Many people believe that being in close proximity to the ocean, or actually in it, is therapeutic. At least 500 combat veterans who have completed a 12-week surf therapy program offered by the Warrior Surf Foundation, a Folly Beach, South Carolina-based non-profit, would attest to that fact.
Warrior Surf Foundation was founded in 2015 by U.S. combat veterans, and offers not just small-group surf instruction but also yoga and mindfulness instruction to combat veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological trauma. Because of COVID-19, the program is currently offering virtual yoga programs and other online elements of the Foundation’s healing curriculum. Even post-pandemic, the Foundation will likely continue to offer the distance-learning components in order to reach more veterans. (Unfortunately, there is no online surfing substitute for the real thrill of being in the waves.)
And when the 12-week surf instruction program is over, graduates aren’t left behind. They can carry the torch of therapeutic surf instruction to a new class of combat veterans by serving as mentors to incoming participants.
Veterans who complete Warrior Surf Foundation’s 12-week program can also receive training in stress management, behavioral health awareness, suicide awareness and prevention, and counceling. With this training, combat veterans who finish the 12-week course not only help themselves but other veterans as well.
Warrior Surf Foundation was founded by a veteran, Andrew Manzi, who served two tours in Iraq. After his service overseas, Manzi claims, per the Medical University of South Carolina, that he struggled with a brain injury and PTSD that left him feeling not in control of his life.
Manzi eventually experienced some relief after he started surfing, which “helped him focus on the present moment and not the past.”
It challenged him but also allowed him, in time, to gain a sense of mastery. It provided him an opportunity to interact with the sea and with nature – a healing experience.
The Medical University of South Carolina says that veterans can be hesitant to access mental health services, “fearing the stigma associated with [them]. Traditional treatment venues, such as clinics and hospitals, can be stressful and off-putting and again drive home that the veteran is ‘sick.’ ”
The Warrior Surf Foundation is open to both veterans and active service members who are experiencing physical and/or psychological disorders. In addition to PTSD, psychological challenges that participating soldiers may struggle with include Major Depressive Disorder or related mood or anxiety disorders; post-service transition challenges; moral injury; survivor’s guilt, and traumatic brain injury. Warrior Surf Foundation accepts participants with physical disabilities that include, but are not limited to: spinal cord injuries and amputation.
Even the Veterans Department has extolled the virtues of the Warrior Surf Foundation’s curriculum, plugging the non-profit on its blog. According to the Warrior Surf Foundation website, the goal of the program is for veterans to incorporate the skills they learn in the program into their daily lives to create sustainable healing, ultimately becoming what we all deserve to be: positive active contributors to our socioeconomic system.