If the cheers, celebrations and high fives are anything to go by the Veterans Surfing Program launched at Gerroa on Wednesday is already a success.
CAPTIONS: Participants in the first Veterans Surfing Program, which was launched at Gerroa, NSW, on 10 February 2021. Story and photo courtesy Robert Crawford, South Coast Register.
Ten participants took to the surf at Seven Mile Beach in the initial pilot program.
For the next 10 weeks they will hit the surf each Wednesday for a two to three hour surfing session, all aimed at combating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Being conducted thanks to a Department of Veterans Affairs $280,686 grant, the program is the brainchild of former big wave professional surfer and Gerringong Surf School owner, Rusty Moran.
The program will also provide data for a clinical study by the Western Sydney University, analysing the scientific benefits from surfing on those suffering from PTSD and depression.
Some of the participants have surfed before, for others it was their first time hitting the waves.
But midway through the first session all had caught waves of some description – a couple of participants had even managed to stand up and traverse a wave.
Chairman of the Keith Payne VC Veterans Benefit Group Rick Meehan is one of the participants and caught his first ever wave.
“That was fantastic,” he said with a smile a mile wide.
“It’s only taken me 60 years to do it.
“It was quite an exhilarating experience to be part of that. I’m a bit puffed, it was a lot of hard work but it was fantastic to be up on a board
“It’s great to be part of the initial pilot program to help veterans with PTSD.
“I hope my experience can inspire others to get on the board as well, join the program and help themselves and their families and to be part of initiatives to stem the flow of PTSD experience by veterans.”
Fellow participant Rebecca Machelski, from the Sutherland Shire, heard about the program through Australian Veterans Surfers.
Rebecca was medically discharged from the army six years ago, after eight years service.
“I enlisted as a medic but a basic training accident meant I had to transfer and after nine months of rehab I became a clerk,” she said.
“I heard about AVS when I was undertaking an inpatients stay at Byron Private to manage my depression.
“I did a six week inpatient stay there and that’s where I first picked up a surfboard as one of the activities.
“I need some more practice and training and I really want to get some skills so I can join some of the other veterans who live closer to me and go for a surf.
“I also want to try to connect with other vets. I’ve found since I’ve been out of the army I feel quite disconnected to defence and as I personally did not deploy I find it hard to identify as a verteran.
“Also being a woman that can be hard to fit in.”
She said she really misses “the camaraderie, the moral and some of the larrikins you meet.”
“It’s been tough – I loved my job and didn’t discharge by choice – I was medically and physiologically discharged. I haven’t found anything I’ve loved ever since,” she said.
“I’ve tried to dabble with a couple of things but haven’t properly connected to full time work since I discharged.”
She said surfing is a great escape.
“On the water is one of the very few times for me when my mind’s actually still – it’s about getting out beyond that break and just sitting on my board – that is my favourite part,” she said.
“Catching a wave is hard, you have to navigate all that etiquette, I’m scared of dropping in on someone or getting collected or cleaned up, but it’s fun.
“I’m very much still at the whitewash stage with the kids – I’d like to catch some green waves, barrels – who know after this we might.”