Surf therapy helps veterans heal

Veterans learning the art of surfing with help from Warrior Surf instructors and wellness coaches.

Twice a week, veterans and active-duty service members and their families gather at Folly Beach in Charleston, South Carolina. There, they learn the art of surfing with help from instructors and wellness coaches from the Warrior Surf Foundation.

But this surf instruction has a therapeutic twist. It not only enables veterans to gain surf skills but also uses surfing as a vehicle to teach techniques for coping with the psychological and physical scars of war.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and substance use can affect veterans’ self-esteem, relationships with their families and job performance. Traumatic brain injuries, amputations and chronic pain all take their toll. Some veterans struggle with more than one of these issues.

The Warrior Surf Foundation was founded in 2015 by veteran Andrew Manzi. After two tours in Iraq, he struggled with a brain injury and PTSD that left him feeling not in control of his life. That began to change when he found surfing. It 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.

Manzi began Warrior Surf so that he could help other veterans heal through surfing.
Now they want to see if it can help veterans elsewhere.

With pilot project funding from the South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research Institute's Community-Engaged Scholars Program, Warrior Surf is working with clinical psychologists to standardize their therapy protocol and to collect credible data that it works. That will help them get funding for extending their program beyond Charleston.

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