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New PhD to investigate mental health benefits of surfing

Female surfer riding a wave at The Wave

A new University of Bristol PhD will study the relationship between surfing and mental wellbeingThe Wave

Press release issued: 17 June 2024

A new University of Bristol PhD will study the relationship between surfing and mental wellbeing, after a new report found the sport boosts physical and mental health.

Released on International Surfing Day (15th June), the UK Surfing and Health Report carried out by the University of Bristol in partnership with The Wave saw more than 1,300 people respond to the survey.

The report examines people’s motivations and barriers to surfing, how people spend on surfing, and how surfing impacts people's emotional, physical and mental wellbeing. The findings show a relationship between the frequency of surfing, positive physical health and mental wellbeing.

The survey found that surfing makes a significant contribution to the UK economy, with the average surfer spending more than £2,000 per year and more than 90 per cent of surf-related purchases made within the UK.

Coinciding with the report’s release, student Ariane Gerami has secured funding for a 4-year PhD, supported by The Wave, to further research the link between surfing and mental health. Ariane carried out a Masters’ thesis in 2022 that found that surfing can support better mental health.

The research was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and her PhD will build on these findings. She will work with The Wave to capture data from a wide range of different demographic groups to explore how and why surfing impacts mental wellbeing.

Surfing is one of the most popular activities participated in blue spaces, with recent statistics estimating there are 6.27 million people in the UK engaged in activities such as surfing, body surfing and kite surfing at least once in the past year (British Marine, 2021).

Dr Joey Murphy, Lecturer in Physical Activity and Public Health at the University of Bristol, who carried out the research said: “Surfing is an increasingly popular activity in the UK, with over 160 clubs, surf schools and groups in existence. This report highlights the range of reasons why people in the UK engage in surfing, as well as also highlighting the challenges faced to participation. The data clearly indicates that making surfing accessible to more people has the potential to support both population health and the UK Economy.”

Nick Hounsfield, Founder of The Wave, said: “The power of water and waves to make us feel better is at the heart of why The Wave exists. It is so important to us to support and further academic research in to surfing and health – particularly mental health.  This report, and crucially the PhD commencing this autumn, will add to the growing body of research in the area of ‘blue health’ - evidence that being in or near water has huge health benefits.”

Ariane Gerami, MSc. student at the University of Bristol added: “I’m delighted to have been awarded a University of Bristol Postgraduate Research Scholarship to enable my PhD. Being able to further the research I started with my Masters’ thesis is a dream come true. I can’t wait to work alongside The Wave to really get to the heart of how and why surfing impacts health and wellbeing."

The Wave and the University of Bristol will also be hosting the second Blue Mind Symposium in the autumn. This is a forum that brings together academics working in blue health and surf therapy research, along with grassroots organisations running programmes based on blue health principles. The aim being to encourage knowledge sharing and further collaboration.

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