It’s a no-brainer: water sports are good for the soul. But until a few years ago few had put the two together.
One recent example is The Wave Project, a not-for-profit company that started in 2010 as a voluntary group funded by the National Health Service in the southwest of England. Now with a surf mentor programme and similar projects that have been rolled out across the UK, they provide one-to-one surfing lessons for young people with mental health issues, aiming to get them outdoors to do physical exercise and feel more confident about themselves.
Meanwhile the Naval Medical Center in San Diego has this year embarked on a research project to determine whether surfing has therapeutic value, especially for military personnel with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and sleep problems.
Of course, you don’t have to be suffering from mental health issues to benefit from riding waves. Australian-based company TropicSurf has expert instructors who organise surf excursions, lessons and ‘surfaris’ in selected five-star resorts around the world, from Nihi Resort Sumba in Indonesia to Mukul Beach in Nicaragua. TropicSurf Director Ross Phillips believes that the big attraction to surfing for his clients is two-fold. “I’m sure it’s the challenge”, he says. “Successful people thrive on challenge and achievement, and mostly my clients have little interest in readily available thrills; but I also think there is an important mindfulness element. Surfing is like meditation: because it’s so all-consuming you have no choice but to live in the moment and operate in a complete state of flow. One of the brief moments of escape from being connected to devices is when you are riding a wave. It’s very rejuvenating and I think more and more people are seeking that escape at a subconscious level.”
“Surfing is like meditation: because it’s so all-consuming you have no choice but to live in the moment and operate in a complete state of flow”
Ross Phillips – Director of TropicSurf
What makes TropicSurf stand out from other companies, says Phillips, is the level of coaching offered. “We figure that it’s easy enough to book a luxury hotel, but it’s really tricky to take somebody by the hand into the ocean, keep them safe, build their confidence, and help them experience success by riding the best wave of their life. That type of coaching is the core part of our business, and it’s what sets us apart. When you help to transform somebody’s life in the ocean, they tend to go home and tell all their friends.”
Dive Butler International operates in much the same way. The company – founded by Canadian Alexis Vincent 10 years ago – manages two dive and water sports concessions in the Maldives (at Amilla Fushi and Finolhu), plus has a team of more than 55 instructors, who offer on-board dive instructor services for private luxury yachts worldwide. “Diving brings an amazing sense of wellbeing; I call it instant meditation,’ says Vincent. “Perhaps it’s because we spend the first nine months of our life in the womb, but there is often a sense of reconnection when we’re in the water.”
— Dive Butler Amilla (@divebutlerbaa) September 29, 2015
“Perhaps it’s because we spend the first nine months of our life in the womb, but there is often a sense of reconnection when we’re in the water”
Alexis Vincent – Managing Director of Dive Butler International
All the instructors at Dive Butler International dive professionally, and Vincent believes their chemistry with the client is what’s key – if it’s not right, he will swap instructors straight away. “Some people think it’s easy to run a dive operation, that all you need is the equipment and then you have a business; but the truth is that it’s so much more than that”, he explains. ‘I call the equipment hardware. The software is the instructors you select to take care of your clients. They don’t just need to be good scuba instructors and have technical understanding: they also need to be a parent, a doctor and a mental coach, too. When that’s in place, clients can really engage with the environment and feel the positive effects of diving.”
London-based freelance journalist Emma Love specialises in writing about interiors, design and travel for titles such as Elle Decoration and Condé Nast Traveller, where she is a contributing editor. She also writes for publications such as the Financial Times and the Guardian.