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Surf Therapy: the benefits of the Ocean on our health
Surfers have apparently become pioneers of a new form of therapy, offering both psychological and physical benefits. While it is not difficult to agree that going to the beach, breathing the salt air and gliding through the water bring both pleasure and serenity, there is more to it than that. Known as Surf Therapy, this new approach puts into light the positive impacts of the marine environment on human health.
What is Surf Therapy?
Surf Therapy is much more than just surfing a wave. It is above all about being active in the Ocean or on the beach. Surfing, stand-up paddling, water walking and swimming are all activities that can trigger the benefits of this therapy. Surf Therapy is suitable for everyone, regardless of age or sporting capacity.
While linking together surfing and good health may seem innovative or even surprising, it is nevertheless a rapidly growing field of research. Several books have become references on the subject, including "Blue Mind" by marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols or "Surf Therapy" by French doctor Guillaume Barucq ; they highlight the benefits of physical activity by the sea both for our psyche and our body. Since its creation in 2017, the International Surf Therapy Organisation (ISTO) has been monitoring the research work and Surf Therapy programmes that have been developed around the world. Today, there is a large number of Surf Therapy programmes targeting different profiles, such as women who have been victims of violence, young people from difficult social backgrounds, people with disabilities, and even for war veterans. The common goal? Practicing a sporting activity in the Ocean in order to help overcome a trauma, relieve physical ailments, or simply to regain a sense of well-being.
The benefits of Surf Therapy for our physical and mental health
As Dr. Barucq explains, Surf Therapy has many positive effects, both physically and mentally. In terms of physical health, Surf Therapy can play a role in preventing overweight and joint pain, in reducing symptoms of certain diseases such as cystic fibrosis, in preventing cancer or in rehabilitating disabled people. It is also a precious ally for our mental health, since it is useful in managing stress and preventing sleep disorders. Surf Therapy has been proven to help in dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For example, "Operation Surf" is a Surf Therapy programme for war veterans launched in Northern California by surfer Van Curaza. During surfing sessions, participants discover a new way of dealing with their PTSD symptoms and injuries. They regain a sense of peace as well through contact with salt water. La Surf Thérapie en France
Surf Therapy in France
Surf Therapy is growing rapidly worldwide and is also beginning to emerge in France. The Clinique d'Amade in Bayonne, supported by the Surf Santé Association, offers surfing sessions as an innovative therapeutic method for people suffering from mental illness. As for the National Handisurf Association, it has welcomed people suffering from a range of disabilities ever since 2008, in order to introduce them to surfing in an atmosphere of sharing and inclusion.
PANASEA is a new association located on the Basque Coast, created in Spring 2021. After nine years of surfing together, Marie and Rhoda recently founded PANASEA after observing that Surf Therapy could play a decisive role health-wise, but that a large proportion of the population did not have access to the benefits of the Ocean. Together with a surfing instructor and a psychologist, Marie and Rhoda organize Surf Therapy programmes for adults confronted with mental health difficulties (e.g. depression, social isolation, anxiety, hypersensitivity, trauma). The association's weekly sessions include breathing exercises, meditation on the beach, an artistic activity, and time spent surfing in the Ocean. Drawing a parallel between surfing and personal challenges, these therapeutic sessions explore themes such as letting go, overcoming fears and listening to one’s inner voice. PANASEA sessions can also be adapted to a public of mentally handicapped people, who often find themselves isolated and thus benefit from the social interaction, the fresh air, and the calming effect of surfing within a Surf Therapy session. "The aim is not to stand up on the surfboard, but rather to connect to the present moment, to others, and eventually to realize that the Ocean can bring us life lessons and real benefits" explain the Association’s two founders.
Moving towards a global change in lifestyle?
Surf Therapy opens up a new field of possibilities in the way we approach our health. Like any form of therapy, it is not a "miracle cure", but offers precious keys to understanding our body and mind. More generally, Surf Therapy questions our relationship with our daily environment and our priorities in life. If taking time out by the Ocean seems like a rare moment reserved for a privileged few, perhaps this is a sign that our lifestyle is out of joint. We could therefore be inspired by the surfer, as originally depicted, who beckons to a more authentic way of life, based on lower consumption and closer contact with nature. In these times of environmental and climatic crises, it appears absolutely crucial to slow down. Slow down our frantic race to consume and travel, in order to take better care both of ourselves and our environment.
Source: Barucq, Guillaume, Surf thérapie : se soigner au contact de l'océan, Surf Prévention, 2014