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.

Lousie Searle: Dreaming to reality in the media industry


Entrepreneur, editor and Cornish woman, Louise Searle, works round the clock to keep her print business going. If she’s not out in the waves or at a yoga class, she’s in the office maintaining her dream.

Searle has always been an adventure seeker and has never allowed her gender to hold her back. As a child she could always be found on the streets, skating with the boys. She also loved hanging out at the beach, watching the surfers, longing to be out there in the endless blue ocean, but back in the 70’s “there definitely weren’t the opportunities for girls to learn how to surf like there are now,” she explains.

From seaside local to big city student, Searle moved away from the fresh sea air of a seaside town to the dusty, busy environment of a city to pursue her career as an editor and business owner. She took her bags and travelled to Bristol Poly because it was one of the near ones to Cornwall. This meant that she could drive home a lot to get her fix of fresh air, their she achieved a BA Hons in Humanities. But that was just the start of her career path as she carried on her path at The London at University of the Arts.

She found that having an, “unrelated to anything degree isn’t very good for your career path.” So she moved to the big city of London and decided to pay for herself to study a Post Grad Diploma in Printing and Publishing.

Searle was very interested in getting into publishing and has always been determined, so after completing her post grad degree there was loads of job opportunities, but not in her beloved home of surf and sand, Cornwall.

After a few years of staring at concrete and tall bleak buildings, Searle grew to loath dragging her feet along subway and tubes to arrive at her publishing jobs. The seaside was calling her and so was a new career move, so she moved back to Cornwall in the early ‘90s because she missed the sea so much, she was fed up with looking at concrete.

Searle stated: “I moved back to Cornwall but there weren’t any jobs here in the 90’s Cornwall was a very poor county not like it is today. So we had to create our own.”

Using her insinuative, Searle set out on her journey as a business owner with the help of the Prince’s Trust a youth charity that helps young people aged 13-30 get into jobs and build their own businesses. Her and her partner were both into bodyboarding so they set up ThreeSixty a Bodyboarding magazine, which lead to her starting Carve and then her dream of Orca Publications, was born.

Searle looks like a body boarder and a surfer with her sandy blonde hair, tanned skin and healthy glow, body covered in silver turquoise jewellery. Her mannerisms are laid back despite having a desk piled with paperwork and many to do sticky notes across her computer. But she always knew her dream would come at a cost.

Her dream of women in the surf industry being respected and looked up to, her dream of her magazine called SurfGirl. Searle was driven and inspired to create her own magazine, because she was, “fed up with seeing shots of women walking down the beach with a board under their arm. Thought it was time for a change.”

Searle spends most of her days and evenings in her tall office that over looks Newquay in Cornwall. Her days consist of countless jobs. Centrally her role is to keep the company going through the good times and  the bad, which is not easy in Cornwall producing mainly print. From 10am in the morning it’s all go for Searle as editor of two magazines and a business owner there’s barely any time for her favourite, a slice of cake and cup of extremely strong coffee.

Searle’s day consists of reading all the emails, usually people from all over the world who want to be involved in her magazine, SurfGirl. Then most probably over coffee and cake she’ll have a chat with shop manager about how the online shop’s going and make some decisions about that. Not only does she run two magazines Carve, a surfing magazine for men and SurfGirl, a surfing magazine for women, but she also runs an online shop alongside both of these.

As late morning approaches Searle usually sets up social media for the day on Hootsuite for SurfGirl and the Beach Boutique online shop. Five coffees later, and its time for her to check out any new stories, do some work on Carve and sort out some accounts. Then after all that if there’s time do some cool stuff like work out what’s going in the next magazine, or arrange a photo shoot for the Beach Boutique or come up with some ideas to design something new. It doesn’t stop from the moment she opens her eyes in the morning to the moment she shuts them the next evening.

But it’s not all about sitting in the office for Searle; she’s built a business that allows her to move away from her office chair. She jets off around the world getting content for SurfGirl magazine. Just this year she went to Ipso in Munich to attend a massive sports action trade show and go to see the brands to sort out planning for the year. Then In October she went to France for the Quicksilver and Roxy Pro to see the event, interview some surfers and meet up with the brands again.

There are successes and failures with any business and Searle has a very upbeat attitude towards everything.


Check out all her achievements in action here: