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25 Jan

Water… a Blueprint for Health 

by Chloe Hughes

Nick Hounsfield surfing at The Wave in Bristol

“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. “ 

Water is essential for life. It keeps us alive, nourishes us and is critical for us as humans. Our primitive brain is drawn towards water. Historically we relaxed around water, safe in the knowledge that we have access to it. Modern society has made it incredibly convenient to have ‘water on tap’ and has by-passed the need for us to be close to bodies of water… but what is the health cost of not having easy access to watery, ‘blue’ spaces and does it have an effect on the primitive brain? 

I worked in healthcare for almost 20 years, and I started The Wave after realising that a lot of the patients I was seeing everyday were struggling with their health due to a number of common themes: 

‎• No connection to the outdoors and nature - lack of respect for the environment we live in

‎• No connection to people / community - a break down in social fabric

• Lack of physical activity and unhealthy lifestyles

Fundamentally, they were stressed and at least one, if not all, of these things were impacting their lives negatively. I felt as a health practitioner that I needed to come up with a ‘Blueprint’ for health based around water, waves, the outdoors and connecting people with each other and the planet around them. I’d seen the emerging research around Blue Health and I knew that getting people in the water would positively impact their health and wellbeing. 

Stress is a part of life, you can’t avoid it, but the trick is to manage it. 

I’ve been surfing for 45 years now and for me one of the most effective ways to reduce stress is being in the water and riding waves. So much so, when I saw there was an ability to bring waves and wave-riding inland, it felt like the perfect opportunity to bring Blue Health to more people. And so started the 10-year mission to bring The Wave vision to reality. 

What are the benefits? 

Surfing and swimming combines the physical and psychological benefits of exercise with the calming effect of being in nature. There are numerous benefits to being in or near of water, and specifically to surfing. 

Calming the body and mind 

• Waves and water have a powerful and calming effect on the body and the mind, especially when you are riding the waves

• The sound of the waves breaking against the shore and being in open air can be calming and soothing

• Water helps to reduce inflammation and improve circulation

• Water bodies are a great place to connect with nature and find a sense of balance and harmony

Increases endorphins 

Riding waves is an aerobic exercise that requires strength, coordination, balance, and endurance. It doesn’t matter if you are body surfing or stand-up surfing, the effect is the same. 

It is a full-body workout that activates muscles, improves blood flow, improves the control of breathing, and increases the heart rate. 

When you're surfing, your body is constantly in motion, which helps to increase endorphins - the hormones associated with feeling epic! Endorphins are the body's natural pain relievers and stress reducers and help improve your mood. They are released when we do activities we enjoy. 

Also, endorphins are responsible for the euphoric feeling of ‘stoke’ we get after a surf session. Their effects on the body are many, including: 

• Reduce pain and stress levels; 

• Reduce depression and anxiety; 

• Increase energy levels and boost our mood; 

• Improve our concentration and focus; 

• Provide a sense of calm and well-being; 

Reduces cortisol 

Surfing and swimming have been shown to reduce cortisol, the primary hormone associated with stress. The body releases this hormone in response to stressful situations and it can cause physical and mental health problems if it remains elevated for long periods. Regular surfing/swimming activity leads to lower cortisol levels in your body. 

Provides mental clarity and improves mindfulness 

Surfing has long been known to have a calming effect, helping to clear the mind and focus on the present. Physical activity and mental challenges help reduce stress and anxiety, while the waves' rhythm and the ocean's sound provide a sense of peace. 

The mental clarity that comes from surfing helps to improve focus and concentration. This combination of physical activity and clarity can also help to increase creativity, because when the mind is clear it is easier to let go of old ideas and think of new ones. 

The process of waiting for and catching the next wave requires a certain level of focus and presence of the mind, which helps to train it to stay in the present moment. This is an awesome way opportunity for mindfulness. Sam Bleakley wrote in his epic book, ‘Mindfulness and Surfing’, about the various ways in which surfing taps into your ‘Flow State', which is when “we lose track of time, nothing else matters and we truly feel alive and at our best.” 

As you focus on the waves, the water, and the feeling of riding the board, you can become more aware of the moment, helping to distract from any stress or anxieties that may be pre-occupying your mind.

Improves Sleep Quality 

I always sleep better after a surf or swim… 

Surfing is a great way to increase your physical activity, help tire the body, and improve your overall sleep quality which can reduce stress. When you ride a wave, your body is put through many physical challenges, from paddling out to catching it, to balancing on your board as you ride it. All these activities help to tire your body out and make it easier for you to relax and drift off to sleep when you go to bed. 

Encourages Social Interaction 

Riding waves is a great way to promote social connections and as a result help reduce stress. 

When you go surfing, you're able to meet new people, hang out with friends, be with family, and enjoy the water and waves. The experience of paddling out together and riding waves together builds a connection between people. 

It's also a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

I would love to see more people getting into blue spaces - coastal or inland. It’s a panacea. It has changed many people's lives for the better, even saved lives for some. 

Our common purpose at The Wave is to nurture a world of health, hope and happiness with every wave…and share the power of Blue Health with as many people as possible.