Why Surfing Helps My Depression
So Lucky Rolls has depression.
I honestly don’t feel bummed or ripped off anymore. I’ve managed to zoomed out, my roll of the awareness dice has actually been really, really good in the broader picture.
And you know why I’m fine with it? Because nature makes mechanical error sometimes. Lucky for me - as an animal - the real beauty of nature’s product is it’s universally encoded skills of resistance. Written in the DNA of everything is some way to improve itself according to the surrounding environment. Cellular robots that can ‘update’ and fix themselves. That’s all animals are, right? Agree with me or not, following my own experience with depression it is the take I have firmly been left with.
My self-awareness has improved thanks to mental illness, which is a legitimate positive from the experience. I am blessed to have regathered my countenance the way I have since a confronting period of diagnosis for depression, and I’m thankful for this every day.
Being in the ocean ranks exceptionally high on the list of factors that contribute to my ongoing happiness. I’m lucky to live in a coastal city, to have been able to access such a critical tool I can use to maintain cognitive homeostasis (whatever that really is).
The ocean is just such a raw and boundlessly challenging environment, so foreign to our species’ current anatomy. I am sure we will be peering below the depths in constant fancy of it til the end of our days. Because such is the power with which the ocean facilitates a direct line of communication with nature. That's what gives it an edge for me, an edge along which I can adjust and realign my mental and spiritual being.
We all know the PDHPE facts:
- symptoms of depression: lethargy, fatigue, unhappiness, insomnia, a storm of guilt/anxiety/worthlessness
- recommended [non-pharmaceutical] treatment for depression: good diet, plenty of sleep, regular exercise
Notice how these are very basic practices, that really shouldn't require instruction. Evolution intended that they should instead be performed automatically, in absolutely minimal reconciliation of the fact that WE ARE ANIMALS. I don’t know how we have managed to make regularly foregoing such primal needs “normal” in this age!
Getting in the surf is a chance to fully release into my primal self. It’s just me and the ocean, I don’t have to communicate with anyone I don’t want to, and I can expend exactly as much mental energy as I want. (Obviously there is a physical energy variable that gives surfing its magic but that’s part two of this!)
So as far as this primal thing goes, I only really admitted it to some of the boys recently - I get a huge release by allowing myself to just let go when I surf. Only over the last 6 months or so have I been able to tap into this at will and intentionally go feral. To consolidate to my reptilian brain, my fight or flight mode, to just become a fucking animal. Obviously they were amused at the inanity of my half-baked first attempt to articulate whatever conscious state I believe I transcend into whilst in the water. But I’m sure they must have moments of it too.
Surely. How could they not feel it?! When indeed the opportunity to feel one's animal self at all is so very priceless yet always underrated in today’s society.
To reduce the communication between your brain and your body to such primality is like letting off steam with an extra valve. The deeper you get, it’s like your mind and your muscles are shouting at each other in a growing storm, the messages are getting shorter and more intense, more vital, louder. Suddenly neither can hear one another and they simply drown each other out. Then, in those all-too fleeting moments of dreamy, blissful mental silence you wilfully relinquish control, and allow pure instinct to get behind the wheel.
The level of clarity I receive from this specific process of transforming my consciousness is indescribable.
Ahh instinct. The useful tool you can never find when you want, but always turns up when you need. The more I can enter this state, the more familiar I become with instinct, the better the long-term interaction between mind and body. It’s as close as I can come to describing the intuitive feeling of my body’s chemistry rebalancing itself.
Because that’s all depression is, right? A chemistry fuckup. Nature has infinite jobs, most of which have been set on autopilot via evolution. Part of evolution is a bell-curve of species differentiation, a curve upon which we are all at infinitely individual points in terms of who we are and how different that is from everyone else.
BUT. Part of the deal was evolution’s foresight to give us physiological abilities to enact genetic mechanisms to fix ourselves.
Cellular robots that can ‘update’ fix themselves. Didn’t we agree that’s all we are?
The wild unpredictability of the ocean - part two of this glorious oceanic venue I attend to legitimately improve my happiness levels.
Yes we can “predict” swell conditions, wind conditions- but thats only in response to something the ocean already did, right? Chicken and egg situation? Nope, the ocean started it, the ocean was here first. I’m pretty sure that’s why forecasting will never be 100% guaranteed beyond a perpetually diminishing fetch, at least until we have weather drones every square km of the earth communicating on one massive global system (here’s hoping this isn’t Elon Musk’s villainous master plan).
The ever-changing, never-repeating dynamic of the ocean is the perfect training ground to exercise my primal self. To push physical and mental limits and achieve true instinct, then be forced to react to the perfectly balanced challenge of swimming and riding waves in a previously unforeseen environment. Being immersed, submersed in nature like that, in an animal state... it is the closest I come to true spiritual peace.
So my theory is that surfing is better for depression than traditional aerobic exercise. Certainly it is for me, anyway. But I reckon my logic can be applied to all other physical exercises involving some element of variability and unpredictability - mountaineers, jiu-jitsu fighters, any exercise involving competition. I suspect masters of such disciplines found their calling through similar justification.
Traditionally it has been the physical benefits of exercise that contribute to a better state of wellbeing: digestion improves, sleeping improves, overall vitality improves. They new scientifically-justified reasoning in current vogue involves deep breathing, which makes sense too. Think about going running, sucking in some big ones and how satisfied you feel after; or how the view at the top of whatever your climbing is worth getting up there for - because it always is and you’re always happier for having done it in the past.
But amazing as these physical benefits can be, it's what I alluded to before - all pretty basic, established science of physically re-setting your body. Intrinsic stuff that shouldn't really need extensive explanation.
And benefits all present within the activity of surfing. Catch a 6 foot set on the head and your lungs will be pumping like nang balloons at a festival. Your body hurts that night but you feel great the next day.
As I say, the most basic fundamentals, updating and repairing your cellular robot self, returning you closer to your animal state as Evolution designed you to be. Mechanisms that can be unlocked in a variety of places but most obviously for me in the ocean. I'm not saying I don't do regular exercise, running is obviously still an excellent activitiy. When I do it, of course I start to feel better, endorphins run high, serotonin levels stabilise, happy. Much happier than before. Just not quite as happy as I’d like to be. Never as happy as I’d be if I had been surfing.
Combining the physical exertion with that element - instinct - I reckon that's what is responsible for surfing's unique nature.
“Enter stage, the unpredictability of nature in her true form to interact with you, so you transform into your animal self to best communicate with Nature, Evolution, Creator.”
Yeah I’ll leave my ramblings there, I don’t want to sound like too much of a freak (probably too late for that). Stoner daydreamy though this all may sound, the spirituality of surfing is not to be ignored, it is the hymn of a religion heard by all ocean-junkies at some point.
Like I said though, I bet it's not just me. I bet everyone can find the same benefits, in the ocean or elsewhere. Nature is the critical component, when nature is both your environment and your competitor. Nature is what unlocks that animal state of instinct, in the wilderness, up a tree in the backyard or looking a sparring partner in the eye before you bout.
Surfing has an edge along which I can adjust and realign my mental and spiritual being. I suspect I’m going to need another go at articulating this… I think the intricacies of humans’ relationship with the ocean run very deep indeed.
Cellular robots that can update and fix themselves, I’m pretty sure that’s all we are.
Andy nailed it during that Billabong “I surf because” campaign from years past.
“I surf because… I’m always a better person when I come in”