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Soldiers On Surf Boards

  I caught Rich Emerson, co-founder of Cornwall’s extraordinary Surf Action charity, which teaches wounded war veterans to surf, at the end of a day spent on Gwithian Towans Beach near Hayle. The weather had been too rough for surfing so Rich and 16 ex-military vets spent the day cleaning the beach, drinking coffee at the Sunset Surf Cafe and in his words, ‘chewing the fat.’ Rich says: “You start talking and very quickly you can see who is in a good place and who is not.”

Many of the 30 combat veterans Surf Action works with are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Rich Emerson knows exactly how that feels. Back in 1991 he fought in the Gulf with the Royal Armoured Corps, witnessing at close hand the particular brutality of that war though it wasn’t until many years later that his PTSD kicked in. Night after night he endured flashbacks where he could picture the Iraquis he had killed with machine gun fire or those who had burned alive, a daily sequence of horror which is almost unimaginable to civilians. He moved to Cornwall and learned to surf and although he says surfing could not cure his PTSD, it gave him reprieve from the horror and unexpected joy. Soon afterwards in 2009 Surf Action was born. As well as helping those suffering from PTSD, Rich and co-partner Russ Pierre work with many amputees, teaching guys with prosthetics to conquer this notoriously difficult sport. Incredibly he says: “We get everyone standing no matter what and most importantly having a laugh. With the amputees, suddenly they’re standing up on a surf board and they realise if I can do this, I can do other things and it builds them back up again.’ Surf Action's mantra is simple - 'smiles on faces'. Rich adds: "Surfing doesn’t cure PTSD but it changes your state of mind. If you can get someone to smile then there is hope that you can change other things too.’ The charity's unusually holistic approach also includes the families of war vets, whom, Rich says, often suffer the most. Surf Action invites families to come surfing and next year will hold educational seminars on PTSD. Rich says: 'The real toll of PTSD is on the partners and children who see the anger and the nightmares and flashbacks, day in day out. Surfing helps them bond as a family again.' Almost three years after it began Surf Action now has a new aspiration to build a residential centre for combat veterans where regular surfing can be supported with a range of therapies such as meditation, hypnotherapy and counselling. Vets from both Iraq and Afghanistan are now slowly beginning to filter through to Surf Action. In a time of relentless war it seems more important than ever that groundbreaking and inspirational charities such as this one come to the fore. You can make a paypal donation to Surf Action here - your support will be much appreciated. Watch amazing footage of Surf Action here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=685qaQR7dCI          

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