An Ancient Sport with Modern Value: How surfing benefits mental health and aids in recovery.

What do you think is the most ancient sport on earth? When asked this question, many people refer back to the first Olympic games, citing activities such as jumping, throwing, and wrestling. It often comes as a surprise that surfing dates back even further.

While its exact origins are unknown, archaeologists have discovered Peruvian carvings dating back 5,000 years that depict people riding waves. In addition to these early carvings, surfing has been an integral part of Polynesian culture for over three thousand years. Their use of this ancient practice began as a necessity as fisherman would use the waves to efficiently ride into shore with their catch at the end of a long day.

Before long, surfing evolved from work to leisure and spread across the Pacific to Hawaii, where it developed into the sport it is today.

Anyone who has surfed knows that much more goes into this activity than the ability to spot a wave and stand on a board. Not only does this sport work the entire body through extensive paddling and balance, it also requires patience and surrender.

In reality, surfing promotes mental and emotional well being as much as it does cardiovascular health and bodily strength.

The Healing Power of Nature

One of the many benefits of surfing is that it requires quality time with nature. Studies show that immersing ourselves in the outdoors reduces stress, elevates mood, and improves our attention span. By tapping into the part in our brains that expresses empathy and love, spending time in nature promotes connection, establishes a sense of community, and reduces fear and aggression.

Nature immersion has also proven to be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety, two disorders that are often present in those struggling with addiction.

While time spent in any outdoor setting is widely beneficial, many cultures believe specifically in the healing power of the ocean. Seawater has been integrated into ancient medical practices for centuries and recent research indicates that spending time in the ocean truly does have distinct physical, mental, and emotional health benefits.

The minerals in seawater help fight infection, improve thyroid function. increase elasticity in the skin, and boost circulation to vital organs.

Studies show that just the sound of the waves is enough to calm the body and promote relaxation as their consistency and repetition can elicit a mildly meditative state.

When facing personal challenges, we can garner greater understanding and hope by citing the unpredictability of the ocean, as it mirrors the ups and downs in our lives. Additionally, when swimming in the ocean, it is necessary to let go of control and ride the waves rather than fighting them, which teaches us the important lesson of surrender.

What are the Benefits of Surfing for Those in Recovery?

Because surfing requires relinquishing of control, it provides specific benefits that other forms of treatment may not. After his battle with addiction, champion class surfer, Darryl Virostko, began teaching surfing to those in recovery, citing this practice as a key component in his own personal healing.

He believes those in his surfing-recovery program replace the rush they feel from substance use with the endorphins they experience while engaging in strenuous physical activity. It is his conviction that the unpredictable nature of the ocean requires his clients to surrender to a higher power.

Along with the benefits of learning to surrender, surfing also requires its participants “unplug,” resulting in a sense of vulnerability and creating room for even deeper healing.

Ray Barlow, the Co-Founder/Program Director of Legacy Outdoors Adventures, specializes in treating teens and young adults with wilderness therapy. “Time in the wilderness seems to have a healing effect on even the deepest wounds.

One of the gifts of the wilderness is the way it gives us an honest look at ourselves, our gifts, talents, weaknesses, character defects and our true potential are all made obvious. It is this honest look at ourselves that allows us to find love and acceptance for who we are and a vision of who we can become.”

Barlow’s experience has proven nature’s ability to help his clients connect inwardly and outwardly, trust their intuition, and find love and acceptance for themselves and others.

While those with years of experience can make surfing look like it requires little effort, the reality is that the simple act of balancing on a surfboard requires much practice and only occurs after countless failed attempts.

Learning to surf is a lesson in determination, dedication, and the willingness to try again. These values mirror those that must be practiced while battling addiction.

In order to surf, one must be able to recognize obstacles, create solutions, and overcome challenges, skills that will help in any area of life, but especially in recovery.

Saltwater Sanity Surfing Therapy Program

For the reasons mentioned above, and for the love for the sport, Alo House is proud to announce our latest program, “Saltwater Sanity”, which uses surfing as a tool in our addiction recovery treatment.

“We use the Ocean and our breath to clear our minds of immediate stressors by staying in the moment. We concentrate on learning the Ocean and how to surf and this helps us to stay present.

This challenging experience teaches us how to not give up and keep moving forward in life. We want to continually grow and continue to achieve goals and this new experience for our clients show them life outside the box!”

Saltwater Sanity Mantras:

  • We breed confidence one wave at a time
  • The Ocean has healing powers
  • We can’t control the the ups and downs of the Ocean, so we just let go
  • We find balance on the board, just how we will in life
  • Everyday will be different, just like the waves

We believe in surfing’s power to assist in recovery and are excited to implement nature immersion into our treatment programs. To learn more about our approach to recovery, read our manifesto.

alo house

We believe trust, meaningful connections, and kindness are the essentials to beginning a journey in recovery. We are dedicated to providing an honest, authentic, and genuine treatment environment that gives our clients a unique opportunity for healing.

Alo House is LegitScript Certified and a Joint Commission Accredited Addiction Treatment Center.