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Healthy Ocean, Healthy People

A panel of speakers joined the Rising Tide Summit to talk about surf therapy and its uses in helping people cope with anxiety, stress and depression, which are the leading cause of illnesses worldwide. The surf therapy sector’s vision is to create a world where the lives of people dealing with physical, mental and social disadvantages can be enhanced through therapeutic benefits of surfing in a healthy, clean ocean.

Moderator Ryan Ashton, Vice President of Development at the Aquarium of the Pacific, says he realized the ocean could provide much more in terms of therapy in 2007 when he read an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. Specifically, the article discussed the benefits of inhaling saltwater vapors for patients with cystic fibrosis. They conducted the study by observing surfers, which Ashton says has led to many companies, including Quiksilver, embracing the healing benefits of surfing.

Panelist Steve Mount, former commanding officer, Wounded Warrior Battalion – West, USMC, is a retired marine helicopter pilot. During a tour in Iraq, Mount was shot in the head and lost an eye. Because he had to get used to a different perception of the world, he found that surfing helped him with his balance, helped improve his mood and ensured a full recovery.

“It really was a life changing thing for me to get back on my feet and realize that I could still do the things I could do before my injury, just in a different manner,” he said.  

Panelist Sean Swentek, Executive Director of A Walk On Water, said surf therapy has a positive economic impact on the people that it serves and the world at large. On the topic of ocean conservation, Swentek said if the oceans are not clean patients that have compromised immune systems simply cannot participate and benefit from therapy.

“For me, its altering the direction of the lives that we serve, so if a child has never been in the ocean, never experienced surf therapy, that changes their life in a way that improves it and has outcomes that will improve the economy at the end of it,” he said. “We have students who will speak for the first time after therapy, and that has a huge impact.”

Kris Primacio, Executive Director of the International Surf Therapy Organization, works to change the standards of surf therapy. Their organization works with researchers who are running randomized controlled trials and research to collect data on the benefits of surf therapy.

“The evidence is clear,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a veteran ailing from PTSD, if you are a child on the autism spectrum, or an at-risk youth who is struggling with trauma, depression or even abuse. Whatever ails you, if you go surfing, you will feel better.”

The power of surf therapy, Primacio said, is that it is the “great equalizer.” It does not care about economic status, gender or race – once you are in the water everyone is the same.

Watch the full conversation below.