WELLNESS
08/20/2015 07:07 am ET Updated Aug 20, 2015

What Surfing Can Teach You About Overcoming Adversity

Because surfing isn't just a day at the beach.
Gabe LHeureux via Getty Images

Surfing is frequently associated with long-haired goofballs on an endless search for the perfect wave. But as counterintuitive as it sounds, surfing isn't just a day at the beach. Between heavy waves, naysayers, and massive wipeouts, surfers have to learn to get back up on their boards. Below, five lessons in resiliency, courtesy of surfers worldwide:

If at first you don't succeed, paddle out again.

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Resiliency has been scientifically linked to life satisfaction and, as anyone who's attempted a first time surf session knows, the sport demands stamina. Paddling out only to wipe out can be exhausting and, at times, even a bit demoralizing.

But catching that first wave is addictive, and surfers quickly learn that their perseverance pays off. After all, even the world's top surfers were the kook on the massive longboard at one point. By paddling out time after time, surfers learn to swallow their pride, endure the lows and work hard for the highs. 

 

If you love what you do, criticism is irrelevant. 

Studies have shown that channeling positivity during hard times can contribute to well-being. And no one knows this lesson better than professional surfer Carissa Moore.

After becoming the youngest person -- male or female -- to win a world title in surfing, Moore found that some people had more to say about her appearance than they did about her incredible surfing.

Moore, however, wasn't going to give into the negativity. "I want to encourage [young girls]," she says in recent ESPN mini-documentary, "to not be afraid to chase their dreams." She came back from the criticism to win the world title again two years later.

 

The road to success is paved with gnarly wipeouts.

Finding success is fraught with failure, and, according to Psychology Today, failure can be a great motivator. In surfing, where no one is safe from unpredictable and powerful waves, wipeouts can be valuable learning experiences.

After experiencing one of the worst wipeouts of all time, surfer Niccolo Porcella seemed more elated than discouraged. "Stoked to say this was not my last wave of the day and I'm so blessed to have been able to feel its mighty mass and energy," he said. "I've dedicated my life to training hard so I can have the confidence and peace of mind that I deserve in these life experiences, and to enjoy them to the max!"

As surfers know, it's what you take away from life's wipeouts that really matters.

 

No matter what happens, getting back in the water is the most important thing.

When professional surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a shark during a contest in July, the entire world watched the footage, fearing for his safety. Fanning was shaken, but he didn't let his fear prevent him from getting back in the water less than a week later. 

Scientific studies have shown that you can become a more courageous person by practicing courageous acts and confronting your fears. Instinctively, Fanning knew he had to face the water again. “I just didn’t want to leave it too long," he said of his return. "I felt like if I left it too long I would start playing tricks with myself and having too many mind games go on so I just really wanted to get it done pretty quickly.”

Getting back in the water "feels so good," according to Fanning, and for many surfers like him, the desire to chase waves and ride giants far outweighs the sports' dangers.

 

Channel your negative experiences into positive change for others.

It's scientifically proven that helping others will make you a happier, more fulfilled person, and the surf community, with its emphasis on camaraderie and sportsmanship, takes that lesson to heart. 

After Bethany Hamilton lost an arm to a shark attack in 2003, for example, she relearned how to surf, becoming a professional surfer and an inspirational figure for amputees and physically disabled people everywhere. Now, she volunteers her time with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to teach children with life-threatening illnesses how to surf.

Not only did Bethany get back in the water after the attack, she used the obstacle to have a positive impact on others' lives. She has a powerful response when people ask her about her experience: "I've had the chance to embrace more people with one arm than I ever could with two."

 

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