The French seaside town of Biarritz has become the first in the world to prescribe surfing lessons to ward off a host of ailments from depression to heart disease, with doctors and patients insisting the treatment works wonders.
Some 20 doctors are taking part in a pilot scheme in Europe’s surf capital to encourage the notoriously pill-popping French to cut back on medication and take to the waves.
The doctors are authorized to prescribe a 12-week course in sports, including surfing or paddleboard but also more classic activities like swimming or Nordic walking that best cater to a patient’s medical problem.
In some cases, the sessions replace all medication.
The programme, created by the regional national Olympic committee, reportedly does not cost the social security system a centime. Instead, the €300,000 (£211,000) required to offer surfing or other sports lessons to the current 200 beneficiaries comes from the Biarritz town hall and two private health associations. Patients are only asked to contribute €10 per session.
“After six months, the results are already positive in our eyes,” Nicolas Guillet of Biarritz Sports Sante, one of the organizers, told Nouvel Observateur. Only two or three people have given up midcourse. Virtually all those who complete the 12-week programme go on to continue practicing the sport.
Karine, a 40-year-old, was prescribed stand-up paddle sessions for her lumbago said: “I’ve suffered from back pain for so long. I had an operation 10 years ago and was even paralyzed for over a month,” she told Nouvel Obs.
Six months later, she said her back pain has almost disappeared, describing it as “a revolution”.
Contact with the ocean can be incredibly therapeutic, said Guillaume Barucq, a Biarritz doctor and avid surfer, who described the scheme as “miraculous”.
“The waves that break in the water or on the sand break molecules that liberate negative ions. They improve the oxygenation of tissue, your mood, tone, quality of sleep and concentration,” he said.
Exposure to the sun helps create vitamin D, which can ward against cancer and diabetes, he added.
Doctors say surfing and other sports can be highly effective in fighting chronic pain and depression, as well as diabetes and obesity, and helps reduce the 46,000 deaths annually linked to inactivity.