How Surf Therapy Saved My Life
Hannah Green is a 23 year old university graduate who found herself homeless for 403 days. Along with many other positive additions to Hannah’s life, she was introduced to Surf Therapy through The Wave Project. Hannah now writes for many publications and is at the forefront of changing how society views homelessness. Check out her website.
Hannah also wrote in our Mental Health Advocate Roundup for their top 3 goals for the year.
In January 2019, the charity providing my temporary accommodation at the time referred me to a new surf therapy program pilot.
I was sceptical; how on earth could surfing be therapeutic? Wouldn’t I drown? At that point, I was willing to try anything to help my ever-worsening PTSD.
The program sounded great, but my anxiety got the better of me the first week, and I didn’t show up. The following week I got myself there, but I was terrified and didn’t think it would help me. I didn’t speak to anyone; I just showed up, put the wetsuit on and listened.
Hannah talks about her initial thoughts about surf therapy in this 2:01 clip.
We went down to the beach, and the instructors gave us a brief overview. I quickly found out that one of the instructors and the other participant also had PTSD. It made me feel slightly better, but I still wasn’t sure.
As soon as I got in the sea, that was it, and once I’d caught that first wave, I was hooked. The feeling of riding the wave was something else. Even before I tried to stand up on the board, the sense of freedom was unreal.
I didn’t attempt to stand up until the second session, and before I knew it, I was surfing twice a week. Before I knew it, that turned into nearly every day over the summer. Even on days when the sea was flat, I would paddle out to get that sense of calm that the sea provided me with.
Whenever I was in the water, I knew that all my problems would disappear; flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and fear. For those few hours, I could be a different, worry-free person.
The hours I spent in the water was my form of mindfulness. When you’re surfing, you cannot afford to think about anything else. If you lose focus for even a few minutes, you can end up swept out in a rip, colliding with another surfer or on top of a reef.
Even when you have a “bad surf,” it’s still a complete distraction. It gave me a focus, something to aim towards.
When you’re up against something as powerful as the sea, it’s a huge challenge. But when getting absolutely pummeled by the waves, it makes you feel like you’ve achieved something.
In July 2019, I started volunteering with The Wave Project. A charity that helps children with emotional and behavioural problems through surf therapy. It meant I could get in the water on the weekend and pass on my skills to children who needed that escape.
It was great that I could use some of my experiences to help others. I could tell when they first turned up how anxious they were, and I knew from starting surfing myself how scary that was.
At The Wave Project, I met loads of like-minded, positive people who are always building each other up. One Saturday morning, I turned up after having hardly any sleep due to noisy neighbours and was in the worst possible mood. Instantly they knew. I was inundated with hugs, offers of brews and practical support.
The Wave Project is a big family; no one gets left behind. Even on your worst days, they can make you feel like you have achieved something.
I always made a point of telling the children who seemed anxious that I had been through a similar surf therapy program. I had hopes of easing their nerves. It was great to have some of them open up to me and trust me with some of their worries and fears.
At the beginning of November, I did my surf instructor course, which was a fantastic experience. I passed everything apart from the timed swim. Before lockdown, that’s what I was aiming towards, so I could spend the summer teaching kids how to surf and passing on my enthusiasm.
When I speak to the instructors who led those original therapy sessions, we have a laugh. Remembering how I wouldn’t even make eye contact with them for the first few weeks, let alone speak to them.
It’s incredible to look back and see how far I have come and the things I am now able to do, mainly because of surfing.