Ocean Therapy

The Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation formalized the concept of using surfing as a modality for healing mental and physical illness.

Ocean Therapy

The Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation formalized the concept of using surfing as a modality for healing mental and physical illness.

The Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation developed the concept of using surfing as a form of healing under the direction of Dr. Carly Rogers during her Master’s program in Occupational Therapy at the University of Southern California. The initial program was first implemented in 2005 serving underprivileged and abused children in Los Angeles. The results were beyond our wildest expectations and remarkable. As one clinician stated, “These children have experienced such trauma that there are no positive memories for them to refer to. You have created positive memories for them that will serve them for a lifetime. You have inspired the very core of who they are and what they can accomplish”.

Jimmy Miller Foundation Surf Therapy logo circle x 100 px


Based on these positive results, JMMF formalized this surfing protocol in what is today the leading Ocean Therapy Program throughout the world. All of our Ocean Therapy sessions are led by licensed therapists who guide pre and post surfing talking circles centered around a chosen theme for the day. Our certified surf instructors are CPR-trained renowned waterman and our Safety Coordinators are lifeguards that have a long history of “watching the water” and providing safety both in and out of the water. 

There is a finely balanced approach and mental health wellness that underpins every session and is tailored to the group we are working with on each day. We “meet them where they are at” and provide the safe space to allow our participants to process and heal at their own pace.

In 2007, JMMF expanded the concept of using the ocean and surfing as a therapy protocol to help military members returning from conflicts in the Persian Gulf. After numerous and lengthy conversations with the Pentagon and military command at Camp Pendleton, the JMMF was invited to conduct a pilot program with the Wounded Warrior Battalion-West (WWB-W). Once again, the positive results of the pilot program were far beyond all expectations. The Command staff of the Wounded Warrior Battalion stated, “The change at the barracks is visceral. The Marines come back from (Ocean Therapy) sessions with actual smiles on their faces. This is something we have not been able to provide through traditional therapy.” Following the pilot program, the JMMF was enthusiastically invited back, and we consistently conduct, on average, two sessions per month with the Wounded Warrior Battalion – West at Camp Pendleton.

In the summer of 2007, JMMF created our Veteran program to reach those whose service may have ended but their adverse wartime experiences still traumatize them. In 2013, to further delineate our population groups and provide a “safe” therapeutic environment, we implemented our first female-only veteran sessions.

Broadening our reach to the military veteran community, JMMF partnered with Veterans Village San Diego in the fall of 2019 to introduce surf therapy to VVSD’s live-in residents in their recovery program. Afflicted by substance use and misuse disorders, trapped in addiction, alcoholism and experiencing homelessness, our goal is to provide a healthy alternative activity to replace their self-harmful behaviors. We have expanded this program to include struggling veterans in association with the various VA Vet Centers in San Diego and have hosted 4-6 Ocean Therapy sessions on Stan’s Beach in Coronado each year in the fall.

Then the pandemic hit in 2020, and along with it came social distancing, isolation, quarantine and stay at home orders. For those suffering from existing mental health issues, these lockdowns only exacerbated their situations. We knew that mental health was reaching a crisis mode. What we didn’t realize was just how expansive the effects would be. COVID-19 not only wreaked havoc on patients and their families, but also triggered PTSD-like symptoms for those providing for sick patients in the ER and ICU. They were forced to make life and death decisions; who got a ventilator and survived and who didn’t. This was extremely traumatic for our healthcare workers and led to depression, anxiety, social isolation, suicidal ideation, and emotional and empathetic burnout. In the fall of 2021, once the beaches were “re-opened” JMMF launched the world’s first-ever Ocean Therapy program for healthcare providers. The demand for these kinds of alternative therapeutic services was overwhelming. We hosted five sessions in 2021 in partnership with Torrance Memorial Medical Center (TMMC) and in 2022, based on growing need for Ocean Therapy, we increased the number of sessions to twelve. We invited Providence Healthcare’s Little Company of Mary healthcare teams and partnered with the Beach Cities Health District to expand the world’s first and largest surf therapy program dedicated to helping those that care for us in our community. Given the resources required, we plan on expanding our Healthcare Workers Ocean Therapy program into Orange and Ventura counties to help even more caregivers.

2022 was a breakthrough year for JMMF as we partnered with the Friendship Foundation to bring ocean/surf therapy to special needs and developmentally disabled young adults. One pilot session forever changed the way we viewed surfing and ocean therapy. These amazing young adults reminded us just how joyful and healing the power of the ocean can be. We are expanding the number of sessions for special needs children, young adults and other populations on the spectrum so they can experience the joy and healing power of the ocean as well. 

JMMF is currently the largest provider of Ocean and Surf Therapy programming in the world. Under the initial leadership and direction of Dr. Carly Rogers, JMMF literally wrote the manual that serves as the de facto guide for conducting Ocean/Surf Therapy around the world today. JMMF has continued to refine the operations manual, implement additional safety measures and introduce new populations that have suffered from some form of mental and/or physical trauma to the healing power of the ocean.

Goals of Ocean Therapy

  • Increase participant/athlete self-efficacy by providing coaching and encouragement of learning a new skill.
  • Build self-confidence by ensuring success in a new and unfamiliar activity.
  • Offer a healthy alternative to addiction and self-medication habits for those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and physical and mental injuries including trauma.
  • Provide the foundation for a positive outlook for those who have experienced injuries from traumatic events and stress.
  • Reduce anxiety about the unknown and reinforce a framework for a successful transition into a safe community (for youth populations) and civilian life (for military populations).
  • Build, and in some cases re-build, trust.
  • For military populations, break down perceived barriers between military members and civilians to demonstrate to veterans that there are communities that care deeply about their health and welfare. We also seek to reinforce that they and their service to our country have not been “forgotten” or “overlooked”.
  • Teach basic ocean conditions evaluation and ocean safety.

Ocean Therapy Session Feedback Form

Our goal is to provide the best experience for all Ocean Therapy session participants and your feedback is important to us. Please take a moment to complete the following form and let us know how we are doing so that we can provide the best experience for all. 

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