Is Surfing Therapeutic? Surfing Can Be Mental Health Therapy

Is surfing actually therapeutic?

If you are a surfer, you probably know this feeling already. Instead of worrying about work deadlines or bills, surfers can focus on the here and now.

The shoreline might represent a barrier between the chaos of land and the peace of water. This can be symbolic for some, as they leave their stressful mind on the shore and enter into a more serene mindset.

It’s the act of surfing itself that is quite relaxing where the body becomes weightless and the mind’s tension is eased while riding the waves. It relieves stress and finds inner peace.

But what if I tell you there’s more to that goodness? Yeah, I know, how can surfing be better than that?

Well, it appears that surfing can be therapeutic and could be a treatment for mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, clinical depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What Is PTSD?

Imagine living in a perpetual state of fear, reliving a traumatic event over and over again in your mind. This is the reality for many people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a mental health condition that occurs after experiencing a traumatic event, such as witnessing a natural disaster like seeing a car accident, witnessing trauma happening to someone else, or serving in military combat.

The symptoms of PTSD can be debilitating, making it difficult for sufferers to lead normal lives.

In addition to experiencing intrusive memories and flashbacks, people with PTSD may also have difficulty regulating their emotions, trouble sleeping, and an increased fight-or-flight response, which can lead to other health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

People with PTSD are more likely to have unhealthy diets, be obese, and smoke cigarettes. While PTSD is a serious mental illness, there is hope for recovery.

With treatment, people with PTSD can learn to manage their symptoms and live full lives.

What Is Surf Therapy?

Surf therapy is a relatively new form of treatment that offers an alternative to traditional methods that may be more approachable and free from stigma.

Studies have shown that surf therapy can be an effective treatment for conditions like anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

For many people, it provides a sense of calm and peace that is difficult to find in other forms of therapy.

While some therapies treat the mind and body separately, surfing provides a comprehensive approach to wellness through both mental and physical activity.

According to a study published recently in the Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, surfing may have therapeutic mechanisms which result from reducing stress hormones, increasing mood-elevating neurotransmitters, producing anti-inflammatory molecules, recalibrating circadian rhythm and increasing feelings of personal independence that connect to community and nature.

Surfing Therapy As Brain Modifier

Let’s focus on three areas to understand how surfing can act as an additional treatment for PTSD and the important brain changes that result from it.

The Interaction With Nature

Research has shown that spending time in natural environments can lead to improved mood, lower stress levels, increased focus, and generally have positive effects on our physical and mental health. These effects are also even greater if the physical activity is in water.

These benefits are thought to be due to the complex interaction between the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus – all of which play a role in the regulation of mood.

Our moods greatly affect how content we are with life, handle everyday struggles and make decisions concerning our academics, job, and social interactions.

Balance Between Risk and Reward

Surfing is both a mental and physical activity that provides a unique way to experience the power of the ocean.

While it can dangerous, it’s actually the risk of falling from your surfboard, and getting hurt is part of what makes it so rewarding.

The sense of accomplishment you feel after successfully catching a wave is undeniable and has been shown to help with managing depression and anxiety.

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in feeling good, is thought to function improperly in some mental illnesses.

Surfers report the good feeling they get when catching a wave, which may help with managing their mental health by providing an outlet for dopamine production.

In addition to the mental benefits of surfing, the physical aspect can also help to improve your overall health and fitness.

Intense Physical Activity

For anyone who has ever tried to surf, it is quickly apparent that it is not as easy as it looks. Not only do you have to contend with the ocean’s waves, but you also have to carry your surfboard, paddle out to catch a wave, and then stand up on the board – all while maintaining your balance.

It is no wonder that surfing is considered a physically demanding activity. But did you know that this physical activity can actually have positive effects on your brain?

Research has shown that physical activity can change activity in the amygdala and hippocampus – two areas of the brain that are involved in responses to stress and threat.

Moreover, regular physical activity has been shown to increase the size of the hippocampus – an effect that could improve the brain’s ability to let the amygdala know when there is no threat present.

This means that surfing can help to better manage stress levels and stay calm in challenging situations.

Treat Mental Conditions With Surf Therapy

If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or PTSD, then surf therapy might help. There must be treatment programs near your location that you can find by doing a quick online search.

It’s better to register for programs provided by charities and non-profit networks. These programs have skilled trainers that help participants work through their mental health challenges.


Based on previous studies, some researchers believe that surfing, as a form of therapy, could help to treat anxiety, depression, and PTSD by strengthening the hippocampus’ ability to inhibit the fight-or-flight response.

They are looking to watch the effects of surf therapy for people with PTSD and other mental conditions.

We discussed how changes in three brain areas may surface with the help of surf therapy for people suffering from PTSD.

We hope that surf therapy will lead to an improvement in the quality of life overall for people with PTSD and other mental conditions.