Is Surfing A Form of Meditation? Riding the Mindfulness Waves

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If you have ever tried standing on a surfboard and managed to catch your first wave, you will undoubtedly agree that there is almost nothing as exhilarating, and at the same time, meditative. Surfing and meditation complement each other, especially if you’re a firm believer that wave riding is an incredible path to self-awareness, as much as a lifestyle. Surfing is all about clearing the mind and entering a mode of freedom, patience, joy, emotional balance. It’s the ultimate connection with nature. 

During my first surf trip to Morocco, where I made my first steps into mastering the art of riding waves, there were many questions in my mind. How will I ever catch one? Am I strong enough? Will I freeze in the cold ocean? But, once I learned the theory and paddled on the way to catch my first wave, I knew what my experienced friends were talking about. There is no better activity to tune yourself with the elements and your spirit. Riding a wave gives you a chance to immerse in an indescribable moment of zen. Surfing and mindfulness are inseparable. The activity is a form of meditation itself, and when you’re in the ocean on a surfboard, it happens naturally.

Surfing & Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a state of mind we normally rarely get to accomplish. As humans, we are very prone to overthinking, overanalyzing, worrying, and anxiety. When you’re on the board, waiting for your wave, feeling the force of nature below you, sensing it in your knees and muscles, pushing you to your limits, there is no room for thinking. You only hear the sound of the waves crashing, feel the salt in your mouth, see a million shades of blue mixed with silvery foam and sun. That is the moment when you catch a glimpse of life from an entirely new perspective. 

Being in the ocean awakens the body and while the ocean can be intimidating and scary at times, being in it also gives you an overwhelming feeling of connectedness. Standing on top of an uncontrollable and unpredictable natural element brings so much peace in fluidity. There is just you and your board working with nature. Feeling a force flowing under you leads to an intense sense of harmony and joy. 

The ocean is the ultimate meditative playground. Surfing requires deep focus and attention and releases a cocktail of chemicals in the brain, typically oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine, aka happiness chemicals. Surfing has incredible benefits for both body and mind. Here, we explore some of those benefits.

Surfing was historically a mode of transportation

The history of surfing is fascinating. It can be traced back to ancient 12th-century caving paintings in Polynesia, depicting people riding waves. The legends state that the first surfers were fishermen who found that it was quicker and more efficient to cruise on waves all the way to the shore. With time, this technique evolved into more of a fun activity than a fishing method. Polynesians took surfing to Hawaii, where it became ingrained in the island’s culture and religion.

Evidence also suggests that people on the north coast of Peru surfed for 2000 years. During the 20th century, surfing evolved; boards became much lighter, shorter, manoeuvrable. By the 1960s, surf culture hit the mainstream.

It’s no wonder because there is no better way to reconnect with nature. Although it sounds a bit cliche, surfers worldwide point out that surfing is incredibly rewarding in that sense. 

Reconnects you with nature

“Surfing brings you face to face with the raw beauty of nature at different volumes and tones. As one is taught and shaped by the ocean – its waves, currents, tides, sea life, colours, temperatures, forms and patterns – becomes more tuned to its needs and then more ecologically minded and sensitive.

Surfing is a great vehicle for getting us right into the heart of the oceans’ and coastlines’ workings so that they can teach us how to care for them, and above all, how to be mindful”, said professional surfer, Sam Bleakley, author of the book ‘Mindfulness and Surfing: Reflections for Saltwater Souls‘.

The more you surf, the more you’ll appreciate Mother Nature securing this incredible playground and giving you a new, enlightened perspective on life.

Helps you to think clearly & focus

Mindfulness is tricky to accomplish. It’s not that easy to banish brain fog, anxiety, and fears from your mind. Although it usually involves pausing to breathe, and reflect, it’s a little bit different with surfers. They need to stay alert, active, balanced and focused.

We are immersed in water and the salt-soaked zone just above the sea’s skin. We are active, alert and intent on balance. Moments of stillness can help us to regain a sense of self, of composure or centring. Surfing as mindfulness, however, does something a little different. It does not only take us inside ourselves to find a still centre, but rather orients us within the environment to find the place. We are immersed in water and the salt-soaked zone just above the sea’s skin. Around us, terns dive and fish jump. We are active, alert and intent on balance. Mindfulness in surfing is about moving out of mind into the world, into an acute sense of what the environment demands of us – where winds, currents, beach shapes, wave types and lunar-tidal movements meet.

Sam Bleakley

The opportunity for calm & flow

Passionate surfers agree on one fundamental truth – waves have an unbelievable healing power; no matter what life throws at you, it’s almost impossible to finish a surf session and not feel better afterwards. 

But, to reach a meditative state of mind in the water, you first need to learn to ride, right? And to do that, you don’t just need physical training; you also need to train your mind. To meditate is basically to learn the simple practice of mindfulness, an awareness of the present moment. If you want to harness the power of nature to catch a wave, there is no other way but to be present at the moment and align your mind, body, and breath to paddle and pop-up at the exact moment needed to drop in and ride the wave. 

Each wave you catch is a new opportunity to forget about life’s troubles and everything else that’s going on in your life. You are simply focused on connecting with the water – that is, mindfulness in its purest form. Learning to be aware of your breath and staying calm and balanced even in life-threatening situations, such as a scary wipeout, comes with real awareness.

Beyond Mindfulness: Benefits of Surfing

If you still haven’t decided to hop on the board and try to reach that level of zen, you should also know that, aside from being a perfect outdoor activity for adventurous couples, surfing improves focus, concentration, and determination. It’s a beautiful and exhilarating skill, but it’s a skill that requires perseverance, discipline, and respect. 

Once you’re riding the waves, you’ll find there isn’t anything that will calm and soothe your soul, relieving you from the stress and hardships of life quite like surfing. Once you reach that level of mindfulness, you will be amazed at just how hugely therapeutic and calming it is. So, if you’ve not already, why not give surfing a try? The ocean is calling you.