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?”
WOUNDED WARRIORS PROGRAM
The Jimmy Miller Foundation currently serves Marines of the Wounded Warrior Battalions at Camp Pendleton with unique, year-round Ocean Therapy sessions. Held on base at Camp Pendleton, the Ocean Therapy sessions provide the Marines with an opportunity to learn to surf in a supportive environment, while focusing on the therapeutic benefits of the ocean, the sport of surfing and the supportive community surrounding the surf culture.
Other aims of the program through occupational therapist led discussion sessions are increased perceived self-efficacy, patient advocacy and the process of recovery. Through the Ocean Therapy program, the Marines are first taught the basics of surfing on-land and then learn to surf with a personalized surf instructor in the water. The sport is adapted to meet any and all limiting physical and/or emotional challenges, so that every participant is successful. The supportive environment coupled with the resilience and physical aptitude of the Marines, lends itself to some of the most miraculous novice surfing skills ever witnessed.
Some of the common responses from the Marines include, “This is the best day I’ve had since my injury”, “This [surfing] is curing my PTSD”, and “Surfing saved my life”. Sessions occur twice per month on base at Camp Pendleton. We encourage carpooling from the South Bay and local participation from Orange County and San Diego based volunteers. Please see the Ocean Therapy section for further details and Ocean Therapy dates.
The Jimmy Miller Foundation provides a unique Ocean Therapy experience for children labeled At-Risk in the Los Angeles area. The Ocean Therapy sessions provide individualized surfing instruction, while building self-efficacy and self-confidence in the participants through group-based discussion sessions led by a certified occupational therapist.
Children’s Ocean Therapy Program
Children are supported in a 1:1 environment where they have their own personal surf instructor, as well as other volunteers and friends to assist them while on the beach. The unique volunteer community created through the JMMF supports the therapeutic experience for each participant. The children who attend Ocean Therapy sessions have had a variety of challenges in their lives, some of which include physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse.
The participating organizations include the Richstone Family Center of Hawthorne, Hollygrove Uplift Family Services, Hillsides of Pasadena, Children’s Institute, Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services, Happy Trails Children’s Foundation, Walk With Sally, Di Di Hirsch, and Just Keep Living. Each of these organizations are dedicated to creating enriched, successful and supported lives for the children they serve, and have endorsed the JMMF Ocean Therapy sessions as one of their most successful programs.
Sessions are held on the beach at Rosecrans Ave in Manhattan Beach. Please see the Ocean Therapy section for further details and Ocean Therapy dates.
Richstone Family Center
Uplift Family Services – Hollygrove
Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services
Walk With Sally
Just Keep Livin Foundation
Hathaway-Sycamores Child and Family Services
Happy Trails Children’s Foundation
In 2008, the Ocean Therapy program was adapted to serve inpatient veterans of all conflicts at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System (GLAVA) and was later expanded to serve outpatient Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans. Dr. Carly Rogers returned to USC to complete her clinical doctorate in occupational therapy with a residency at GLAVA, where she conducted a research study on the feasibility of Ocean Therapy for OEF and OIF veterans, which is published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (REF). Today, through the JMMF, there are over 50 sessions of Ocean Therapy being conducted annually, servicing over 1000 children, wounded warriors, and veterans. These groups include veterans from all wars and from all branches of the service. The veterans ages range from 18 to 70 and each vet brings their personal stories to share with JMMF as they learn to surf and reconnect with the joy of being in the ocean. As with all other Ocean Therapy sessions, we have a 1:1 participant/instructor ratio on the surfboard and water volunteers to help receive the new surfer as they ride their first waves. We provide the vets the opportunity to learn to surf in a supportive environment, while focusing on the therapeutic benefits of the ocean, the sport of surfing and the supportive surf community. We have offered 5-6 veterans sessions in the past and hope to increase this number to 8 sessions in 2019. JMMF has also instituted one of the first ever “all women veteran surf groups” in the country and the success of that program has increased in each of the past three years it was offered. We look forward to adding an extra “women’s session” in 2019-2020.
Nicholas Perdomo, a Veteran (who worked with the first-ever Ph.D. in Surf Therapy Candidate, Jamie Marshall, who began his Ph.D. work with JMMF in 2018) has surfed with JMMF for the past 3-years said, “Ocean therapy has given me a sense of community, to be a part of something greater. Life was small and I had trouble connecting with anyone, now I have an avenue to be with others walking the same path. I am grateful that I have found this new way of life…”
Testimonial – I’ve never felt comfortable in the water until I was introduced to JMMF. The instructor put me at ease and I instantly trusted him. I can’t wait to come back.