Health Benefits of Surfing

While any sport is associated with fit individuals, something about surfing evokes an idea of particularly strong, tan, and healthy people.

While not every surfer looks like a lifeguard straight out of Baywatch, most are in good shape. 

If you think about it, being in the ocean for hours on end, constantly moving, trying to control a five-foot-plus floatation device is probably a decent recipe for physical fitness.

Aside from the obvious health benefits of surfing, it really does work our bodies in a uniquely beneficial way. 

It’s not like surfers need another reason to obsess over this sport, but it is great for both physical and mental health.

#1: Cardiovascular Health

Getting your heart rate up is widely known to be a huge factor in long term health. I don’t need to convince any surfer that a long paddle, a big set wave, or a huge closeout can really get your heart racing. One study even found that the oxygen ventilation, a huge indicator of heart health, is about the same for surfers as it is for runners. A long surf sounds much better than a long run if you ask me.

#2: Training

Many surfers are more motivated to exercise outside of the water in order to surf in bigger conditions. Big wave surfers train constantly to be able to hold their breath and paddle long distances. Similarly, even the average surfer is more likely to stretch before and after a surf, which promotes muscle recovery and flexibility.

#3: Endurance

We’ve all cried wolf by claiming, “just one more wave”... and then surfing for two more hours. When the waves are good, the sessions are long, which provides hours and hours of exercise. While staying at the gym for four hours straight isn’t much fun, a long surf session is a great way to build endurance. Endurance training increases blood circulation, oxygen ventilation, and many other essential bodily functions.

#4: Upper Body Strength

Surfing works muscles that we don’t use every day. Especially for women, surfing is a great way to build shoulder, back, and arm muscles that we otherwise might not use. I remember the first few months of my arms feeling like noodles and the burning sensation when I had to paddle hard. As you build this upper body strength, the pain subsides and the difference is apparent. Even outside of the water, having a strong upper body is an indicator of health that is useful in everyday life.

#5: Vitamin D

The body’s production of Vitamin D, which is produced from the skin being exposed to sunlight, is another benefit of surfing. Yes it’s true… surfing actually causes your body to produce an essential vitamin, just by being in the sun. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones and muscles, among many other bodily functions. Low Vitamin D can pose many health risks, so a surf a day may actually keep the doctor away.

Surfing in the Sun
Source of Vitamin D

#6: Balance

In order to ride a tiny floatation device on a moving wall of water, it’s pretty logical to assume that balance is key. Dynamic balance, which is maintaining control of a moving object over a changing base of support (rather than balancing on one leg, called static balance), is recognized as being much more applicable to everyday life. Among other benefits, dynamic balance improves coordination and reaction time, while also reducing the risk of falling.

#7: Sleep

There is a large body of research that correlates exercise with better, more restful sleep. A good night's sleep has countless health benefits, including immune function and stress relief. The exhaustion felt after a good surf session is a feeling that we can all relate to, and there’s no shame in going to bed early after a long day at the beach.

#8: Self Awareness

While there are countless muscles being worked while surfing, the most important one is the mind. Practicing patience, respect, and self awareness is an inherent part of surfing. These are all habits that will increase your mental strength and stability. While they’re useful in the water, they can be practiced everyday to lead to an overall healthier life.

#9: Increased Happiness

According to several studies, surfing is positively correlated with happiness and mood improvement. Although the exact feeling that surfing evokes is difficult to describe, there is a certain rush that is felt after a good wave (or a good beating). Surfing is a great outlet for stress relief, and a relief from the chaos of everyday life.

“Surfing is a release from exploding tensions of 20th-century living, escaping from the hustling, bustling city world of steel and concrete, a return to nature’s reality.” - Fred Wardy

#10: Mental Health

Researchers have found relief from several mental illnesses in surfers, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, and schizophrenia. Surfing has been successfully used as therapy for some of these disorders, which is linked to the “meditative experience” that many surfers describe. The calming, soothing aspect of being linked with the ocean has worked wonders for many people, which is a monumental benefit of the sport.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to be convinced to get barreled instead of going to the gym. While not every session is going to result in memorable waves, every session will strengthen your body and your mind. If that’s not a good enough reason to paddle out, I don’t know what is.

Now that you know all about the health benefits of surfing, we recommend checking out our main page to find yourself a good beginner surfboard!

Sophia Cancelmo

written by

Contributing Author