You are addicted to surfing.” You’ve probably heard this more than once. And as ridiculous as it might sound, there are scientific reasons why that statement is 100 percent true.
Have you ever wondered why that smart brain of yours has to think about surfing over and over again? Have you wondered why you would love to inject the next wave, or at least the sensations that come with it, straight into your veins? These are the trademark signs of addiction. And to find out if that is actually the case for you, we can proceed systematically.
First of all, we want to propose the following hypothesis: Surfing is an addiction. We can run through some literature to test that hypothesis. But let’s save that for later and clarify the meaning of the word “addiction” first. Here is what Wolfram Alpha says:
Are you abnormally tolerant to something while surfing? Do your paddling power and endurance rise the more often you surf? Conveniently, the more energy you have to paddle the longer you can stay in the water surfing. Thus, you’ve built up an exhaustion tolerance. In my own experience, you build up quite a tolerance when it comes to the size of waves you want to surf. The more you surf, the waves you froth over become bigger and gnarlier. Magically, you need a higher dosage of good surf from those days when you first started out, when you were just happy to get your feet onto a board for 2.13 seconds without falling. According to Wolfram, surfing clearly falls into the realm of things worthy of addiction.
The next section states that an addiction influences your behavior. I once wrote an article suggesting that there are times when waves may have a higher priority than women in a man’s life. The point is, we can easily prove that surfing influences our lives and impacts our behavior. There are 1,000 different ways I could point out surfing influencing my life, but I’ll stick with a more general statement: You have the choice to stop surfing, but you don’t do it. Mark this as another yes in the argument for surfing being an addictive activity.
Now that we know surfing generally fulfills all the framework conditions for an addiction. But what does science really say about surfing as an addiction?
For this purpose, we are putting aside the hazy bullsh*t ramblings and focus on the real things. So here is a fact: An addiction is closely linked to the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. The increased release of dopamine is registered as pleasure and joy by our beautiful brains. In evolutionary terms, dopamine is responsible for you continuing to do whatever is necessary to survive. In other words, Dopamine is naturally released as a reward whenever you are doing something right. What does that have to do with surfing, you might wonder?
What does that have to do with surfing, you might wonder? Well, the body doesn’t only release increased amounts of dopamine through drugs, but also when we are having sex, when we eat, and you guessed it, when we surf. The book, Blue Mind, is a very nice example.
It states that a beginning surfer gets a burst of dopamine from standing on a board because they did not already know they were capable of doing it. For the beginner, standing on a board was an unexpected success, which in turn got rewarded by the brain. Now the beginner wants to stand on a board again, chasing that releases of more dopamine. Through this simple reward process, he or she will learn how to surf.
The ocean in which we surf is a constantly changing environment. It provides the perfect setting for you to develop a full addiction. The ocean is moving and you can never say for sure where and when you are going to get your next satisfactory fix. Now understand that the brain releases extra high amounts of dopamine whenever you score an unexpected reward, just as we learned with the beginning surfer. As you progress in your surfing skills, the unexpected reward could be something as simple as scoring a good wave. It brings us right back to what the addicted person is constantly seeking.
You can also compare surfing as an addiction to gambling and will find a lot of similarities. Both fall into the category of behavioral addictions. The comparable behavior with gambling is that you do not know if and when you are going to win. When you do win, you experience a boost of happiness and pleasure, receiving that unexpected reward from the brain. This exceedingly positive experience will be enough for you to come back over and over again.
The release of dopamine is a smart system designed by our brains to ensure that the human being survives in its environment. The brain releases the neurotransmitter when we eat, have sex or even when we study. The manipulation of the release and the released amount of dopamine through drugs or through a certain behavior plays a very important role in different forms of addiction.
With regards to surfing, we can understand that the brain releases dopamine in many different situations. Whether it’s an anticipated swell, thinking about your next surf, or the simple the feeling of success when you’ve caught an amazing wave. The combination of neurotransmitters (including dopamine, adrenaline, and serotonin) are not only responsible for surfers enjoying the moment, but also for bringing them back over and over again.
Basically, I just wanted to tell you that you are a freakin’ junkie. But I’m sure you know a few other junkies, too. So you’re not alone.