Destroying Limitations

How Sensory Deprivation Tanks are Reimagining what’s possible

By Blake Lefkoe  Photos Keoki

As surfers, we are always trying to step up our game: bigger waves, steeper drops, more powerful turns, deeper barrels and higher airs. We strive to find the perfect balance between style and strength. We go home at night and watch surf movies or the latest comps. We flip through glossy surf mags, reading articles and interviews and drooling over picture perfect waves. We check the buoys. Check the forecast. Check the winds and tides. We drive our shapers nuts and spend so much money on the latest and greatest fins. We train hard and push our bodies to the very brink of utter exhaustion.

There’s something that has become serious game changer as of recent, and professional athletes across the board are achieving unbelievable results from it. It’s referred to as “floating” and takes place in a Sensory Deprivation Tank. For anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes, you are immersed in a vessel with no light or sound. You float on ten inches of 93.5 degree water (our external temperature) that has absorbed one thousand pounds of epsom salt, making it saltier than the Dead Sea.

You are weightless. Timeless. Free from distractions. It is an unparalleled opportunity for your mind and body to let go in a way you never even knew possible. Without having to deal with gravity, your body is able to enter into a state that far surpasses relaxation and results in incredible health benefits. It speeds up both physical and mental recovery. It reduces stress, anxiety and depression and leaves you feeling calm, recharged and at peace.

As surfers, we know the healing properties of saltwater, so it comes as no surprise that floating enables athletes to heal their injuries faster. It also helps to reduce lactic acid build up, overall tension, and muscle fatigue. The magnesium sulfate in the epsom salt acts to decrease inflammation and rejuvenates sore and overworked muscles.

Because the water is the same temperature as your skin, and the salinity makes you positively buoyant, it is easy to let go. My first time in the tank, I closed my eyes and after a few minutes of fidgeting, began to relax. Within what felt like minutes, my muscles turned to jelly. My spine elongated. Before long, I could no longer tell where the water ended and where my body began. Intellectually, I knew my body was there, but physically it was as though I ceased to exist. Only my thoughts remained.

It was interesting to see where my mind went when there were no external distractions and I could no longer feel my body. At first, my thoughts wandered in a mundane fashion. What would I make for dinner? How would the surf be in the morning? Did I ever deposit that check? Slowly, my thinking began to change. The chatter in my head began to quiet, almost as though it was moving farther away. The next thing I knew, I felt myself twitch awake. Except I hadn’t been sleeping. I wasn’t sure where I had been. I couldn’t recall my thoughts and had absolutely no sense of how much time had passed. Every time I entered the tank I was able to let go a little more, and as a result, I went further away each time.

I found out firsthand that sensory deprivation promotes clarity, creativity, and mindfulness. It allows your brain to enter into a state that is highly conducive to mental imagery, also known as visualization. This technique is helping athletes of all kinds achieve their peak performance, and it can vastly improve your surfing. A float tank is the perfect environment to practice this method, because your mind is calm and you’re completely deprived of all your senses. Plus, you have a set amount of uninterrupted time. Studies show that visualization is an extremely powerful tool and many top athletes rely heavily on this technique to improve their abilities and win competitions.

Visualizations build/reinforce neural pathways in our brains. When we think about doing something, we use the same parts of our brain that get activated when we actually do it. Researchers are consistently finding that mental imagery can be almost as effective as physical practice. Sports psychologists and coaches are helping athletes break through the boundaries of their perceived limitations by having them do both. It’s common practice for surf coaches to instruct their surfers to sit on the beach for 30 minutes before paddling out and mind surf every wave that breaks.

Float centers are popping up in cities across the country. In the past few years, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs, the New England Patriots, the Seattle Seahawks, Ohio State University and the Houston Texans all have had float tanks installed at their training facilities.

Last month, Niv Hemi and Anisa Wiseman opened Floatwise – the first float center on the North Shore, in their Pupukea home office. This duo is passionate about the benefits of sensory deprivation and is eager to share the experience with the community. Wiseman strongly believes that “everyone can benefit from floating.” She says it is a tool that can not only improve our physical, mental and spiritual health, but can also allow us to access our untapped potential and thrive in every aspect of our lives – surfing included.

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