Surfing: wipe out the negativity

Mood-lifting: Waves can increase feelings of positivity in just half and hour. Photo: iStock
Mood-lifting: Waves can increase feelings of positivity in just half and hour. Photo: iStock

Ever wondered why surfers are so chilled out? It's not just about whether they entered the green room. It's because the crashing waves help to boost moods and can act as an antidepressant.

"The crashing surf is one of nature's most potent ways to boost superoxide, the critical factor in lifting moods," says Michael Terman, professor of Clinical Psychology in Psychiatry at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, and author of Chronotherapy (Penguin). A study at California State University surveyed 107 surfers after a 30-minute session in the waves and found that positivity and their sense of tranquillity increased significantly while negative mood and fatigue decreased.

"Crashing water contains ionised oxygen, which at high concentration has a distinct mood-lifting, indeed, antidepressant properties. Even half an hour's exposure has measurable effects, and daily exposure has sustained benefits."

Five-times world surfing champion Stephanie Gilmore has high praise for the mental and physical benefits of surfing: "Surfing is a great physical exercise, including all parts of your body, cardio as well, but it is a healthy exercise for your mind and soul. It puts you in the present moment and takes you away from the hectic world we live in on dry land. Anybody, especially those who lead a busy lifestyle, will feel humbled, cleansed and rejuvenated, simply because your mental state is consumed by the feeling of this powerful mass of water around you."

A swell workout

"You're looking at a great cardiovascular workout, especially when it comes to the upper body," says Christian Cook, owner of Fit4Sport, Surf Specific Personal Trainer and Australian Institute of Personal Trainers campus director. "The constant paddling through the waves and bringing yourself up to standing helps to build muscles and muscle endurance, especially in the back, lower back and torso." All that paddling is what creates the "V-shape" many swimmers and surfers boast. And balancing to stay on the board also helps to create a strong core and a solid foundation for strong legs. "The constant movement of all major muscle groups burns a large amount of calories, especially since most people surf for around half an hour up to five hours at a time," Cook says. "You rarely see an overweight surfer."

A wave warm-up

All that paddling, standing, twisting and falling can lead to some lower back pain, especially if the surfer is in a prone position for extended periods. "Surfing involves standing on an unstable surface while rotating through the trunk," Cook says. "There tends to be a lot of power driven through the legs, hip and trunk area. If you do have weaknesses in the hip or core, then most people will find it difficult for balance and control."

To counteract any possible strain or injury, it's imperative to warm up before hitting the waves. "Plain stretching just doesn't cut it," Cook says. "We now recommend surfers do dynamic stretching, or movement preparation, which involves simulating the actions required when you surf on dry land." Cook recommends catching a wave while lying on your board on the sand, then pulling yourself into a typical surfer's stance and twisting through the trunk, as you would on a wave.

According to research published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine, surfers suffer far fewer injuries than soccer or basketball players.

"Those are acute injuries," points out PhD student James Furness and his supervisor, Associate Professor Mike Climstein from the Department of Sport, Health and Wellbeing at Bond University's Water Based Research Unit, who are researching chronic injuries among surfers. "Most people tend to surf more than once a week up to five hours at a time, so your body is being subjected to high-frequency exercise . . . You're in a hyperextended position; you have to lift your body to clear your arms, jamming up your joints when you go from lying down, and suddenly you're standing up and riding a wave. Your upper body turns one way, legs and hips another. That rotational force could be a reason there are a lot of lower back injuries."


Founders of, Ryan Mets and Chris Greben, name their top surf spots:


Lennox Head


Broken Head




Bells Beach

Winki Pop


Cathedral Rock

Phillip Island

This story Surfing: wipe out the negativity first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.