Experimental treatments such as equine therapy, music therapy, and yoga have increasingly become popular with addiction centers across the United States. Now, surf therapy may provide another addiction therapy option for clinicians to increase rates of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.
“There is real therapeutic value in surfing,” explains Amanda Swartzlender, who runs a surf therapy program. “It’s not just a fun outing; what comes up in surfing can be used in the group discussions that are part of the therapy.”
“Participants learn about their challenges and frustrations, and therapists can look at how those frustrations can have an impact on recovery,” says Swartzlander. For some, it is an important lesson in humility. “Sometimes, they come out of the water and say ‘I thought I was going to be better at this,’ and then we can see how they handle that situation, which in turn helps us identify problems they might encounter in their recovery.” The first challenge is to be brave enough to sign up. Most people who join the program have never surfed before, and for some, it is actually the first time they have sees the ocean.
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Simply being with the ocean can have a healing effect all of its own, even for pros. Champion surfer Darryl Virostko was addicted to alcohol and methamphetamines for years. After going into recovery, he chose the ocean as his Higher Power: “I’ve gone under a wave and I’ve said, ‘Please, just let me come up,’” Virostko told the New York Times. “I’ve been talking to the ocean my whole life. It’s bigger and way more powerful than me.” This kind of spiritual experience is another benefit surf therapy can add to recovery. “People have a chance to connect with nature,” says Swartzlender. “They realize how great the universe is. One participant even described it as being baptized in the ocean.” Surfing encourages people to clear their mind and learn how to be at one with their surroundings. Many parallels can be drawn between surfing and recovery. For instance, when learning to balance on a board, we explore the self-positioning against the elements to stay upright. “Surfing has an aspect of mindfulness,” says Swartzlender. “Being in the zone-in the moment—can help overcome craving and other addictive behaviors.” Addiction can often strip individuals of self-worth, and rebuilding confidence cannot always be achieved with group therapy sessions alone. That is why exposing individuals to new experiences, such as surfing, encourages you to step out of your comfort zone and encourages a connection with something bigger than yourself.