Surfing is a fascinating sport, verging into the realms of lifestyle and culture it can be a strange way of life from the perspective of outsiders looking in.
According to the International Surfing Association (ISA), there are over 35 million surfers globally. This is based on 2020 data so we can assume that number has risen since then.
So what drives so many people to the ocean in search of waves?
The health benefits of surfing both physically and mentally are a major draw for surfers and if you’re considering taking up surfing for a healthier lifestyle you’re in the right place.
Let’s take a look at the 12 health benefits of surfing on a weekly basis (these apply to beginners all the way up to the pros).
Surfing is excellent for your heart health
Forget dark chocolate and red wine, surfing is a surefire way to build a stronger heart and cardiovascular system.
Surfing helps your heart by improving the way it functions. When you’re out on the waves, your heart rate increases dramatically.
This causes the heart to work harder and more efficiently so it can pump blood through all of your body’s systems faster than usual.
By doing this regularly over time, you can develop stronger cardiac muscles that will improve your overall cardiovascular health as well as reduce your risk for heart disease later in life
Why is cardio important for surfing?
As your surfing skills develop you’ll start to paddle out in larger surf and more challenging conditions.
Long paddles require considerable cardio exercise as you try to reach the lineup (where the surfers wait to catch waves). Combine this with duck dives to get under any incoming white water and you’ll get a mini workout before you even catch your first wave.
Surfing burns calories like a furnace
Surfing can help you burn calories in a few different ways.
First, it’s an aerobic exercise: the longer you surf, the more calories you’ll burn. The rigours of paddling and catching lead to burning some serious calories.
You can find out exactly how many calories you burn in different size waves and conditions in our detailed guide on how many calories does surfing burn?
If you surf in colder waters you’ll be burning calories indirectly just by being out in the ocean. As the exterior temperature drops, your body needs to burn extra calories just to keep warm and maintain a regular body temperature.
It helps you build your core strength and muscles
Want to build natural strength without the gym or weights? Surfing could be the perfect way to start building a stronger core and strengthening your muscles.
Surfing strengthens your core by engaging all of the muscles in your torso, including those around your hips and lower back.
When you’re riding a wave, you need to keep your centre of gravity low while keeping your upper body balanced on top of your board.
This requires dynamic movement that reacts to the wave, building a stronger core and fast twitch muscle that will directly improve your surfing ability.
Add this to the resistance of water as you paddle and surfing makes for an intense workout for all of your muscles—especially those in your arms and legs.
You’ll feel yourself getting stronger from head to toe as you learn to build and tone each muscle group effectively while surfing.
Why is core strength so important for surfing?
As you start to improve you’ll want to start performing tricks and manoeuvres on the face of the wave. This typically involves rotating your body through a range of positions to do snaps, carves and cutbacks.
Building a strong core and a good level of strength will help you surf faster, more precisely and most importantly, chuck buckets of water on your turns.
A good dose of Vitamin D is fantastic for your health
You probably know that vitamin D is good for you—but why?
Vitamin D is essential for your body, as it helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorus, which are critical for your bones to grow strong. It also helps fight off diseases like rickets (which causes soft bones), osteoporosis (which weakens bones), and certain cancers.
Vitamin D isn’t just good for you in the long run; it’s also great for you right now!
Studies have shown that vitamin D can help reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body by turning down the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the immune system and turning up the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals instead.
*Pro tip -Don’t forget your sunscreen or block, Vitamin D is amazing but sunburn is not. Always stay safe in the sun, especially while surfing when the water’s surface reflects UV rays back at you giving you a double dose of sun.
Surfing Improves your mood
Not all the health benefits of surfing are physical.
Surfers are known for their laid-back, easygoing personalities. They’re typically relaxed people who don’t get too stressed out during day-to-day life.
That’s purely because surfing is a great way to relieve stress, and when you’re not stressed out, you’ll feel happier.
But how? Most of us get stressed because of the worries and anxieties we encounter in life on a day-to-day basis.
Surfing offers one of the few respites where your brain can focus solely on one thing, finding and catching waves.
Surfing also releases endorphins in your brain, which are responsible for making you feel content, happy and fulfilled.
*Pro tip – While most surfers are a chilled friendly bunch you do come across some angry surfers occasionally. This can be for a wide variety of reasons including how you behave in the water. Head over to our guide on why are surfers so angry to learn more.
