Swimming and surfing for healthy coasts: Vulnerability, encounter, and making kin through ocean sports

Olive R1

1The University of Queensland


Humanities and social science (HASS) researchers are paying increasing attention to links between ocean and human health. While marine and health scientists have revealed how being around beaches, coasts and oceans benefits people, HASS researchers have been exploring the benefits of these relationships for ocean ecologies. In this presentation, I will outline how ocean sports challenge ideologies and beliefs that are fundamental barriers to how many people are able to imagine themselves as entangled in the complex issues of climate change.

My research focuses on sports and physical activities such as ocean swimming, surfing, and beach walking as popular ways for people to experience and develop relationships to beaches, coasts and oceans (Olive, 2015; Waiti & Awatere, 2019). Recreational ocean sports participants are immersed in experiences of coastal ecologies, and are often invested in practices and policies that protect coastal health and wellbeing. In this presentation, I explore theories of encounter, vulnerability and kin-making to argue that ocean sports are important “chastening forms of experience” (Plumwood, 2012, p.13) that challenge Western notions of the separation of humans from nature to encourage more ethical relationships to ecologies and colonial politics.


Olive, R. (2015). Surfing, localism, place-based pedagogies, and ecological sensibilities in Australia. In B. Humberstone, H. Prince & K.A. Henderson (Ed.), Routledge International Handbook of Outdoor Studies (pp.501-510) Routledge.

Plumwood, V. (2012). The eye of the crocodile. ANU Press.

Waiti, J. T., & Awatere, S. (2019). Kaihekengaru: Māori Surfers’ and a Sense of Place. Journal of Coastal Research, 87(SI), 35-43.


Rebecca Olive is an ARC DECRA Fellow in the School of Human Movement & Nutrition Sciences at UQ. Her project, Moving Oceans, explores the role of sport in shaping human relationships to coastal and ocean ecologies. Using fieldwork and interviews, her work focuses on recreational surfing and ocean swimming. She writes for a range of academic and mainstream publications, including co-editing a recent special issue, ‘Understanding Blue Spaces: Sport, Bodies, Wellbeing, and the Sea’, in Journal of Sport and Social Issues.