July 7, 2023

Benefits of Surfing on Mental Health

Two people are on surfboards to represent the benefits of surfing on mental health.

Surfing is not just a fun activity – it can also have therapeutic effects on mental health. Surf therapy, offered in some rehab facilities, combines the joy of surfing with emotional processing, creating a unique treatment method. Engaging in surf therapy can provide numerous benefits for mental well-being.

This guide explores issues that include:

  • What are the benefits of surfing therapy?
  • What are the main benefits of surfing on mental health?
  • Are there other health benefits of surfing?
  • How can you engage with surf therapy for addiction recovery?

Mental Health Benefits of Surfing

Surfing and mental health are interrelated in the following ways:

  • Connection with nature: Connecting with nature is a powerful experience that is one of the primary benefits of surfing on mental health. Surf therapy allows individuals to immerse themselves in the natural environment while rebuilding their lives. It offers a k while fostering a deeper connection with the natural world.
  • Emotional processing: Surf therapy involves processing emotions while engaging in surfing activities. Participants have the opportunity to connect with their feelings, interact with others, and explore recovery from a fresh perspective. By combining therapy with the unique environment of surfing, individuals can gain new insights and approaches to their recovery journey.
  • Accessibility: You do not need to be experienced to reap the benefits of surfing. Even beginners or those with no prior experience can participate in surfing for mental health. Surf therapy programs cater to individuals of all skill levels, providing a supportive environment for learning and growth. Overcoming the fear of the ocean and trying something new can be an empowering component of the healing process.
  • Learning and community: Surf therapy programs often begin with learning the basics of surfing. Instructors ensure participants are prepared before entering the water. Small group settings allow for bonding and support among peers. Community and mutual encouragement play a significant role in surf therapy, fostering a sense of belonging and shared progress.
  • Nature’s healing power: Engaging in water sports near bodies of water – known as blue spaces –  has been shown to improve mental health. Activities like surfing or canoeing can induce a sense of calmness and strengthen relationships. Spending time in nature, especially in the water, provides a healing environment that can positively impact mental well-being.
  • Social support: Surf therapy programs prioritize social connection. During surfing lessons, participants often rely on each other for emotional support. This sense of camaraderie and encouragement engenders a feeling of safety, enabling individuals to explore new experiences without fear or judgment. Building trust with instructors and peers can interrupt negative thought patterns resulting from trauma and facilitate emotional regulation.
  • Mindfulness: Surfing requires being fully present in the moment, observing and navigating the waves. This state of mindfulness is a key component of many addiction programs and mental health therapies. Surf therapy encourages individuals to cultivate mindfulness, paying attention to their experiences without judgment. Practicing mindfulness can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and enhance overall well-being.
  • Neuroplasticity and brain health: Engaging in new activities is beneficial for brain health and overall well-being. Trying new experiences like surfing helps create new neural connections, contributing to brain rewiring. By replacing harmful habits with healthy hobbies, individuals in recovery can strengthen their resilience and improve their chances of sustained sobriety.
  • Physical fitness: Surfing is a physically demanding sport that delivers myriad health benefits. It improves cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, endurance, and overall physical well-being. Incorporating physical activity like surfing into addiction recovery can have positive effects on the body and mind, supporting the recovery process.

Surf therapy is suitable for a wide range of populations, from veterans, teens, and disabled individuals to young adults and adults in addiction recovery. It has been shown to decrease symptoms of PTSD, enhance mindfulness, boost self-esteem, and foster a stronger mind-body connection.

A man carries a surfboard representing mental health benefits of surfing.

How Does Surfing Improve Mental Health?

Surfing, as a recreational activity and therapeutic intervention, can have profound effects on mental health. Here are some specific ways in which surfing improves mental well-being:

  • Flow state and mindfulness: Surfing requires individuals to be fully present in the moment, immersed in the rhythmic movement of the waves. This state of intense focus and engagement, often referred to as a flow state, promotes mindfulness. Surfing allows people to release distractions and worries, creating a mental space that enhances self-awareness and reduces stress.
  • Stress reduction: Engaging in physical activity like paddling and riding waves releases endorphins and triggers the body’s relaxation response. Surfing provides a natural outlet for stress relief, helping individuals to unwind, clear their minds, and experience a sense of tranquility. The combination of physical exertion, the soothing sound of the ocean, and the connection with nature contributes to stress reduction.
  • Emotional regulation: Surfing involves navigating the ever-changing waves, which can mirror the ebb and flow of emotions. As individuals ride the waves, they learn to adapt, stay balanced, and regulate their emotions in response to the dynamic environment. This process of emotional regulation on the surfboard can translate into better coping skills and emotional resilience in daily life.
  • Boost in self-esteem and confidence: Mastering the art of surfing, even in its simplest form, instills a sense of accomplishment and boosts self-esteem. Overcoming challenges in the water, such as catching a wave or improving balance, fosters a positive self-image and self-belief. This newfound confidence can extend beyond the surfboard and positively impact various aspects of life.
  • Connection with nature: The natural environment of the ocean and the act of riding waves can foster a deep connection with nature. Being surrounded by the vastness of the sea, the sound of crashing waves, and the beauty of the coastal landscape can evoke a sense of awe and serenity. This connection with nature has been shown to have positive effects on mental well-being, promoting feelings of calmness, connectedness, and gratitude.
  • Social support and community: Surfing often becomes a social activity, especially in surf therapy programs. The camaraderie among surfers creates a supportive community where individuals can share experiences, provide encouragement, and develop meaningful connections. The sense of belonging and support within the surfing community contributes to improved mental health and a strengthened social support network.
  • Emotional release and catharsis: The physicality and exhilaration of catching waves can provide an outlet for emotional release and catharsis. Surfing allows individuals to channel their emotions into the powerful energy of the ocean, providing a healthy means of expression. The combination of physical exertion, adrenaline, and the natural beauty of the surroundings can create a cathartic experience that aids in emotional healing. Increased resilience: Surfing inherently involves dealing with uncertainties, setbacks, and the need to persevere. Overcoming wipeouts, facing challenging conditions, and persisting in the pursuit of catching waves builds resilience. The resilience developed through surfing can translate into other areas of life, helping individuals navigate the ups and downs of recovery and face challenges with greater strength and determination.
  • Sense of freedom and joy: Riding a wave can evoke a profound sense of freedom, exhilaration, and joy. The experience of gliding across the water, in harmony with nature’s forces, can create moments of pure bliss. Surfing provides a unique form of escapism and a break from everyday stressors, promoting emotional well-being and enhancing the overall quality of life.

