When we think about your typical surfer than a few things pop into mind – energetic, playful and happy guy or a girl. Why is this so? Why do we associate surfing with happiness? There must be something going on that causes most of us to be so illogically happy when surfing.
Surfers tend to spend hours on the water and it takes so much of their time day-to-day. Famous surfer Kelly Slater once stated “surfing is my religion if I have one”, and this is something that has a deeper meaning and offers at least some insight into why they are so happy. If you see it as a religion of sorts, then it consumes you totally and provides a guiding hand through life.
This is something to look at and try and understand what exactly is going on. Sports, in general, makes us happy but the happiness and bliss saw on the faces of the surfers before hitting the waves, during or after is something no one can see on any other athlete in any other sport.
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When searching for the happiness source all roads lead to this. Physical exercise is well studied to provide powerful beneficial effects on one’s mental well-being plus it protects us from the development of depression and anxiety. When you look at it in its core surfing is almost entirely interval training – one minute you are paddling the other minute you are sitting and relaxing on your board waiting for a good wave, then that good wave comes and you have to catch it while being intense and surf it all the way.
With this, you have a constant rise and fall of the heart rate is one of the best exercise forms plus it increases levels of beneficial neurochemicals such as Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor – BDNF. This chemical is considered to be the fertilizer for your brain and low levels of it are tied to depression, anxiety, memory loss and neurodegenerative diseases. With enough levels of BDNF, your brain retains its elasticity which is its core ability to form new neural pathways which help us grow, learn and adapt.
2. Flow State
This has been a hot topic in neuroscience for years now and with its rise in popularity in business and defence. Flow has lately been studied for its ability to produce feelings of ecstasy. According to expert Stephen Cutler, Flow is that particular zone where you feel the best and perform the best. Its that runner high and that feeling you get when you get out of the tube or do a big scary turn which you didn’t believe you can do.
Flow can be described as those moments where you are completely and utterly absorbed in the present. Flow State is happening when the prefrontal cortex drastically quietens down and the technical term for that is Transient Hypofrontality. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for logic – a highly nagging part and your inner critic. It’s a highly necessary part of the brain but it also holds us back a little. With this the remainder of the brain fires up and takes over by encouraging the muscle memory to kick in and creative problem solving to ensue. A few characteristics of the Flow State are:
- You aren’t thinking about yourself
- You aren’t interrupted by irrelevant thoughts
- You work effortlessly
- You are in control
- You lose awareness of time
Research from Harvard found out that when you get access to Flow you become more productive, creative and that happier with a strong point that these benefits can last up to three days after it is experienced. This is why surfers seem happy and fulfilled even after they finish their activity. This is why you always see them happy and pleased. No one of them will ever spend more than a couple of days out of the water and with this, they are almost constantly “refilling” this high and mighty and mellow feeling. What is even more interesting is that surfers do this for years and thanks to everything described the power of surfing they never lose that positive feeling that glow and positive emotional changes.
Harvard Med stated that Flow experiences occur whenever there is a balance between the challenge of an activity and the skill you have in performing it. When the skill is high but the challenge is low then you create boredom and if the challenge is too high and there is not enough skill for it you create anxiety. Another thing that keeps surfers so lucky and happy is the fact that in this sport there are no limits. There is no ceiling to where the progression can stop, which is one thing that all extreme sports share in common. The endless pursuit of the next stage of performance is just that very word – it’s endless. These all ads to their feelings and their happiness which tends to last a lot longer than in anything other.
If all of this is enough to testify to the health benefits of this sport for your brain and body. It is a little out of the ordinary and somewhat strange to look but surfing has all this embedded in its core and just ask any one of the surfers they will back it up. Maybe they can’t explain it scientifically, but when they talk about the highs of the sport and the feelings they get out of it you will easily tie it all up with what we wrote here.
It is strangely both intense and so mellow that it’s hard to explain, but that is why it is so popular and so drawing. No person on the planet wouldn’t at some point try and learn surfing, after which they would be in love with it and could never stop doing it.