The dark side of flow: a qualitative study of dependence in big wave surfing

Sarah Partington, Elizabeth Partington, Steve Olivier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Citations (Scopus)
552 Downloads (Pure)


Flow has been described within sport psychology as an optimal state underpinning peak performance. However, the consequences of experiencing flow may not always be beneficial. One negative consequence might be that of contributing to dependence on the activity that interacts with, or is associated with, the flow experience. This study explored the dichotomous consequences of flow, using case studies of big wave Surfers. Fifteen elite surfers completed in-depth, semistructured interviews. It seems clear from the results that the surfers experienced positive consequences of flow. However, they also exhibited symptoms of dependence on surfing. It is suggested that there may be air association between the experience of dimensions of flow and the compulsion to engage in an activity. Some specific recommendations for further research into the relationship between flow and exercise dependence are made.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)170-185
Number of pages16
JournalSport Psychologist
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009


  • Exercise dependence
  • Sport
  • Performance
  • Self


Dive into the research topics of 'The dark side of flow: a qualitative study of dependence in big wave surfing'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this