It’s been said ad nauseam that surfing, often as a byproduct of being performed in the ocean, has magic-like healing powers. There’s even science to back the idea, which the surf community loves to profess, be it justification for our otherwise absurd obsession with flying on top of walls of moving water or inspiration behind the efforts of powerful and inspirational groups like the Mauli Ola Foundation or A Walk on Water.
Whatever it is, we love the idea that spending some time in the ocean has a meaningful, positive impact on our lives, especially if it can reverse or combat the most dire of circumstances. Depression. PTSD. Physical illnesses. Author Steven Kotler documented his own battle with Lyme disease and how surfing kickstarted a legitimate return to health in the early parts of his book West of Jesus. Similar to Kotler’s story, San Diego’s Jake Heilbrunn found himself with the same illness and his life flipped upside down. And as is the case with many who have Lyme, it was a long path to even being diagnosed.
“How can I get better if nobody even knows what’s wrong?” Heilbrunn asked when he noticed something was wrong.
Then he got simple advice from a friend that honestly seems silly: “Why don’t you get in the water?”
“I was tired after, but I had that kind of high you get similar to a runner’s high,” Jake says about his first session back in the water. “And it stuck with me the rest of the day.”
So with a five-wave limit on his sessions so as not to fatigue himself anymore, Heilbrunn turned to surfing as a reprieve from the constant flu-like symptoms, the fatigue, and all the pain he was experiencing. It was no magic cure though. In fact, surfing magnified his symptoms and would take the next three days for him to recover from each session.
“A, it taught me boundaries,” he says.” But B, and I think more importantly, it taught me to be present and enjoy the experience of surfing — not be so caught up in catching every wave,” he says.
Five months after noticing something was wrong, Heilbrunn was finally diagnosed with Lyme and more importantly, received a plan of attack for treatment. His story isn’t about the ocean giving him a magic saltwater cure, but it is about the emotions, the lessons, and his personal growth by simply surfing through an uncertain time.
“I can’t control the timeline of my healing. A lot of things are uncertain right now,” he admits. “But what I do know is that as much as I can, I’ll be in the ocean.”
Watch Jake’s Tedx presentation, ‘How to Replace Anxiety with Purpose’