Addiction and mental health struggles can severely harm an individual’s well-being — but support is available, and healing is possible.
Surf therapy is an outlet for a growing community where people can receive help and connect to their environment on a deeper level. Besides chatting with a therapist or sponsor, this healing practice offers the opportunity for people to reclaim control over their lives — and even feel stoked about recovery during the process.
Olivia Rose joins Waves of Recovery, a nonprofit organization that provides access to surf therapy, at an organized event from Manhattan Beach. The guidance Waves of Recovery offers introduces people to a new source of freedom: helping others experience a “flow state” while also demonstrating the value of a supportive environment, in and out of the water.
OLIVIA: Recovery comes in waves. But no one has to do it alone. Waves of Recovery understands this. Founded by Sophie Pyne and Ryan Carpenter earlier this year, the new nonprofit organization offers surf therapy programs and outreach through community events to help people in recovery from substance abuse and mental health related issues.
On Manhattan beach, just off of Rosecrans Avenue, people gather around a red canopy, chatting, waxing surfboards, and munching on plantain chips. They’re here this morning for a community beach clean-up and surfing event hosted by Waves of Recovery.
RYAN: Thank you all of you guys for showing up…
OLIVIA: Before sending them off to clean the beach, the founders of Waves of Recovery prompted participants with two questions:
RYAN: What does the ocean mean to you, and what are you hoping to get out of being here today?
OLIVIA: Attendees partnered up to collect trash for 30 minutes with bags and special grabber-claws, while also getting to know someone new.
During this time, the founders of Waves of Recovery explained surf therapy and shared about the significance of their mission.
SOPHIE: My name is Sophie Pyne. I am one of the co-founders of Waves of Recovery.
OLIVIA: Pyne is a therapist and coach with a masters in clinical social work. She says surf therapy is not about learning how to become a pro surfer, but rather…
SOPHIE: It provides us an opportunity to teach people how to be more mindful, to teach people how to be present, to teach people to surrender, um, to not only like the oceans waves, but to life’s waves and how do we manage our emotions through that process.
OLIVIA: Waves of Recovery often works with people who are in treatment for mental health or addiction issues. Before monthly workshops and surf lessons, they typically do yoga or a sound bath or a beach clean-up, like this one.
SOPHE: So, our mission is kind of twofold. One is the actual programming aspect of surf therapy, and the second one is more community building and then taking care of our environment.
OLIVIA: Recovery expert Ryan Carpenter is the head surf coach and co-founder of Waves of Recovery. He has personal experience with the transformational power surfing can bring to a person in recovery.
RYAN: I think when we first get sober, whether it’s mental health, sobriety, addiction, whatever, um, it’s scary to change, you know? … Just a lot of fear, right? And I found surfing is a good way to like, bring people back to earth.
OLIVIA: He says surfing shows how to put principles into action while also offering an outlet to have fun in recovery. Surfing provides a common language for talking about recovery and health and wellness, and he says it lets him show up as himself, and it encourages others to do the same.
RYAN: Like I can sit here and preach principles to guys and tell them to read the book and tell them to meditate and tell them to do all of this shit, but I’ve found surfing is a good way to show dudes how to have fun, how to be of service and give waves away — how to have fun in recovery.
And through this experience they can learn that they can do new things — can do things they didn’t think they can do, you know, as is often the case, right: We sell ourselves really short. So if I can take them out there and put them on a big wave and have ’em ride it to the beach successfully, you know, I feel like there’s a lot of, um, a lot of power in that, you know?
OLIVIA: Waves of Recovery is intentional about meeting people where they’re at — and part of that means teaching beginners how to catch a wave. When everyone returned from cleaning the beach, the group had doubled in size. At last, it was time to surf.
CHRIS: Alright! If you want to learn how to surf, and you picked up some trash today —or you’re just here vibin’ — come down to the center here…
…We’re gonna be doing a surf workshop, and, uh, basically anybody who wants to get a wave is getting a wave today.
OLIVIA: Carpenter joined Chris Kirby to show a handful of attendees how to get up on the board — first practicing on the sand, and then in the sea.
Kirby is the Vice President of admissions at Thrive Treatment, a local substance abuse and mental health treatment center. He has seen, both in his own life and the lives of his patients, how surfing is a transformational tool in recovery and sobriety.
CHRIS: So, essentially what I see it doing is teaching the guys that if they have stewardship and they clean up their external environment, what starts to happen is it teaches them how to clean up their internal environment. And that’s really important when it comes to staying sober from drugs and alcohol for a long period of time is making sure that their head is now cleaner.
From all the research we see is it takes about seven months for new neural pathways to develop. And as these guys do this, they start to become members of the earth and of this community, and they start to build these new neural pathways that, you know, create habits and a lifestyle so that they can truly attain recovery for long periods of time.
SOPHIE: …If we’re able to change one person’s trajectory in life, like, I know my job is done.
OLIVIA: Learn more about Waves of Recovery and check out their future events by visiting their website. I’m Olivia Rose with The Lion. Thank you for listening.
If you or someone you know is struggling, check out the LMU resources for wellness. Additional information and resources can be found through SAMHSA’s National Helpline.