Does surfing help with depression
Yes, doctors in the UK literally prescribe getting out in nature as a treatment for mental health conditions. While this might seem crazy it makes a lot more sense as your start to unpack the idea.
You spend time away from your phone, it’s well proven that the over-stimulation of the brain is a bad thing. By spending time in nature you can reset your brain to start to appreciate the bigger picture (not just Insta reels).
Combine this with the benefits of fresh air and a healthier lifestyle and it can be a valuable ally against depression.
It melts away stress
We all get stressed. Even the coolest of cucumbers has a bad day.
But no matter how bad you feel, peeling on your wetsuit on even the stormiest of days can make stress disappear in an instant.
The pure focus involved in catching and riding waves leaves no room for distractions like stress.
In slight contrast to this, there are some occasions (not catching any waves, getting dropped in on etc) when surfing can be a bit more stress-inducing than soothing.
Thankfully these occasions are few and far between and unless you run into a particularly mean surfer you should be all good.
It can help you get a better night’s sleep
Not the first thing on your mind when it comes to the health benefits of surfing but a great one nonetheless.
Because surfing releases serotonin it helps maintain a healthy sleep cycle.
Serotonin is a chemical that regulates our moods and helps us feel calm, happy, and relaxed helping us get a great night’s sleep.
When your levels of serotonin are low, it can cause stress, anxiety, insomnia and even depression, all of which can make it harder for you to fall asleep without waking up multiple times throughout the night.
Is it normal to be tired after surfing?
Yes, a day spent hunting and riding waves will leave even the fittest of pro surfers ready to flop into their mattresses like a dead weight.
The combination of sun, sea and constant exercise is enough to leave anyone exhausted and ready for the deepest night of sleep.
It can improve your flexibility
Part of the beauty of our sport is its levels of progression.
If you want to get better you need to spend time in the water, get stronger, eat well and get flexible.
If you watch the likes of Kelly Slater or any pro surfer you’ll quickly see how they use a combination of strength and amazing flexibility to put their bodies in positions we mere mortals can only dream of.
But with hard work and the addition of some light stretching, Yoga or Pilates, you can quickly increase your flexibility even if you’re not a springy little grom.
It builds your endurance
Surfing is hard, there’s no denying it.
From the steep learning curve to the potential life-and-death scenarios you could encounter, it can be a slog.
Hard work isn’t a bad thing though, pulling on a wetsuit in a gloomy car park as it rains is a real character builder.
From the mental fortitude required to paddle out in large waves to the literal physical endurance, surfing builds a mindset that seeks to overcome.
This combination of physical and mental strength can help you in all aspects of life and is often overlooked as one of surfing’s greatest benefits.
Surfing can improve your posture
Paddling in particular requires perpetual movement with your core engaged at all times (if you’re doing it right).
You’re training all of the muscles that are responsible for aligning your spine, hips and neck, which all add to good posture and a strong core.
Saltwater is great for your hair and skin
Surfing’s also helping out with your beauty regime as well!
Saltwater is a great way to exfoliate your skin and remove dead skin cells. It can help relieve acne and make your complexion look brighter.
Saltwater is also full of minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium that help to keep your hair strong and healthy.
Cold water boosts your immune system
If you’re used to or thinking of surfing on colder shores then you might be convinced when you find out what it can do to your body.
Incoming amateur science.
Cold water boosts your immune system because it stimulates the lymphatic system, which helps your body fight infections and diseases.
The lymphatic system is a collection of vessels that carries fluid from tissue spaces to the bloodstream.
When you’re exposed to cold temperatures, your body responds by contracting blood vessels near the skin’s surface to keep heat in and prevent hypothermia.
That contraction causes a release of chemicals called cytokines. Cytokines help fight off infections by activating white blood cells.
What temperature is too cold for surfing
Surfers in Nova Scotia and Norway would laugh at the idea of ‘too cold for surfing’.
As far as some of these cold water warriors are concerned it’s too cold when it’s frozen!
On a serious note, some surfers will surf in even the coldest of conditions to the point they have icicles forming on the peaks of their wetsuits and even their faces.
Now you’ve found out all of the health benefits of surfing it’s high time to grab your board or book a lesson.
Surfing’s beneficial in so many ways from sleep to strength to mental fortitude and I’ve still missed some off this list.
If you love discovering more about surfing and the culture surrounding it head over to another one of our reads below.