Ocean therapy: Surf Action helps veterans with PTSD

Produced by Emily Furness   Presenter and contributing writer: Amy Wall

Produced for: Surf Action 

A Cornish charity helps servicemen battle the waves at Tolcarne beach every Saturday – no matter what the weather.

Established in 2009, Surf Action is a leading Cornish based charity, which strives to help military personnel suffering from physical and physiological injuries, including Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The charity aims to reintegrate members of the Armed Forces back into civilian life through the many benefits of surfing.

Alan Reynolds, a 57 year old veteran and clinic participant, said: “There are an increasing number of older veterans coming forward from legacy conflicts such as the Falklands and Northern Ireland because knowledge of, and attitudes towards have changed massively. I tried to commit suicide two and a half years ago.”

Alan hitting the water for some ocean therapy

“I turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism and I don’t really sleep. Thanks to the charity I have a formal diagnosis and know a lot more about PTSD and how to control it. By going surfing every week I have something I can rely on, so even if I’ve had a rubbish week.”

Alan also describes how even simplest things, such as wearing a surf cap over his ears to keep warm, can trigger claustrophobia and unease.

Officially recognised in the 1980’s, PTSD is described as an anxiety disorder, which often follows witnessing a violence or traumatic event. Symptoms include insomnia, flash backs and extreme anxiety.

The affects of PTSD on the body

The charity recognises that surfing, as a vigorous activity, uses up any excesses in the body similarly as we would by running away or fighting, leading to a more positive and calmer outlook.

Joel Hewitt, a volunteer for Surf Action said that he believes it helps to talk to someone who isn’t from the military.

Surf Action members meet in Newquay on a weekly basis, with several uncompromising members not being swayed by the winter elements.

Mel Murphy, Surf Action Coordinator and RAF servicewoman, said: “I’ve been involved with Surf Action for around 4 years now. The charity aims to get all the family involved bringing the family back together, as well as focusing on the physical benefits that surfing and being in the outdoors brings.”

  • Surfing has been introduced to many veterans suffering with PTSD because;
    • It introduces you to a close knit group/tribe which the human brain works best with and in some ways replicates service life
    • By surfing in the natural environment it naturally boosts the body’s production of endorphins such as Serotonin which gives a feeling of happiness.
    • Surfing burns up the body’s stress chemicals such as Cortisol.
    • It aids the conversion of Serotonin into Melatonin in the evening which aids sleep.
    • The natural noises of the ocean provide a sound barrier from the many land based sounds which can sometimes trigger a flashback and intrusive thoughts.
    • Surfing is a natural form of mindfulness and mindfulness is very important in dealing with the symptoms of PTSD.
    • Surfing with others is a laugh and laughter stimulates the rate of flow through the lymph system and this strengthens your immune system.
    • Surfing is just fun!
    • Surfing is not a cure but it is an effective therapy which can be easily accessed throughout the year.
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