[This photo feature was originally published in SURFER’s summer 2020 issue, on newsstands now, and has been updated here. To subscribe to SURFER, click here.]

Talk to virtually any mental health expert and they’ll bring up two of the easiest things to do to boost optimism, reduce stress and anxiety, and alleviate depression: Get outdoors and get some exercise. It’s really that simple. Surfing can be your therapist’s couch, to an extent, and one that is mercifully free of a billing department.

That goes beyond surfing, sure. Scottish doctors prescribe hikes for patients. Mountain biking programs are popping up for sufferers of mental health illnesses. Trail runners show increased levels of happiness compared to treadmill runners. But we all know that surfing’s version has its own special sauce—you’re in nature, but you’re also propelled by it. Doesn’t even matter if you’re scoring life-changing barrels or just chasing scraps at your local beachie, a newb on a funboard or a seasoned, globetrotting hero. Surfing provides. Even more so when times are tough, strange or feel too big to handle.

In the following gallery, you’ll find gorgeous images of our preferred escape along with musings on what it means to all of us. With everything that’s happening right now, between the difficult work of fighting for racial justice in America to the global health crisis of COVID-19, it’s perhaps never been more important to have a means to mentally recharge. We hope that you’re able to surf safely in this difficult time wherever you are, but if not, let this be a reminder of what you can look forward to.