Why is skiing, snowboarding and surfing so addictive?
This article isolates skiing as the primary paradigm of reference, especially powder skiing, in explaining the addictive addiction. I can attest to that, being stoked with many deep powder days over the years during my stint in Park City, UT in the ’90’s. Powder days, playing reggae in my band Chord on Bleu and surf trips were always the main feature on my calendar. Those good-ol’ days are now a blur of good-ol’ powder days and surfing for me is the passe-temps du jour.
However, in looking back, even on the deepest powder days, during apres ski seshs with mates at the Wasatch Brew Pub, I faithfully carried the surfing banner high and continually argued that surfing is just a notch above in providing exhilaration and stoke. Why? For me its because of one single factor…in surfing, both the participant and the medium are simultaneously in motion…for more on simultaneous motion, please see The Edge Volume 3 blog on ‘kinetic balance’…
Aside from that unique factor inherent in surfing, there are many comparable features to consider. A deep powder day on your snowboard is like a surf day at the Poles on your shortboard, with a mid-period ENE ground swell 5-7’ @ 10-12”, low incoming tide and light WNW offshores…carving in deep powder is sort of like carving a bottom turn on a 5-6’ face, but when you float in powder in an open space, its also a little like getting slotted in the barrel and spit out on an open face…and when you are so deep in powder, it’s flying in your face, it’s like getting chandeliered coming out of a barrel…timeless. I’m not here to advocate one over the other, because I’m an advocate of all three…I’ve giggled, claimed, acted like a grom and been stoked in the Aspens and also in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans…
I think you will get the point with this article from Grind TV…being a neuropsychologist-surfer boy, I can appreciate that there is there is an underlying neuroscience that explains being stoked…I have inserted ‘surfing’ vernacular into this article where necessary for those who have never skied or snowboarded…
The neuroscience behind powder giggles (or barrel exit claims) and why skiing, snowboarding and surfing is addictive
I used to work at a ski (surf) resort, and I can remember on powder (or on barrel) days we’d hear the general manager as he flew down the mountain (or got barreled), hooting with laughter. Here was this 6-foot-something guy, giggling like a little kid — and, of course, he wasn’t alone. We had the powder (or just got shacked) giggles.
Anyone who’s skied or snowboarded even 6 inches of fresh snow (or surfed even small point break barrels) knows that there’s something electrifying about it — something addictive. In fact, it is addictive.
“The chemical that is likely most responsible for the giddy feeling of skiing powder (or getting barreled) is dopamine,” says Dr. Cynthia Thomson, a professor of kinesiology at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.
Thomson has studied snow-sport athletes’ genetic predisposition toward risky behavior, as well as our neurological reward system (aka what motivates us to pursue certain behavior in the name of pleasure).
That’s where dopamine comes in: It prompts us to seek reward by eating, mating and exploring. It also teaches us to repeat behavior that makes us feel good. Dr. Thomson says that in studies, animals experience “bursts” of dopamine in response to things like food, sex and drugs (recreational drugs bump up dopamine production to create a high).
“Though skiing powder (or getting barreled) has not been studied as it it doesn’t work too well in rodent models (LOL) — nonetheless, we can hypothesize that skiing in fresh powder (or getting barreled) might result in a burst of dopamine,” says Dr. Thomson.
“For people who are sensation seekers (as many powder-hungry skiers and surfers are), the feeling of floating through powder (or floating through the foam ball), feeling weightless and going fast may all help to satisfy a need for thrilling sensations.”
Adrenaline, which is our body’s response to stress and is associated with both intense fear and heightened arousal, may also contribute to involuntary giggling: “If you know you’re about to jump off a cliff, your body starts to prepare and releases adrenaline,” Dr. Thomson says. “This gives you the jittery feeling: heart racing, increased respiratory rate, tense muscles … ” Nervous laughter, anyone?
“Some people enjoy these sensations and others (too timid to go for it) hate them,” she continues. “Depending on the skier’s (surfer’s) line, the high-energy, giddy state of floating in powder (or getting slotted in the barrel) could be caused by a combination of dopamine and adrenaline.”
In addition to what’s going on inside your brain when you’re getting (powder) freshies (or getting barreled), there’s also a possible environmental factor…negative ions. Negative ions are atmospheric molecules that have been broken apart and left with extra electrons.
That’s about as deep into the chemistry as I’m willing to wade, but, negative ions are found in abundance after storms, near waterfalls, at the beach and in the mountains, and they’re believed to boost serotonin levels (serotonin is the chemical that makes us feel happy) and increase oxygen to the brain. They’ve been shown to improve mood, health and even life span.
So, basically, skiing or snowboarding powder (or getting barreled) may be getting you high, but hey, this is one addiction that we can get behind….
Here’s to dopamine, staying stoked and keeping the edge whether its pow or barrels…
♠ Previous volumes of The Edge can be found here
Must see (below): Jerry Lopez snowboarding in our backyard and river surfing on a shortboard…’exercise is medicine, movement is life’…