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Surfing the swell of depression

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 23, 2024 5:00 am

My two daughters learned how to surf during the pandemic hiatus. They refused to be isolated at home. They spent weeks and even months in Siargao and La Union to learn how to surf the waves.

I just remembered surfing because we just discovered an emerging surfing community in Sorsogon. As a guest at Siama Hotel, we found out from its famous interior and furniture designer Milo Naval that they opened Siama Surf so we made sure to drop by right after we checked out.

Our eyes were immediately drawn to the expanse of the five-kilometer-long empty beach cove with powdery cream sand that embraced a blue Pacific Ocean with exciting swells. There are eleven rooms in Siama Surf, some oceanfront cabins and others by the garden, all a few meters away from the water. 

Surrounded by soothing nature and inviting waves, Gubat in Sorsogon offers a quiet sanctuary for those who want to discover the exuberant feeling of being able to ride a wave. The waves in Siama Surf are more for beginners while the agile ones go to the neighboring Lola Sayong or Buenavista surfer camps.

We were told that the waves in front of the property are more for beginners. We saw several surfers on a property west of where we were and found out that the surfers congregate there. There are Lola Sayong Eco-Surf Camp and Buenavista Surf Camp both in Barangay Buenavista, Gubat, Sorsogon.

There are other areas in Gubat known for surfing breaks and these are Panganiban, Pinontingan, and Rizal. So if you would like to learn how to surf, consider Gubat Sorsogon if you want less crowds.

Andi Eigenmann and her four million followers in Instagram are very aware of her love and passion for surfing. She attended a surfing event in Calicoan island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

There is also Bagasbas in Daet, Camarines Norte, facing the Pacific Ocean. It has a very long shoreline like Baler which they say allows surfers to paddle out and wait for waves without getting too deep. Puraran Beach in Catanduanes is another surfers' paradise in Bicolandia.

Surfing season is September to May in Daet, October to May in Sorsogon, and July to October in Catanduanes. One-hour lessons with an instructor and use of the board are anywhere from P350 to P500 per session. It sometimes comes free with your room booking.

Have you noticed that surfing is becoming more mainstream? The interest in the sports has trickled down to casual enthusiasts, from the previous foreign and local athletes who compete in the many events in the country.

Surfing for healing

Surfing became popular during the pandemic period because it is an exercise and a sport that you do outdoors. There are also many studies confirming that surfing can be used as part of a healing therapy for those suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety.

My daughter Samantha just learned to surf during the pandemic, a time when uncertainty and anxiety ran high. Her healing came from giving up control and embracing uncertainties, a lesson from nature she learned from surfing.

“Surfing is like a spiritual experience. You are riding nature, you are riding the wave. Number one, it’s fun. Number two, it’s an exercise so endorphins are released. But most importantly, it’s an immersive and sensory experience. You commune with nature,” said my daughter Samantha, a psychology graduate and a certified yoga instructor.

Go with the flow

“It teaches you to give up control. Go with the flow. Surrender to the power of nature. Ride the wave. I had a hard time standing up at the first try, but if I got upset or gave up, then I would end up having a bad experience. When a big wave wipes you out, you just let it happen and wait for a better wave to ride. You and the water become one entity, flowing together,” she added. 

An Instagram post from Andi Eigenmann, the iconic poster girl of surfing: “Happy smiles whenever I get to end my day with a good surf. What I love most though is how well it contributes to keeping me healthy—mind, body, and soul.”

“The main lesson in surfing is just learning to enjoy the ride. Like the waves of life. Whether it wipes you out or successfully rides the swell, find joy in it. There will always be another wave to ride. Surfing has taught me to respect and accept the unpredictability of nature and life in general,” she concluded.

Experts say that the positive effects of surfing in managing depression and anxiety are the result of several factors. First is exercise, all the physical activities, such as paddling, standing up on the board, and balancing, involve a lot of muscles. Exercise helps release endorphins that lift our moods. Many documented studies confirm that regular exercise is effective in reducing depression and anxiety.

Aside from exercise, being in the ocean and surrounded by nature has a calming sensory effect. You hear the sound of the waves, you feel the gentle breeze and the warm sunlight on your skin, and you can almost taste the salty water. All of these are part of the relaxing experience of being by the sea.

Mindfulness vs. depression

The high level of concentration surfing requires helps the surfer to practice mindfulness which is a proven remedy in alleviating anxiety and depression. It also involves a community, a brotherhood that offers social support and a sense of belonging.

The sport involves mastering a skill and overcoming challenges. Mastery, even in small stages, can boost self-esteem and increase self-confidence, which are normally rock bottom for those suffering from anxiety and depression.

Finally, it provides freedom from electronic devices and social media which have proven to trigger depression or anxiety.