Friday, October 14, 2011

Mental Health & Learning to Surf

Learning to surf is a challenging activity that benefits most people’s mental health. But if you can't go surfing, there are elements of the sport that can be distilled and found in other ways.

I spent this summer documenting people’s surfing vacations. In the process, I interviewed dozens of people about what it was like learning to surf, asking “Why did you choose to come on a surfing vacation?” “How has your experience been?” “How does surfing compare to your daily life?” and other questions along these lines.

The interviewees are people who have chosen to take a vacation immersing themselves in the sport of surfing. Many guests are beginners who have never surfed before, some who have barely been in the ocean, who come with the goal of standing up on a wave. I also interviewed intermediate and advanced surfers, looking to improve their skills maneuvering on waves.

Why do people come to surf? What is their intention? What do they take away? Why do so many beginners get so stoked? I have definitely noticed themes. One thing I see over and over again? People like to surf because it is fun.

I enjoy interviewing folks on vacation because they are generally pretty open and willing to talk. I have seen many examples where a person has come with the goal of surfing and ends up learning more about themselves along the way. There is something about the challenges, vulnerability, and physical & mental immersion of the sport that gives those learning how to surf something more than the technical skill of standing on a surfboard.

How does this relate to Erasing the Distance and mental health? It seems when people come on a vacation and surf, they return home both physically and mentally healthier. The mental health benefits come from:
  • physical activity
  • having fun 
  • learning something new
  • being completely immersed in the moment
  • being in the ocean and in nature
I’ve noticed that the above five aspects seem to stand out for people as to what made their experience so enjoyable and rewarding. I’ve also observed another aspect that contributes positively to the experience: stretching and challenging yourself with the guidance and encouragement of a coach.

A surf vacation has the potential to boost your mental and physical well-being, but it isn’t necessarily the surfing that is specifically responsible.

Physical activity, having fun, learning something new, being immersed in the moment, being in nature, and stretching and challenging yourself with the guidance and encouragement of a coach...if you can find a way to incorporate a combination of these six aspects into your life, you may just find a bit of that post-vacation glow, with or without the surf vacation.

~ Oriana
Oriana Fowler is a communications and media whiz, a former employee of Erasing the Distance, and a beginner surfer.

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