreaming about your last sunset session, can be very powerful. It’s importance shouldn’t be underestimated, especially if you are an introvert and prefer to stay on the sidelines when it comes to social interaction. You’re still part of the buzz and purpose and you belong with the rest of your community, in the sea, to enjoy your shared passion together.

Silhouette of surfers

So grab your wetsuit, get out there, get riding and start enjoying the endless benefits of surfing!

About the author


Joey is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard, and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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