Have you ever stood at the edge of the ocean? The salty air stimulates your senses, and you feel alive. As you look out over the horizon, you’re awed by the power, intensity and beauty of nature. You wade into the water, tangibly feeling your place in the world.

The ocean is a wonderful metaphor for life. It’s inviting, but you must enter with a sense of caution. You can pull together all of your energy and drive to swim, or you can float on the waves. Although you can’t conquer the ocean, you can work with it to tap into your autonomy, strength and resilience. When you’re in the water, you feel connected and free at the same time.

That’s why surf therapy offers an innovative approach to substance abuse and addiction treatment. It gives participants a chance to face their fears, practice overcoming challenges and develop new skills that can help them stay successful in their recovery.

Surf therapy is a complementary and alternative healthcare practice that’s used together with evidence-based approaches to address patients’ holistic needs. Through the benefits of surf therapy, patients can integrate conventional treatment and real-world experience.

It Delivers a Dose of Nature

Many types of healthcare providers are prescribing nature therapy to enhance their patients’ mental and physical well-being. Sunlight increases serotonin levels, easing anxiety and depression. Eco-therapy also enhances mood, confidence and motivation.

Research on outdoor behavioral wellness programs has found that substance-related issues drop from an elevated to a normal range for up to 12 months after undergoing certain types of wilderness therapy.

It Enhances Mindfulness

As soon as you drop your board into the water, you have to let go of everything that you’ve been dealing with on land. When you surf, you don’t have to think about your relationships, daily anxieties or stressors. In fact, those distractions make it harder for you to focus on the waves.

One of the benefits of surf therapy is that it allows you to enter a meditative state. You need to be a non-judgmental observer, watching the ocean while maintaining self-awareness. Surfing requires you to be in sync with yourself and the world around you.

It Restores Self-Efficacy

When you’re battling addiction, it’s easy to despair. Talking about regaining hope can help you anticipate finding meaning and fulfillment in your life again. Surf therapy puts hope at your fingertips.

As you paddle over waves, learn to pop up on the board and maintain your balance, you see your potential. You recognize that you can do anything that you set your mind to do. You become self-sufficient as you do what it takes to survive in deep water.

Surf therapy shows you that you can be successful as long as you have the right preparation, resources and support. Most importantly, it demonstrates that you can rely on yourself more than you may have ever known.

It Reduces Cravings

Drugs change your brain chemistry. They transform the way that your central nervous system processes rewards. Your body begins to crave the drugs to stimulate its pleasure centers.

After eliminating substances from the system, people who have struggled with substance abuse may feel empty. Their bodies and minds crave the activation that the drugs produced.

Surfing can stimulate similar pathways. Although surf therapy teaches people how to perform the activity safely, there is always an element of danger. Adrenaline can satisfy sensation-seeking desires. The endorphins that are released during exercise improve mood and enhance feelings of pleasure, reducing the need to get a quick fix from drugs.

It Forces You to Surrender

The ocean is more powerful than any single person. You feel that as your board is tugged through the waves and pushed toward the shore. Although you can regulate some of what happens, you can’t control the ocean. You need to paddle hard to gain enough speed to catch the wave. When you do, you can only surrender and enjoy the ride.

Surf therapy teaches you what it means to surrender. You still have to connect with your body. You must maintain a sense of stability to stay upright. But you also need to trust that you will stay standing if you’ve nurtured your skills, strength and spirit. At some point, you just have to let go and know that you have done everything that you can to move forward with ease.

It Removes Barriers to Conventional Therapy

Up to 60 percent of people who undergo addiction treatment relapse. Even more individuals never seek treatment at all.

Surf therapy is a bridge that may help some people feel comfortable seeking treatment. It defies the stigma that’s associated with substance abuse therapy. People who have avoided mainstream approaches to treatment may be more apt to access support via surf therapy.

Moreover, surfing builds community. As you balance on your board off the shore, scoping out the swells for the next big wave, you connect with your surfing buddies. You can acknowledge that you’re going through similar struggles. You know that you’re not alone.

In your deepest, darkest moments, you can still hop on the board and experience the exhilaration of riding a wave. The momentum keeps you going, and you always come out feeling refreshed and alive.