By engaging in the physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of surfing, individuals can experience a multitude of mental health benefits. Whether it’s finding solace in the ocean, connecting with a supportive community, or developing skills that extend beyond the surfboard, surfing has the potential to positively impact mental well-being and contribute to a fulfilling recovery journey.


Why is surfing so therapeutic?

Surfing can be therapeutic due to its combination of physical activity, connection with nature, and the meditative state it can induce, which promotes relaxation, stress reduction, and a sense of well-being.

What happens to your brain when you surf?

When you surf, your brain experiences a release of endorphins and dopamine, which can elevate mood and create a sense of pleasure and happiness. Additionally, the focus required during surfing can help quiet the mind and promote mindfulness.

How does surfing help with depression?

Surfing can help with depression by providing a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and social interaction. Physical activity and exposure to sunlight also contribute to increased serotonin levels, which can improve mood.

How does surfing help PTSD?

Surfing can help individuals with PTSD by providing a healthy outlet for stress and anxiety, promoting mindfulness and grounding techniques, and creating a sense of empowerment and control over the body and environment. The rhythmic motion of the waves can also have a soothing effect on the nervous system.

A group of people sit together on the beach to represent treatment for drug and alcohol addiction in Southern California at Gratitude Lodge.

Get Surf Therapy for Drug and Alcohol Addiction at Gratitude Lodge

At Gratitude Lodge in Southern California, our pet-friendly rehab centers are dedicated to your whole-body recovery from drug addiction or alcoholism.

Take advantage of our supervised medical detox program to withdraw from addictive substances as safely as possible. Following detox, you can move directly into a 30-day inpatient program. Address the physical and psychological aspects of addiction through a combination of holistic interventions and science-backed therapies like:

  • Surfing and other holistic therapies
  • Group therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Family therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Aftercare

Call admissions today at 800-994-2184 and move beyond addiction.

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Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
Jenni Bussi

Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox, facilitating the beginnings of a successful recovery at our rehab addiction centers in Orange County, CA.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse. Alcohol detox may not take as long or produce severe withdrawal symptoms, but it is still an essential beginning to your recovery.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse.
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Holistic Therapy

Our holistic therapy treatments offer a full-scope approach to recovery, addressing your mind, body, and emotions as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. This therapy is designed to help address underlying issues and integrate alternative therapies to promote overall health and well-being.
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An essential part of your treatment experience, we offer individual (CBT and DBT talk therapy) and group addiction treatment counseling to help you explore and address the emotional component of addiction, providing you with the tools, self-awareness, and empowerment you need to maintain recovery.
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Dual Diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis is a highly effective addiction treatment that addresses substance use and mental health disorders simultaneously. Often co-occurring, these disorders are best managed when treated together with specific and targeted therapy.
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Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatment provides you with FDA-approved medications to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal while you’re in treatment. This makes the detox process easier and safer, as well as increasing the chances of a successful recovery.
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Sober Living

Sober living provides a supportive and substance-free living environment for your ongoing recovery. We partner with a number of upscale and carefully vetted sober living homes that are available to our clients after inpatient alcohol and drug addiction treatment.
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Outpatient Treatment

Once detox and inpatient are complete, we provide an easy transition to outpatient care through our hand-selected partners. This program offers a more flexible approach, allowing you to ease back in to daily life while still receiving frequent & effective care.
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Inpatient treatment provides an intensive and comprehensive addiction treatment program in a structured environment. You will receive 24/7 expert care, therapy, and support as you build your foundation for long-term recovery.
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Drug & Alcohol Detox

A crucial first step in the recovery process, our detox program provides a comfortable, medically supervised environment that addresses the physical aspect of addiction and eliminates substances from your body.

Use Our 24 Hour text line. You can ask questions about our program, the admissions process, and more.