Surf therapy helps U.S. veterans recover from war

Thu May 19, 2011 12:12pm EDT
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By Lucy Nicholson

LOS ANGELES (Reuters Life!) - Matthew Doyle grew up by the beach in Santa Monica, California, and with his slim physique and tattooed forearms, looks like he has been surfing his entire life.

But it took three tours of duty half a world away, many sleepless nights, and meeting a woman named Carly before the 26-year-old U.S. Army veteran braved the waves on a surfboard.

"I fell in love with it as soon as I got in the water," Doyle said. "After I came back from Iraq, I lost interest in the things I used to do, and I lost a lot of friends from being gone so long. And I never really had a reason to go outside. But now every day I just want to surf."

Doyle was introduced to surfing by occupational therapist Carly Rogers, who conducts surf therapy classes for veterans at Manhattan Beach, just south of Los Angeles.

The motion of the ocean, riding down the face of the wave, the constant paddling out through the whitewater, as well as the occasional wipeouts, are helping former soldiers, sailors and Marines return to normal.

Rogers estimates that she has worked with at least 400 war vets since she started the program with the Jimmy Miller Foundation, which aims to heal mental and physical illness through surfing, four years ago.

"I had this dream of healing people with the ocean," she explained.

Surfing helped Rogers deal with the death of her mother in 1994, when she was 18 and working as a lifeguard. As a graduate student, she had designed a surf therapy program for children.   Continued...

<p>Army veteran Edward Menchavez zips up his wetsuit at a surf therapy program for military veterans in Manhattan Beach, California May 7, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson</p>