Qualitative analysis of surf therapy programs for the military

Personality Characteristics Laboratory > Qualitative analysis of surf therapy programs for the military

One of the techniques of imagination is “my dream beach”, where we perceive heat, sounds, smells and various images. Why this place? Cognitive scientists are accumulating evidence that proximity to water has measurable benefits for our mind, promoting calmness, focus, creativity, sleep quality and overall satisfaction (Slobig, 2014). The sound the waves make could also be the reason why the beach has such a calming effect on us. Ocean waves are regular and pleasant to listen to (Beris, 2016).

Adaptive sports began to be used for people with disabilities as a rehabilitation method for injured war veterans in the mid-twentieth century. Handicaps affect an individual’s life not only by limiting normal daily activities, but also through having a significant impact on the individual’s being in terms of social inclusion (Lopes, 2015).

Physical activity facilitates psychological improvement through the release of hormones, improved physiological functions and group-level social processes (Caddick & Smith, 2017). Sport in general can promote physical well-being, combat discrimination, build trust and a sense of security, and at the same time play an important role in the healing and rehabilitation process of individuals affected by a crisis (Lopes, 2015).

Physical activity in a natural environment can provide even greater benefits (reduce anger and depression) than physical activity alone (Thompson Coon, Boddy, Stein, Whear, Barton, & Depledge, 2011). The benefits of water sports may be more pronounced for disabled individuals compared to their healthy peers (Koury, 1996). The buoyancy provided by water can enable people with reduced mobility to function independently without the aid of mobility devices. The ability to move in water without assistance can increase self-esteem and self-awareness (Clapham, Armitano, Lamont, & Audette, 2014). Success in surfing requires repetition, determination and persistence (Clapham et al., 2014). The intervention using surfing (physical activity) as a means to achieve positive change (including better mental health) is called surf therapy (Marshall, Kelly, & Niven, 2019).

The International Surf Therapy Organization (2018) summarizes the benefits of using surf therapy when properly indicated. They include:

· improved physical health and physical mobility,

· improved mental health, including reducing specific symptoms,

· improved well-being, including:

o strengthening confidence and self-esteem,

o independence support,

o resilience and protective coping strategies,

· improved social skills,

· reducing the cost and burden of future preventable disease,

· greater quality of life.

There are projects, for example, aimed at children and youth with developmental disorders or physical disabilities (e.g. Ability Surf, Waves for Change). Research studies previously carried out (Carless, Peacock, McKenna, & Cooke, 2013; Delaney & Madigan, 2015; Cavanaugh, Rademacher, Rademacher, & Simmons, 2013; Cavanaugh & Rademacher, 2014) identified surf therapy as a way to increase self-confidence, self-esteem, social skills, motivation for physical activity, self-control, cooperation, responsibility and social inclusion. There are also projects (e.g. Warrior Surf Foundation, Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation) that focus on war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression or addiction issues.

Programs, which include aquatic activities in natural settings, have demonstrated the benefits for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan (Lundberg, Bennett, & Smith, 2011). Other quantitative studies have also supported the benefits of surfing therapy for military veterans.

· A pilot study by Rogers, Mallinson, & Peppers (2014) provided preliminary evidence suggesting that surfing benefits mental health symptoms. After a five-week surfing program for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and had PTSD, MDD, or both, participants reported significantly lower PTSD and depressive symptoms.

· In a study evaluating a surfing program for war veterans with PTSD, Crawford (2016) found that PTSD and depressive symptoms score decreased significantly from post-program. Statistically significant reductions in PTSD and depression were still evident 30 days after completing the program.

Surf therapy can thus play an important role in life of a person with a mental or physical disability.

Objectives of the research project

Through a research study, we would like to expand the general awareness of the professional public about this type of therapeutic intervention and the possibilities of its use. The main research goal is the analysis of surf therapy programs with a focus on military population. For a comprehensive understanding we have sub-goals of the work, namely:

1. map organizations providing surf therapy for the military;

2. identify the main structures of surf therapy programs;

3. describe the clientele and their specific needs;

4. analyze the field of surf therapy staffing;

5. analyze the area of surf therapy funding.


Institutions, employees and clients will be selected for the research group by purposive selection in cooperation with the International Surf Therapy Organization (https://intlsurftherapy.org). This research study will include organizations providing surf therapy to military units, of which there are currently only a few.

Research methodology

Data for the research will be obtained through content analysis, which will focus on documents and information related to surf therapy organizations and programs. This analysis will be further supplemented with findings obtained through semi-structured interviews with individual employees of selected organizations.

For qualitative insight into the experience of surf therapy clients, we will prepare an online survey.

Technical execution of the research

Data collection will take place online. This will be, first, in the form of a semi-structured interview with representatives of individual organizations, which will last 45-60 minutes and will be divided into thematic areas according to the sub-goals of the research. After the end of this part of data collection, we would like to address surf therapy clients through an online questionnaire, which will take 15 minutes to fill in. The data will then be prepared for qualitative analysis.

Study ethics

All important ethical rules, which are enshrined in the Meta-code of Ethics of the European Federation of Psychological Associations (EFPA, 2005) and in the Ethics Code of the American Psychological Association (American Psychological Association, 2017) and are associated with research will be observed.

Informed consent to participate in the research and recording will be obtained verbally. Participation in the research will be voluntary, anonymous and without entitlement to remuneration.

Respondents will be informed about the results of the study, which will be provided to them through project outputs (rigorous work, article, presentation at conferences, etc.)

Expected benefit of the study

We would like to use the obtained knowledge for the preparation of a surf therapy program in the Czech Republic, a country without an ocean, and thus transfer the idea of surf therapy to other inland areas. Another benefit of the research project is the expansion of services for the military population.

Project outputs

Project outputs will be created in the form of a disseration, an article, a presentation at conferences, etc.

The research project is implemented by the Department of Psychology of Palacký University in Olomouc (https://psych.upol.cz/en/) in collaboration with PhDr. Martin Dolejš, PhD. If you have any further questions, please contact the main implementer of the study, Mgr. Tereza Podávková (tereza.podavkova@gmail.com).