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Surfing May Help You Ride Out Depression

Recent studies, including one conducted in the Beach Cities, suggest surfing may have the ability to help improve mood better than other sports.

It's nearly impossible to find the ocean void of surfers during a sunny and peaceful day in Hermosa Beach. 

Rain or shine, big waves or small, someone will be in the water, chasing the high that comes from riding a piece of Mother Nature's aquatic energy. 

Recent studies suggest that the euphoric moment surfers seek from wave riding may be powerful enough to treat anxiety and depression. 

The British National Health Service has researched the possible effectiveness of surfing, and Manhattan Beach native Ryan Pittsinger, a doctoral student at the University of Iowa, also studied the link between surfing and mental health. 

Pittsinger presented a paper to the American Psychological Association in August that documented the increase in positive feelings and the decline in negative feelings that resulted after test subjects rode waves for 30 minutes. 

While any form of exercise has been shown to increase positive emotions by causing the body to release endorphins, Pittsinger found that, after polling more than 100 surfers next door in Manhattan Beach, the sport of surfing increased feelings of tranquility and calmness in them more so than other athletic activity.

The study subjects completed a questionnaire asking them to rate, on a scale of one to five, how strongly they were feeling a particular emotion, represented by words such as "angry," "miserable," "upbeat," and "enthusiastic."

After surfing for half an hour, Pittsinger told Patch, participants again completed the survey. Surfing not only put the subjects in a better mood, but it also increased serenity.

"Usually when you accomplish something, whether it's the end of a football practice, or a swimming practice, you have done something good for your body, but with surfing it's another level," said Tony Gadachy, a Manhattan Beach resident and a surfer for more than eight years. 

Another Beach Cities wave rider, Brent Smith, said that he has no doubt of surfing's ability to heal emotional wounds. 

"Surfing definitely helps with depression," he told Patch. "I think it even helped me get over an ex-girlfriend at some point in my life."

"Six or seven nights in a row of surfing and finally I came to the realization that I had to get over it. And surfing was there and helped drag me right through it," Smith said.

A single wave can have a profound effect, some surfers say. Many have described a perfect water session as a spiritual experience because of the connection with nature. 

Manhattan Beach resident Brian Normandin has been bodyboarding for as long as he can remember, but said it wasn't until he switched to surfing two years ago that he was able to find the dopamine high that comes from carving up a wall of water. 

"There's almost a drug aspect to surfing," he said. "You want it all the time. Whenever you're riding a wave you never want it to stop."

For Gadachy there's simply nothing else that compares with the feeling he gets from what the ancient Hawaiians called "the sport of kings."

"The feeling of accomplishment that comes with riding the wave, actually being a part of the wave is just full bliss," Gadachy said. "When you watch a dolphin and nothing seems to make the dolphins happier than being inside of a wave and getting to play—it's the same type of feeling for me."

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