Surfing instead of medication – that’s what Surfivor strives for. A few years ago, founder Ben found out that surfing helps him incredibly well with PTSD. He wanted to help more fellow sufferers after he started to feel better. Surfivor was initiated and this foundation is now growing into a success. Ben tells us his story.
Why did you start Surfivor?
For eleven years I worked in The Hague as a police officer. In recent years, however, I noticed that I ran into some issues. I reacted differently on the street and was not comfortable in my own skin. I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). People then automatically think that with PTSD you only think about heavy things regaring work, but the reality is different. You are easily overstimulated, you have poor concentration and you can react unpredictably and very emotionally. You can’t see anything on the outside, but my reactions say enough. I can’t handle pressure from outside. This makes it difficult for me to find suitable work, so I have been declared unfit for work. In 2017, I pointed out to the police that all sessions with the psychologists and therapists were fine, but that this did not solve my problem. Talking was good, but my issues were still there. Unfortunately, the police also did not know how to proceed. In the meantime, we had moved to the north of The Netherlands, in order to hopefully find more peace. One day, a friend asked me if I would like to come and surf on Texel again, just like we used to do growing up. I had heard of surf therapy in America and after a year I decided that this could be a solution not only for me, but also for many others. I came across an occupational therapist who was specialized in PTSD. When he heard what I wanted to start, he was immediately excited to contribute to this. And that’s how Surfivor was born.
How does surfing work as therapy?
Surf therapy combines the therapeutic elements of the ocean with the adventure and challenge of surfing. Within Surfivor’s programs we combine this with professional guidance from instructors and therapists. The goal of Surfivor is aimed at releasing stress and fear, dealing with stimuli and fatigue, implementing your own values in daily life and strengthening social interaction in society. The reactions are almost always positive. By being outside, in the water doing an activity, you automatically get more into your body and you are less concerned with the thousands of thoughts you have. Ultimately you have to do it yourself, we offer tools but you have to work with it yourself. We provide a safety net when things go wrong. The PTSD won’t go away, but surfing and talking on the beach will help you get through the days more easily. By making it able to talk about your problems, you go back to your core.
How are things going so far?
There appears to be a great need for our program. Most people who know where to find us come from the police, defense or healthcare. We started in 2019 with 4 people per group. There are now, two years later, 30 people. People only know where to find us through our website ( www.surfivor.nl ) or through social media. Employers, including the police, are very enthusiastic about our foundation, but unfortunately no action has been taken to communicate it further. We are working on that, because we believe that a collaboration can help a group that is apparently much larger than we thought.
How can someone reading this help Surfivor?
We are often offered help from outside, which is great of course. However, it is important for us to work with our own professional team, this way we can continue to help people best. What remains necessary is financial help so that we can keep the foundation running. Communication is also important – if we can collaborate with multiple employers and agencies, our foundation can help many more people with PTSD.
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