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

Partington, Sarah; Partington, Elizabeth; Olivier, Steve


Sarah Partington

Elizabeth Partington

Steve Olivier


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, semi-structured 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 an 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.


PARTINGTON, S., PARTINGTON, E. and OLIVIER, S. 2009. The dark side of flow: a qualitative study of dependence in big wave surfing. Sport psychologist [online], 23(2), pages 170-185. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 30, 2009
Online Publication Date Jun 30, 2009
Publication Date Jun 30, 2009
Deposit Date Jan 21, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jan 21, 2022
Journal Sport psychologist
Print ISSN 0888-4781
Electronic ISSN 1543-2793
Publisher Human Kinetics
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 23
Issue 2
Pages 170-185
Keywords Sports psychology; Compulsive behaviours; Addiction; Surfing
Public URL


PARTINGTON 2009 The dark side of flow (AAM) (275 Kb)

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© Human Kinetics

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