Surf Therapy

Surf therapy is a form of experiential treatment that helps patients deal with the issues underlying addiction while connecting them with the natural world. Patients learn to surf by training with certified surf instructors. After they catch the last wave in, they gather on the beach to process the experience with a therapist. Participants learn how to manage frustration, increase tolerance, adopt perseverance, and build strength and self-confidence.

How Surf Therapy Works

Surf therapy engages patients in multiple ways.

Patients are challenged to explore surfing as a metaphor for recovery and for their life after drugs and alcohol. One of the primary metaphors is that of balance. Just as a surfer must learn to balance on a board under constantly shifting conditions, someone in recovery must learn how to balance their emotional and cognitive processes amid the changing demands of their personal and professional environments. They conquer the challenges of learning to surf while exploring ways to overcome the challenges of sober living.

Surfing can also trigger emotional responses. Emotions that patients’ brains have learned to avoid as a defense mechanism in familiar situations can come to the surface while learning a new physical activity—especially one as demanding as surfing. Some may experience the disappointment of failure or the fear of being out of control. Others may encounter the pride that comes from accomplishment or discover the joy of being in nature. It doesn’t matter whether patients become great at surfing. Both success and failure can be an opportunity to process their emotions with the help of a therapist.

Finally, surfing helps people in recovery develop mindfulness. Focus on the present is paramount when trying to maintain balance on a surfboard. Many people recovering from addiction carry guilt over past failures and wasted opportunities. They also deal with fear of financial problems or pending legal troubles, and they often feel anxiety over the future of their relationships with family and friends. But regrets about the past and fear about the future dissolve when patients are “in the moment.” They sometimes experience the joy of living in the present for the first time in many years, and some find that their cravings for drugs and alcohol are greatly diminished—or disappear entirely—while they are riding the waves. Carrying this practice of mindfulness over into the rest of their lives can assist them as they learn to live in recovery.

Surf Therapy Photos

Phenomenal experience. Took me away from my cravings and addictive behaviors. Focused on the awesome new feelings and awareness this adventure provided. I love having fun sober! It’s amazing and awesome! Thank you Lakeview for your top-level staff and care. You’ve changed my life. Forever grateful.
– Sharon B 

This experience was definitely two hours of pure excitement. You are able to clear your mind of everything that you may be going through and focus on being in tune with something that is definitely a positive for one’s recovery.
– Brandon W

In the interview, Amanda had mentioned someone who said he felt baptized by the experience. It would be great if we could get that in a quote.

Listen to the Podcast

About Our Surf Therapy Program

Therapist Amanda Swartzlender, LCSW, is the director of the surf therapy program at Lakeview Health. She earned her M.Ed. in counseling from the University of Hawaii and is a certified yoga teacher. Certified surf instructors are provided through a partnership with Saltwater Cowgirls.

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