Take two waves and call me in the morning: International Surf Therapy Organization brings ocean healing into the mainstream
by Ryan McDonald
Carly Rogers was told there was “no way” she would be able to pull it off. Jamie Marshall was told, “I don’t know what you’re going to do here.” And Joel Pilgrim was told that he was “just a surfer who wants to get paid to go surfing.”
The last one wasn’t entirely untrue. Pilgrim, the founder, and CEO of the Australia-based surf therapy charity Waves of Wellness, has spent more than two decades surfing. And it was his personal experience in the water that in 2016 led the mental health occupational therapist to launch an organization built around a belief in the healing power of the ocean.
By Cash Lambert
Surfing feels good. No secret there. Coming out of the water feeling better is a pretty universal reaction. But in recent years, the research and testimonials are showing that it’s more than a feeling — surfing is actually a healer.
Defined by the International Surf Therapy Organization (ISTO) as “the evidence-based, clinically-guided and structured use of surfing as a therapeutic vehicle in the prevention and treatment of social, behavioral, health, economic, and other global challenges,’” surf therapy can remedy many different afflictions — special needs, PTSD, trauma, mental health, social challenges… In fact, surf healing is currently prescribed in the UK through an organization called the Wave Project. Advocates from the ISTO conference are aiming to make it a type of prescription in other countries, including the U.S.
Children diagnosed with autism, veterans struggling with PTSD, teenagers living in extreme poverty… Every day, we hear stories of desperate lives being changed for the better through surfing. Those with mental illnesses find solace by riding waves of healing — due in part to the many surf therapy organizations driven by the belief that, as the adage goes: If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.