I love podcasts. I don’t know if that makes me some kind of millennial cliché, but if it does, I don’t care. For this curious librarian with a commute, a deep need for novelty and input, and an appreciation for good storytelling, podcasts are great. 

Lately on our morning commute, my kids and I have been listening to a new kids podcast called Terrestrials, produced by some of the same folks who produce Radiolab, one of my all-time favorites. In this morning’s episode we learned about Duke Kahanamoku, largely regarded as the founder of modern surfing. We learned a bit about the physics of waves and the cultural significance of surfing for native Hawaiian people.

But the episode wasn’t just about Duke, or surfing, or waves. AJ Dungo, the person telling the story in the episode, shared about how he used the tranquility he experiences while surfing to cope with the grief of losing his partner. It was beautiful.

From curiosity to question

Part of what I love about being a librarian is that I’m basically an expert on satisfying my own curiosity. I generally know where to find answers to my burning questions, and knowing what information is likely to be out there makes me better equipped to ask questions in the first place. 

I’ve found that a good question, rather than a generic “topic,” will guide your search, and knowing what’s out there and where to look for it makes all the difference. In this class, we’ll focus on developing all of those things. 

These questions can come from anywhere, and today one came from Terrestrials:

How can surfing, swimming, or diving help people who are experiencing grief, loss, or trauma? 

We had one example in AJ’s experience, but I wanted to know if anyone’s actually studying this. It took me about 10 minutes of searching in a psychology database and Google Scholar to find out. 

From question to answers

I quickly learned that surfing and SCUBA diving are being used to promote wellbeing and treat post-traumatic stress in combat veterans and asylum seekers [1–5], and research suggests that even a single 30-minute bout of surfing can boost one’s mood and feelings of tranquility [6]. I also learned about the International Surf Therapy Organization, which advocates for surf therapy “to be used globally to improve mental health.” They do this by “facilitating high impact research on the effectiveness of surf therapy.” It looks like they just had a conference! A search for their term “surf therapy” turns up dozens and dozens of new results I hadn’t seen before, including one that looked at the effect of a surf therapy session on promoting hope in young people from disadvantaged backgrounds [7].

So by starting with a good question, after some quick searching I was able to find some great research, a reputable organization, and even another podcast episode. Tons of sources. If I was writing a paper, I’d be set. 

From answers to questions

But there’s a difference between seeking sources and seeking answers. Sources are what you look for in order to fulfill the “must include a bibliography of ten scholarly articles” requirement of an assignment. Sure, I get that. I was an undergrad once, and I know just how uncurious I was about some of the papers I was assigned to write. Sometimes those “sources” were only useful insofar as they supported my thesis and had a few lines I could quote. Answers are what you get after you’ve consulted all of the sources, weighed the evidence, and drawn your own conclusions. Answers might require two sources, or they might require hundreds. I think precious little of how we’re taught to do research in college actually leads us to answers.

So it may come as no surprise when I tell you that I believe that the “ten sources” approach isn’t an optimal — or even a desirable — way of exercising our curiosity. I think it’s more like a military operation: get in and get out as quickly as possible while minimizing casualties. It’s exhausting and (in my experience) deeply unsatisfying. 

Where I want to see us go is a more authentic place where we’re asking questions that legitimately interest us, where we’re motivated to seek out new and interesting learning, where our new learning creates in us a desire to ask new questions. 

Instead of riding one wave and paddling back to shore, let’s equip ourselves to stay out and catch the next one. And the next one. And the next one.



[1] Morgan A, Sinclair H, Tan A, Thomas E, Castle R. Can scuba diving offer therapeutic benefit to military veterans experiencing physical and psychological injuries as a result of combat? A service evaluation of Deptherapy UK. Disability and Rehabilitation: An International, Multidisciplinary Journal 2019;41:2832–40. https://doi.org/10.1080/09638288.2018.1480667.

[2] Gibert L, Coulange M, Reynier J-C, Le Quiniat F, Molle A, Bénéton F, et al. Comparing meditative scuba diving versus multisport activities to improve post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms: A pilot, randomized controlled clinical trial. European Journal of Psychotraumatology 2022;13. https://doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2022.2031590.

[3] Caddick N, Smith B, Phoenix C. The effects of surfing and the natural environment on the well-being of combat veterans. Qualitative Health Research 2015;25:76–86. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732314549477.

[4] Rogers CM, Mallinson T, Peppers D. High-intensity sports for posttraumatic stress disorder and depression: Feasibility study of ocean therapy with veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. American Journal of Occupational Therapy 2014;68:395–404. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.011221.

[5] Britton E, O’Malley S, Hunt S. Welcome wave: surf therapy in an unfamiliar sea for young asylum seekers. In: Smith TA, Pitt H, Dunkley RA, editors. Unfamiliar Landscapes: Young People and Diverse Outdoor Experiences, Cham: Springer International Publishing; 2022, p. 365–89. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-94460-5_15.

[6] Pittsinger R, Kress J, Crussemeyer J. The effect of a single bout of surfing on exercise-induced affect. Int J Exerc Sci 2017;10:989–99.

[7] Sarkisian GV, Curtis C, Rogers CM. Emerging hope: outcomes of a one-day surf therapy program with youth at-promise. Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice 2020;11:1–16.

Your Name: Kyle Denlinger
Image Alt Text: A warm-toned film photograph of a surfer riding a low wave

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