North Shore Writer Releases New Book “Waves of Healing”
The following is an excerpt from former Editor of Freesurf Magazine Cash Lambert’s new book Waves of Healing: How Surfing Changes the Lives of Children with Autism. The 208 page book, published by Hatherleigh Press in partnership with Penguin Random House, explores how surfing is therapeutic on a scientific level as well as how it’s transformed the lives of 8 families over the course of a decade.
I had experienced the therapeutic properties of water already, at least to some degree. There had been multiple instances when, after jumping into the ocean, a lake or a pool, I simply felt better; more relaxed, more present. Not to mention, I’d been completely hooked on surfing since that first moment standing atop a surfboard, sliding down a wall of solid water at Waikiki Beach—the Mecca of surfing.
Point is, surf therapy isn’t new to our culture. In fact, there’s tens of organizations from “sea to shining sea” that take participants surfing, from those with special needs to military members with PTSD and more. The resounding result is that the participants smile from ear to ear, and experience specific therapeutic benefits. They too become hooked.
In the book Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do—published in 2014—author Wallace J. Nichols, a scientist/researcher, devotes 260 pages, with over 40 pages of references and citations, to scientific studies on the question of why water is therapeutic, injecting commentary on topics including why we’re drawn to water in the first place, why we respond to its beckoning color so well, and how exactly it can make us feel better. More than anything, the text seems to signify that research on water and the true effects of its healing properties, much like in the autism field, is ever expanding. According to Nichols, there’s science behind why those who surf are likely to become hooked.
“…Dopamine release is associated with novelty, risk, desire, and effort activity; it’s also a key part of the system by which the brain learns. All of these factors, Zald points out, are present in surfing: ‘as surfers are first learning, there’s an amazing burst of dopamine simply when they stand on the board…Novelty? Check. Risk? Check. Learning? Check. Aerobic activity? Check. Dopamine? In spades.” But that’s not all…aerobic exercises (such as surfing) produce endorphins, the opioids that affect the prefrontal and limbic areas of the brain involved in emotional processing, and create the feeling of euphoria, known as runner’s high. The beauty of the natural environment where people surf also increases the sense of a peak emotional experience. Add the dopamine, the endorphins, and the natural setting to the adrenaline rush produced by the amygdala’s fight or flight impulse when a surfer is faced with a large wave (or a wave of any kind when you’re first starting out), and you’ve got a seriously addictive experience.” (Nichols, Wallace J. Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. 115-16. Print.)
I dug further into Nichols’ work to find out how water, surfing and even just being on a surfboard can be therapeutic for children with autism.
“There are all kinds of theories about why this happens. The water is stimulating visually, which fulfills some children’s sensory needs; water provides ‘a safe and supported environment’ that surrounds the body with ‘hydrostatic pressure’ that ‘soothes and calms’ (as another expert said, it feels like the ultimate hug). Learning new motor skills like swimming, surfing or paddle boarding can have ‘a broad ranging impact on the nervous system,’ according to William Greenough at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois: “There’s increased blood flow to crucial neurons, and the reshaping of abnormal structures in the front brain. But beyond that, surfing may be a vehicle to an emotional breakthrough, a way of reaching under the mask and perhaps connecting to kids like these.” Trying to balance and ride waves also provides them with a clear focus and keeps them in the present moment—neurobiologist Peter Vanderklish believes that the beauty of surfing ‘turns the focus of these kids inside out. They’re pulled out of themselves by having to live in the moment, and all their anxieties push aside.’” (Nichols, Wallace J. Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. 175. Print.)
While these theories are speculative, they do begin to paint a picture on an otherwise blank canvas as to why surfing and water do indeed aid in a progression of sorts, as well as how water can help children on the spectrum say their first words.
“Perfect waves and empty beaches, the sport of surfing is easily romanticized, but at its core it possesses the power to change one’s life. For those who struggle with autism, surfing can mean a freedom and joy like they’ve never experienced. Author Cash Lambert has taken the time to tell the story of this unlikely relationship. He tenderly makes the case for the healing powers of the sea, as well as how and why it can be so therapeutic for those on the autism spectrum. Waves of Healing will stoke you out, it will tug on your heartstrings, and it will make you reconsider what those with autism are capable of—and how one good ride can change everything.” —Jake Howard, surf writer and editor of First Priority: A Father’s Journey in Raising World Champion Surfer Carissa Moore
Waves of Healing: How Surfing Changes the Lives of Children with Autism is available for purchase in bookstores around the world, including Barnes and Noble, Wal Mart, Target and Amazon.