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Here’s Exactly Why Surfing Is So Addictive (According to Science)

by Octavia Drughi

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Very few (legal!) things in this world are as addictive as surfing. The search for the perfect wave is never-ending, but the journey itself is incredibly fulfilling, and with each step that you come closer to reaching your goal, you will feel like floating on cloud nine.

Is your surfboard always leaning against the wall next to the door, waiting to be grabbed on the run? Do you organize your whole week around those hours spent outdoors doing what you love most? Are you happy when there’s an offshore wind and do you feel irritated when wind conditions are not quite right? Well, my friend, I’m afraid that you may already be addicted to surfing.

Just think about it: there’s a huge difference between wanting and needing to do something. You have the choice to stop surfing, as no one is forcing you to do it; you just feel that you can’t live without it so you can’t stop. You want more!

Have you ever wondered what exactly is it that makes surfing so freakin’ addictive? We’re here to explain!


Signs that you are addicted to surfing


Upon receiving the invitation to your friend’s wedding, you immediately think “Damn, I’d much rather be surfing instead!

You end up neglecting your friends and family over surfing. You prefer dawn patrol sessions instead of going for drinks in the evening.

You feel like you’re going crazy if you haven’t surfed for over 48 hours. The media often labels extreme sports athletes as “adrenaline junkies,” meaning that they are addicted to their sports. And they’re right! Research suggests that they even show withdrawal symptoms during abstinence.

Your favorite exercise is surfing. Cross training activities are simply no fun anymore and the thought of doing some indoor exercises gets you depressed.

You tell yourself that you’ll only go out for a short sesh, two hours tops, but you end up leaving the beach when it’s already pitch dark.

All your spare time is spent surfing. When the weather conditions are miserable, it feels like Mother Nature is against you and you end up compulsively checking the weather forecast and tide charts all day.

Each time, you wish to increase the intensity of the thrill. You feel like taking greater risks because you are always trying to achieve that high from before. In other words, you need a higher dose.


It’s all about chemistry


Regardless of your level, whether you’re into big wave surfing or still a kook, there’s no denying that surfing gives you quite the adrenaline rush. But it’s not necessarily the danger that gets you hooked, there are a bunch of other factors that contribute to the natural high: the setting, the anticipation, the rewards, all result in a surge of feel-good chemicals – endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin.

Endorphins are neurochemicals that are responsible for feelings and emotions, triggering a euphoric response when exercising, eating, having sex, or upon receiving an unexpected reward, such as being able to stand up on the surfboard for the first time.

They help you stay focused, feel less pain (which is definitely a good thing if you’ve just taken a gnarly nosedive), and put you in a better mood. Endorphins have a very similar effect to prescription anti-anxiety drugs and painkillers, but they provide the same benefits without the risks, as there are no side effects or overdose symptoms.

Even more powerful than endorphins, dopamine release is often associated with addiction. This neurotransmitter makes the brain experience joy and happiness by controlling its reward and pleasure centers. It makes us enjoy the moment but also keeps us coming back for more.


Surfing comes with its rewards


The anticipation built throughout the week as the long-awaited ideal water conditions make you literally jump out of your car and run towards the ocean as soon as you park. Driving to the beach often feels like an eternity. The anticipation alone will release dopamine, as the brain already knows that there’s some kind of reward in store.

Certain experiences trigger our brain’s reward system, making it so easy to become hooked on them.

Whenever we do something right, dopamine is released into our brains, making us feel happy, ecstatic even. This is also released when we surf. A beginner surfer being able to keep balance on the board for the first time will get a shot of dopamine because he or she did not think that they’d be able to do it. It is an unexpected success, rewarded by the brain accordingly. This will make the beginner surfer want to try again, progressing to higher and faster waves. This is how we learn to surf.


Surfing fulfills our core human needs



According to motivational speaker, author, entrepreneur, and life coach Anthony Robbins, all human behavior is driven by six basic needs: certainty, significance, variety, love, growth, and contribution. When you are able to find an activity that ticks off at least three of these needs, then you have a recipe for addiction. And when it comes to surfing, all of these needs can be fulfilled:




Certainty, or comfort, comes from the fact that you are in control of your surfboard. You are aware of your level and limits and are responsible for your own decisions – when to catch the next wave and when to bail out. You know how to avoid pain and you can choose to be comfortable.




Paradoxically, certainty and uncertainty come as a package, and you need to find a balance between the two. Variety, or uncertainty, is so easy to come by in just about any given moment when it comes to surfing. There will always be new challenges, surprises, and novelty, as there are no two waves alike. Each wave feels different and will have its own story.




All humans feel the need to have a meaning. Catching waves will undoubtedly give you a purpose; you will feel proud of yourself and pretty darn cool!




Love and connection is something we all crave. With surfing, you will not only connect with other like-minded people who share your passion (and addiction) but also with the ocean and Mother Nature. You become one with your surfboard and with the elements.




In an ever-changing environment like the ocean, you never know what may happen next. An unexpected success comes with extra high amounts of dopamine being released, and you will not only experience intense pleasure but also want more. Surfers are always looking to improve, both their surfing and themselves.




Life is not just about you. There’s a greater purpose and a deeper meaning out there. Surfing allows you to make your contribution to the world, be it joining an NGO to help protect the oceans, volunteering for fund-raising events, or simply teaching someone who has just taken up the sport everything you know. You will play a part in something that is bigger than you.


Surfing is a form of meditation


If you have ever attempted meditation but found it hard to control your thoughts and stop your mind from wandering, you’ll have no excuse when riding waves. You need a clear mind to be able to keep your balance on the board and make it back to shore in one piece. There’s no room for worrying about financial stability, kids, work, your love life, etc. 

So if you feel like the weight of the world is resting on your shoulders, go surfing! Just make sure you leave all your worries behind you. When you are able to leave your emotional luggage on the shore, you are breaking your chains loose. You enter a meditative state. You are in the flow. Time stands still. You feel alive.


Are you looking for the best grounding technique? Surfing may be just what you need to find your peace and a sense of belonging. Think of it this way: when you are inside a barrel with the backdoor closing in on you, you need to be entirely present in that moment – if you’re too slow, it will close in on you, and if you’re too fast, it will all be over too soon. You are catching a perfect moment in time.

That body of water traveled for hundreds or thousands of miles to get there and produce a unique peeling wave. Its energy is then passed onto you. It’s all about that single moment. There’s no past, no future; only here and now.


Surfing helps you in everyday life


The excitement that comes with overcoming your fears and the euphoria associated with finally scoring that fast and heavy wave you never thought you’d ever get to ride are also linked to the release of dopamine, as the neurotransmitter plays a key role in the reward and motivational systems of the brain. In return, you gain confidence and you will be prepared for greater challenges.

In the long run, being able to do something that you may have thought impossible will lead to further personal development. It helps you realize what is truly important in life and will help you keep your chin up no matter what.


Some addictions are good, and surfing is certainly one of them. So don’t hold back and allow yourself to get high on the ocean on a thrilling wave surfing camp!

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