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Kate Wilson describes how mental health can be transformed through surfing, and what especially attracted her to Aberystwyth’s surfing culture during the pandemic.

This feature is published as part of Aberystwyth University’s Ambassadorship scheme and hosting partnership with Planet.

  Aberystwyth University

Lone surfer at Borth © Aberystwyth University Surf Club

Due to the current pandemic, I dreaded coming back to Aberystwyth for my second year of university, I was scared that I would be lonely and bored with nothing to fill my time. I came back depressed and filled with anxiety for the coming year, but during my struggles, I discovered surfing.

I wanted to get involved in surf culture due to the laid-back lifestyle it presented to the world. I thought that being around people who are relaxed and inspired by nature would help my mental and physical health. I've always been attracted to the life of surfers: their culture, fashion, the rock aesthetic, and surf culture’s spirituality. It seems to be the best approach to living well. I have wanted to feel calm and in tune with nature in a way that connects me to the world, and I thought that surfing was the perfect way to do that.

Surf culture is so well spread around the globe, that anyone who’s a part of the lifestyle has joined a sort of worldwide family, where if you share the same values, you are welcome anywhere. We are welcome all over the world and if we spot someone else with a board then we are almost automatically friends. Places like Hawai’i, Bali, and Australia are known for their surfing lifestyle and are on the top of every surfer’s bucket list to travel to including mine. Typically, while surfers are friendly and kind due to their outlook on life, we do tend to get a little territorial over a good surf spot occasionally, so watch out!

In Aberystwyth, surf culture has grown steadily in popularity among students. For most students, it is their first time living by the sea and they want to be able to explore everything that comes with it. With the option of joining a surf society which is how I got involved, surfing is now available to anyone and everyone who wants to take part. As the culture is evolving here in Aberystwyth, so are the attitudes to university life. Surfing is helping improve the mental health of students who are under a lot of stress and pressure from assignments, exams, and finding a path to their future. Surfing has helped students find a healthy escape from their everyday lives. Surfing releases much needed endorphins and adrenaline, which is key when students are facing the icy cold waters of Wales and the crashing waves. The effects of a surf session leave students feeling refreshed and wide awake for their lectures every time. You will be able to catch most of us after lockdown sat around bonfires on South Beach or carrying our boards to the sea in Borth.

Surf culture in Aberystwyth has allowed me to explore my personal fashion sense, become more confident in myself and my body, and has helped me make friends who I can plan adventures and lazy weekends at the beach with. It has helped me overcome my acute fear of the ocean and also helped battle my increasing mental health issues. Spending my time focused on catching the perfect wave or sitting by the bonfire at the beach watching the sun go down is the ideal way for me to forget about my problems and fall back in love with life. The adrenaline I gain from surfing is an amazing feeling that keeps me feeling alive and reminds me what else is out there to experience. Surfing helps me reflect on what I want my life to mean without stressing me out about how to get there. The exercise and cold water from surfing helps to shock your system and improve your mental health due to the escapism from your life and the endorphins filling your body. You become addicted to the refreshed stress-free feeling and find yourself outside a lot more than normal. As your body becomes healthier and you spend more time outside exercising and filling your body with endorphins, the happier you become and the more relaxed you feel when your life takes an unexpected turn.

Going surfing in Wales definitely wakes you up first thing in the morning. The smell of the sea hits you in the face, and you immediately feel calm. The sound of the roaring waves fills your ears and blocks out all your thoughts about essay due dates and difficult clients at work. Squeezing into your wetsuit makes you feel safe and secure, ready to take on the world because you are protected against everything. The cold water swallows you up, and you find yourself completely focused on dodging and catching the incoming waves that threaten to flatten you unless you have the upper hand. It’s just you and the water with nothing and no one around you. You feel a sense of calm overcome you as you realise just how small and unimportant you are when faced with the expanse of the Irish Sea. You can see the beach and people in the distance, but you feel so far removed that you may as well be on a desert island or in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, alone and at peace.

Surfing makes you forget about your troubles for a little while and the community makes you feel welcome and not so alone anymore. The health benefits go way past the cold water boosting your immune system, rather reaching the depths of your mental frame of mind and overall outlook on life. It changes the way you view the world and how important everything seems. After a surfing session, nothing feels quite as important anymore because you realise just how powerful the world is, and you figure that what happens, happens for a reason. Who am I to stop it? So, if you are bored and looking for a new hobby or a way to boost your mental health or general health and fitness, look no further; surfing is the way to go. And don’t worry, the sea really isn’t that cold once you have your wetsuit on and you’re in there focused on catching the waves…

Aberystwyth University Surf Club bonfire social before the pandemic © Aberystwyth University Surf Club

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