Stab Magazine | Science: Does Surfing Prevent Suicide?

LIVE NOW: FINALS DAY OF STAB HIGH PRESENTED BY MONSTER ENERGY

13 Views

Science: Does Surfing Prevent Suicide?

If you combine the theories of these famous psychologists, the answer is yes. 

style // Oct 10, 2017
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

How was your weekend? Fun, fantastic, wavy? As previously explained, mine was spent in a celebratory but entirely dry fashion, which wouldn’t sting so bad if I hadn’t spent the entire month of September drooling over surf on our sister coast, only to fly there at the exact moment that the Atlantic went flat and the Pacific soared. 

Instead of dwelling on the negatives of my situation, perhaps it’s best we explore one of the things I gained this weekend, namely a renewed appreciation for the act of surfing. It all started with a book.

The Rise of Superman, a psychological exploration by Stephen Kotler, sets out to identify and explain a strange human phenomenon – something he calls the flow state. Perhaps more colloquially known as “the zone”, the flow state is a time in which, whether in a physical or mental capacity, a person finds themselves capable of otherworldly speed, clarity, and efficiency in their work  – here a person’s true potential is unlocked. 

https://player.vimeo.com/video/145024086

Mason Ho is a rabid proton!

One of the first people to study the flow state was Maslow, a man most famous for the Human Hierarchy of Needs. After years studying people from all around the world, from all walks of life, Maslow made an astounding discovery: the number and frequency of instances in which a person experiences flow state, or in his terminology “peak experiences”, could be directly attributed to a person’s general happiness:

The peak experience is felt as a self-validating, self-justifying moment… It is felt to be highly valuable — even uniquely valuable — experience, so great an experience sometimes that even to attempt to justify it takes away from its dignity and worth. 

Have you ever tried to explain to a layperson the merits of getting tubed? We continue…

As a matter of fact, so many people find this so great and high an experience that it justifies not only itself, but even living itself. Peak experiences can make life worthwhile by their occasional occurrence. They give meaning to life itself. They prove it to be worthwhile. To say this in a negative way, I would guess that peak experiences help to prevent suicide. 

And… damn. I hope that reinforces in you, as it does in me, how lucky we are to have surfing in our lives. In a way, this realization justifies my flat-month depression, but in another way it makes me feel pretty silly about the whole thing. Yeah, September sucked, but I’ve got so many great waves to look forward to, so many peak experiences yet to be …experienced, that really I should be counting my blessings. 

Slates and pam

When surfing perfect waves lost its luster, Kelly found his “peak experiencess” elsewhere.

Another psychologist, this one named Csikszentmihalyi (don’t bother trying to pronounce), went looking for the very basis of happiness, the reason why people do anything at all. He was amazed to discover that, in the words of our author Kotler, “While the things people enjoy varied completely, the feelings that they produced, the why behind the enjoyment, was globally ubiquitous. In fact, when Csikszentmihalyi dove deeper into the data, he discovered that the happiest people on earth were those who had the most peak experiences.” 

Csikszentmihalyi, writing in in his book Creativity

The feeling didn’t come when they were relaxing, when they were taking drugs or alcohol, or when they were consuming the expensive privileges of wealth. Rather, it often involved painful, risky, difficult activities that stretched the person’s capacity and involved an element of novelty and discovery.

Sound familiar? 

ScaleWidthWyIxMjAwIl0 WilkoCaz

Matty Wilko in a moment of sheer focus and determination. This is where our will to live resides! Photo: WSL/Cestari

As it turns out, action sports athletes, including surfers, experience “peak moments”, “flow state”, “the zone” or whatever you want to call it, more frequently than any other group on the earth. According to Kotler, it’s imperative for our survival, especially when surfing waves outside our comfort zone. So basically, the more we push ourselves in the water, the happier we should be as humans. That doesn’t quite explain grumpy old Santa Cruz chargers, but science is full of outliers. 

Monday morning, I’ll wake up in California and spend a full day in the brine. Perhaps it won’t be as great as Saturday or Sunday, but it will be significantly better than not surfing at all. Maybe I’ll reach flow state or maybe I won’t, but that possibility is what keeps my passion, and the passion of all surfers, alive. To relate it back to the work of my colleagues, it’s why we should choose to no-look paddle out more often, and why we should learn to appreciate surfing in more general terms. Because surfing is (scientifically) necessary. To our happiness and, apparently, to our survival.

Comments

Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up

Advertisement

Most Recent

Dignity Before Dollars, Stale Fish No Wasabi

Concluding Finals Day at Stab High Japan pres by Monster Energy.

Jun 23, 2024

Meet The Kids Who Sent Stab High Into The Future

Snowboarders, test-tube wavepool spawn, and curators of the culture.

Jun 23, 2024

Full Replay: Finals Day At Stab High Japan Presented By Monster Energy

The freshwater feud for Pro, Ladybird, and Bottle Rocket champion starts now.

Jun 22, 2024

Albee Layer Reluctantly Escapes Sudden-Death Round On Final Wave Of The Day, Advances to Day 2 of Stab High Japan 

“I just want to do my fucking wave, and then go home”

Jun 22, 2024

“Relax, It’s A Surf Contest In A Swimming Pool”

Our attempt at an unbiased comp wrap from afar, on Day One of Stab High…

Jun 22, 2024

Rasta Robb Gutter Stomps Backside Full-Rote, Scores a 3/50

Why wasn’t the reigning champ rewarded in heat 1 of Stab High Japan?

Jun 22, 2024

Full Replay: Day 1 of Stab High Japan Presented By Monster Energy

Click to watch (or rewatch) today's Qualifier and Sudden Death rounds.

Jun 21, 2024

Everything You Need to Know About The Most ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ Wave in the Mentawais

Tips from longtime HTs devotee, Liam Turner.

Jun 21, 2024

“You’re An Elite Freesurfer, I’m Just A Vlogger, Surely You Can Take Me Out”

King of Waco calls out Aussie freesurfers on Stab High live stream.

Jun 21, 2024

Please Don’t Do A Superman At Stab High Japan, Presented By Monster Energy 

Breaking down the best and worst airs, according to the stats. 

Jun 20, 2024

355 Days Later, We Still Don’t Know What Elo Did In Brazil

But here's your 2024 Rio Pro preview.

Jun 20, 2024

JJF + Medina To Continue Rampages In Brazil?

12x CT event winner and previous SITD pilot Taj Burrow says 'yes'.

Jun 19, 2024

Allow Us To Introduce The YETI Ladybirds And Bottle Rockets Of Stab High Japan Presented By Monster Energy

Here's our schoolyard pick for teams; who will win the most cred at the lunch…

Jun 17, 2024

Prediction: Moving The WSL Finals To Fiji Will Kill Off Two More Surfing Superstars

Is this JJF's time to collect his titles? We checked the stats.

Jun 17, 2024

Confirmed: Fiji To Host 2025 WSL Finals

Cloudbreak will remain on tour until 2026.

Jun 17, 2024

What’s The Secret To Powersurfing?

Taylor Knox, Kyuss King, and Jessi Miley-Dyer tackle a trio of questions in our third…

Jun 16, 2024

How To Win Stab High Japan, Presented By Monster Energy

A statistical analysis of the 493 airs attempted in previous chlorinated editions.

Jun 16, 2024

Watch: An Intimate Portrait Of The Wave, Village, And People At The End Of The Road

Oxbow’s ‘Children of Teahupo’o’ is playing exclusively on Stab Premium for the next two weeks. 

Jun 15, 2024
Advertisement
JUNE 22 & 23
-2 Days
0 Hours
40 Minutes
30 Seconds
Join Stab Premium