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14 Aug

Into The Blue – What surfing means to me

by Chloe Hughes

Nick Hounsfield surfing at The Wave, surfing inland pool in Bristol

Ten years ago I started to dream of a place that would help connect people with nature, water and waves. Surfing to me is more than just a sport, a culture, a way of life... it’s my medicine, my reset button, the thing I do to rediscover the best version of myself. I wanted to share this feeling, and the many health benefits of surfing, with people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities.

Fast forward to now and this original vision is still at the heart of The Wave. Over the years I’ve become aware of thousands of other people using water and surfing to help restore people’s mental and physical health and boost their wellbeing. While most of us started this kind of work because of an instinctive belief, there is now a global movement of thinkers, scientists and planners dedicated to exploring what has become known as ‘blue health’. Thanks to them, the body of hard, scientific evidence for the beneficial effects of blue spaces is rapidly increasing.

At The Wave, everything we do is anchored in our belief in the benefits of getting into the blue. This is why we have compiled a report looking at the theories and research behind what many of us instinctively feel - that being in the water lifts our mood. We have compiled an overview about how blue health developed as an idea, what’s been proved so far, how we and other surfers use it, and where it’s heading. In some sections we focus on surfing because it plays a particularly prominent role in blue care.

The next step for us is to build on this report but supporting further research into blue health and surfing therapy. We will be running pilot surf therapy schemes in autumn 2020. One is with Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust’s Recovery Through Sport programme, which will help adults working with its Early Intervention in Psychosis team. The other is with The Wave Project, which uses surf therapy to help anxious and vulnerable children build resilience and improve mental wellbeing. This is what I always dreamt that this blue space would be used for. I'm unbelievably excited about playing our part in bringing blue health to more and more people and changing lives in the process.

This year I have had a very personal experience of how water and waves can heal. In February my life changed dramatically. With no warning at all I suddenly suffered multiple strokes, which took away my ability to communicate. When it happened I couldn’t talk, read or write at all. Over the last 6 months I have been on the long road to recovery and with lots of rehab and perseverance I have managed to regain my voice. It is still hard work and often exhausting - there are times when I feel Ive spent the day speaking a foreign language - but I'm getting there.

As part of the recovery process I have tried to spend as much time as I can by and in the water. As soon as I felt physically able to, I got back on my surfboard and the act of riding waves has truly become my medicine. Being in the flow state on the waves really seems to have helped reset my slightly broken brain. If I'm having a bad day and the words won't come out or I'm struggling to process things, then a surfing session helps. I come out of the water clearer and able to communicate again. The stroke has changed my life in many ways. It has challenged me to consider what is really important and it has also shown me, first hand, the very real impact blue spaces can have on our health. It is even greater than I ever realised and I'm more passionate than ever about sharing this with people.

Find out more and download the full report