We Tried It: Surf Therapy
Blue Mind Surf Therapy offers workshops that combine the therapeutic power of surfing with mindfulness and self-awareness.
As I approach the Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana‘ole statue at Waikīkī Beach, I’m far more anxious than I expected. In fact, I’m considering bailing. But I’ve committed. It’s my first day of Blue Mind Surf Therapy, and I’ve never surfed.
Amelia Rachel Hokule‘a Borofsky, PsyD, who grew up on Oahu and has surfed for 20 years, introduced me to surf therapy and is running this four-session workshop. Borofsky says she trained in surf therapy because surfing is therapeutic for her. The primary benefit of surf therapy is confronting what scares you or you thought you couldn’t do. “The more afraid you are of trying surfing, the greater the gains,” she says. “That’s where the real healing happens.”
Before our first session, each of the seven women participants identifies a surf goal and a therapy goal.
My therapy goal is to be more present. I often look ahead to what’s next, whether it’s my to-do list or something months away. Or I become entrenched in the past. Time is moving frighteningly fast right now—I feel like my boys were just newborns. They’re almost 16 and 18 now! I don’t want to miss any more of their lives looking ahead or scrutinizing the past.
My surfing goal is to push myself to try things that seem daunting or scary. Based on my rising anxiety level, I made the right choice.
The women in my group include two experienced surfers. The rest of us have little or no experience.
Our first session’s focus is mindfulness. We all introduce ourselves and our goals—one woman is grieving a divorce, another has a newborn and wants to reclaim her time and body.
Before we get in the water, we stand up and recite our “Grounding Guidelines,” ending with, “I choose to be stoked!” (with a shaka) and “I am a surf sister.” This seems a little hokie, but I guess I’m in.
We then leave the safety of the beach blanket and meet up with our instructor, Virgil Sisiam. On land, he shows us how to paddle and stand up. Once in the water, he takes us one at a time and waits for the right wave. The first time, I fall right away. But now that I know what to expect, the tension in my shoulders eases.
My second turn comes up. Sisiam releases his grip on my surfboard and yells, “Paddle, paddle, paddle,” then, “Up, up!” And I do it. I’m up and stay up.
At the end of an hour in the water, my shoulders are sore, my ribs ache, but I feel a profound sense of accomplishment. I was more present in the water. I focused on balancing and nothing else. For me, that’s therapeutic.
I am still apprehensive but also looking forward to it. This session’s focus is “learning to ride waves of emotion.” “Fighting the feelings or waves of emotion is what causes us to wipe out,” Borofsky says.
We cut paper surfboard shapes and write on each something that helps regulate our emotions. Mine are hiking, reading, being with my animals and doing yoga.
After an exhausting but rewarding day in the water, we meet on the beach and share the “surfboards” that helped us regulate our emotions in the water, like being able to touch the sand and or the presence of our instructor.
The focus of this session is self-confidence and self-awareness. We role-play how to respond if someone cuts us off in the water. “If we’re assertive and owning our power—‘Hey, no, this is my wave, I got this’—there isn’t that passive-aggressive response,” Borofksy says.
Today is one of those crowded Waikīkī days. The water is full of people surfing, floating and swimming everywhere. It reminds me of a mainland community swimming pool during a heat wave. We need tremendous patience to navigate human obstacles. Someone runs into me. I narrowly miss hitting others.
It’s a frustrating day, but I practice the emotional regulation we learned the previous week.
It’s the last day. The women in the group have been very open with each other through these four weeks, and our bond has grown.
Today, we focus on how to sustain the practices we’ve learned. “What is one tiny change we can make that makes us feel more whole and authentically ourselves?” Borosfsky asks. I plan to get in the water more, continue surfing and sustain a relationship with these women.
It’s a hot day, so I’m looking forward to getting in the water. I’m still a little nervous about getting on the board, but that feeling wanes each time I take my turn. A baby turtle pokes its head up within two feet of me, making my day, before disappearing back under the water.
Back on the blanket, we form a circle and say one thing we love about the person immediately to our left. Lastly, we exchange phone numbers and discuss plans to meet again. And I hope we do!
Following surf therapy, will I be able to more present in my day-to-day life? I don’t know. But I did something I was afraid of that I thought I could never do.
How to Sign Up
The workshop consists of four 3-hour sessions, each once a week. It costs $400 with insurance (HMSA, HMSA-Quest or Tricare), which works out to $100 per session and $33 an hour. Without insurance, the workshop is $800 ($200 per session, $66 per hour).
Only women are accepted as participants because Amelia focuses mostly on moms and women, encouraging them to take care of themselves.
The next workshop is in January on four Sundays. If you’re interested in signing up, contact Amelia on Instagram @bluemindsurftherapy.