Ocean Therapy


Ocean Therapy is an adaptive surfing program to assist individuals coping with mental and physical illness in accessing the ocean environment. Surfing has long since been a sport associated with freedom and independence and has the ability to support individuals with special needs in increasing their self-esteem and self-confidence.

The purpose of this program is to increase perceived self-efficacy in individuals with physical and developmental disabilities through engagement in physical activity in the ocean environment, specifically, the activity of surfing. The program can be a one-time activity or ideally an ongoing program where growth and healing can be seen and measured.

The initial idea for a therapeutic surfing program came from Carly Rogers’ personal experience working with children with special needs at the beach as an ocean safety instructor with the Los Angeles County Lifeguards. Carly found that the therapeutic benefits of surfing were obvious in the emotional reactions of the children during and after their experience in the ocean. She later wrote the ocean therapy program utilized today while earning her master’s degree at USC in Occupational Therapy.”Having worked as a Los Angeles County Lifeguard for the past nine years, and instructing children in ocean safety for the last seven, I have been able to witness the therapeutic effects of surfing. I’ve seen children jump out of wheel chairs, trying to get to the waters edge. Now imagine the impact of being able to actually ride a wave?”


Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief or estimate of their own ability to achieve a personal goal. It is predicted that by successfully engaging in the activity of surfing and “riding a wave”, these individuals will increase their self-confidence and belief in their ability to achieve other goals in other life areas. The indivdiuals will be evaluated before and after the one-day program to assess their perceived self-efficacy through questionnaires, journal entries, and/or discussion.

The Ocean Therapy Team is made up of a wide range of experienced volunteers including:

  • Occupational Therapists (OTR)
  • Professional Ocean Lifeguards
  • Physical Therapists
  • Mental Health Professionals
  • Professional Surfers
  • Mentors & Friends
  • Certified California EMTs

The Ocean Therapy team maintains the collective goal of creating the best possible environment for the participants to be able to go surfing and feel confident in their abilities. That is what makes our team so strong!

Safety Features:

  • Registered Occupational, Speech, or Physical Therapists or Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants with surfing experience.
  • Certified Los Angeles County Lifeguard and California State Lifeguard Volunteers with experience instructing individuals in surfing
  • Soft Surfboards to increase buoyancy
  • High quality life jackets in a variety of sizes
  • Rescue equipment and First Aid supplies on hand
The Ocean Therapy program session will include:

  • 9:30am – Volunteers arrive to set up
  • 10:00-11:00am Participants arrive.Group Welcome and Introduction to Ocean Therapy
  • Ocean Safety Lecture
  • Warm up and Stretching
  • Surfing Instruction Lecture
  • 11:00am-11:45am
  • Riding Waves
  • 11:45am- 12:15pm
  • Discussion Session
  • Reapply Sunscreen
  • 12:15pm- 1:00pm
  • Riding Waves
  • 1:00pm- 1:30pm
  • Lunch and Discussion Session
  • Goodbyes

Safety Lecture

  • Sunscreen
  • Listening to Adults
  • Surfing Attire- Life Vest, Wetsuit
  • Protecting Your Head
  • Ocean Conditions

Surfing Instruction

  • Board Features- Nose, Tail, Rails, Deck, Fin, Leash
  • Body Position on Board- “Toes on the Tail”, Body in the Center
  • Paddling Out Through the Surf- Paddling Technique, “Push-Up”, Turtle Roll
  • “3-Step Pop Up”- Push Up, One Foot Forward, Pivot with Bent Knees, Looking forward
  • Check for individual’s Preferred Stance, Apply Leash

Mid-Day Discussion

The focus of this discussion is to isolate and amplify the feelings produced by the activity of surfing. By discussing these emotions and having the participant identify with their new skill attainment, it is assumed that the individuals will feel a greater sense of self-efficacy and pride in their accomplishment.
Questions may include:

  • How did you feel before the surfing session?
  • What experiences did you have during the surfing session?
  • How do you feel now that you accomplished such a difficult task?
  • Do you want to surf again today? Tomorrow? Next week?
  • Is there anything else you have done that feels similar to surfing?
  • How can you use this experience to assist you in other life areas?
Volunteer Types
Whether you are a Beach Volunteer or a Water Volunteer, both are critical parts for the JMMF to run smoothly and are both vital roles to our success. We welcome you to our family with all of your skills and talents!

Beach Volunteer
Beach Volunteers are key to a successful ocean therapy session. Responsibilities can include everything from carrying equipment to helping set-up food/beverages for any given session. Some responsibilities of the Beach Volunteer include:

  • Beach Safety
  • Assist in sunscreen/wetsuits.
  • Assisting with our stretching sessions or yoga demonstration.
  • Help with snack and lunch prep, as well as setup and breakdown of equipment.
  • Applaud participants when a wave is ridden…they truly appreciate it!
  • Assist with “catching” participants as their board meets the sand.
  • Documenting comments or successes observed throughout the day.
  • Spending time with participants when they need to stop and take a break from surfing.
  • Both land and water photography.
  • Assist with building friendships and repoire with participants to aid in solidifying the effects of the day.
  • Engage in discussion sessions.
  • Help in any other way you see fit!

Water Volunteer
The water volunteer is a crucial part of our success. We strive to maintain at least a 1:1 ratio of participant to surf instructor. We find that with this ratio the participant’s success rate increases as well as their comfort level is elevated and they feel more secure. We also like for our Water Volunteers to have surfing knowledge or experience and some experience teaching. If you do not have teaching experience, we will gladly help you learn some of the amazing techniques Jimmy created over his 15 years of surf teaching experience.
Some responsibilities of the Water Volunteer include:

  • Helping in “on land” surf instruction
  • Assisting with board choice i.e. length to size ratio and wetsuit sizing.
  • Critiquing the “get up” technique i.e. assisting with stance, knees bent, feet wide, goofy or regular, etc.
  • Pushing participants into waves i.e. holding onto the board and letting go when the participant is stabilized.
  • Ensuring they do not pearl (nose dive)
  • Giving positive reinforcement and encouragement throughout the day.
  • Water and beach safety- your most important role!
  • Talking the participant through each aspect of being in the water i.e. “now we’re going to push up”, “hold on tight”, “this is a lull” or “Is it ok if I put my hand on your back?” etc.
  • Being aware of the participant’s various needs i.e. a child’s back ground or a Marine’s injuries.
  • Participating in discussion sessions i.e. sharing the participants’ successes in the water with the group in hopes of inspiring self-confidence.
  • Giving tons of High 5’s

To volunteer please email us at mark@jimmymillerfoundation.org or info@jimmymillerfoundation.org