Surfers are the last people who need to be reminded of the benefits of riding a wave. What is becoming increasingly clear is the therapeutic effect the ocean can have on the human body. Many apply this to what we now know as ocean therapy, which is the term for using surfing as a skills-based and experiential treatment. For example, researchers exploring the benefits of ocean therapy for military personnel seeking mental health support found ocean therapy can reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
As a surfer and researcher, this got me thinking about the science behind surf therapy. How can surfing inform science and science inform surfing to benefit those in need of extra mental health support? One person in the UK has been thinking this through and putting it into action. Josh Dickson, psychologist and founder of Resurface, is applying the science of flow to develop surf retreats for those with mental health issues, as well as people in the pursuit of creativity and a positive mind and body.
You may not have heard of flow before, but if you surf, skate, write, play an instrument – anything involving action and passion – you will have felt it. I’m getting the buzz just writing this. Time’s flying by, my heart is beating in my ears, and my fingers can’t keep up with the words. Flow is just you in the moment; you’re in the zone and floating in space. It is described as an optimal state of consciousness where you feel your best and perform your best. It’s a state of total absorption, where everything else disappears.
I caught up with Josh to find out more about flow and what inspired him to pursue this work.
What are the benefits of flow through surfing?
What’s great about flow is how much more complete and integrated you feel when coming out of flow states. I’m really interested in integrating flow into trauma treatment, as it is essentially the ultimate mindfulness activity. During flow, you cannot think about anything else, including traumatic thoughts and anxieties. This gives people a real opportunity to be free from their symptoms and inspires creative solutions moving forward. I am also developing retreats channeling the benefits of flow through surfing to enhance positivity and creativity, which will be open to everyone.
What inspired you to start Resurface?
I’ve always known the incredible healing opportunities of surfing and flow both from my own experience and in other people. This February, I was surfing in Sri Lanka, chatting with the guys running the surf camp, and basking in the glow after a hard day of surf. I was inspired to start a pop-up event and it all went from there. I wanted to integrate this into a treatment program that I myself would want to go, and that also involved evidence-based intervention. My friend Chris came up with the name and the first retreat took place in September 2017.
And what exactly do people get out of these kinds of retreats?
Deep work coupled with sincere laughing, learning, and of course, surfing. I hope that clients will have an integrated mix of fun, connection with others, education and therapy that leaves them energized and ready to tackle the challenges that brought them out in the first place. The retreats combine surfing, mindfulness, experiential group therapy, positive psychology, TRE (trauma release exercises) and psycho-education. Retreats are limited to ten people so that we can maintain an intimate environment for people to share and get to know each other. Connection is one of the great healers in the recovery from PTSD.
Where are you planning to take the next retreat?
The next retreat is in Morocco at the end of February 2018. The focus of the first retreats is trauma and recovery. Later in 2018, I’ll be running retreats on positive psychology and creativity. I’ve had some really positive interests in both of these, and I can’t wait to start sharing some of the things I’ve learned in those areas too!
Note: You can learn about Resurface’s next retreat to Morocco here.