Urban Surf 4 Kids (US4K) is a unique outreach organization that works to empower orphan and foster youth through healthy outlets, such as surfing and community service based mentoring programs. Using water sports as a catalyst, US4K teaches kids how to first have fun, and then give back to their communities and neighborhoods through local service projects. US4K is working to decrease the number of foster or orphan teens who become part of the negative statistics by creating an “ohana” or family dynamic with them. US4K welcomes our youth into our Ohana as our “Hanai ”, brother and sisters, and we serve over 700 youth annually.
By teaching at-risk youth about the power and healing properties of the ocean, they begin to see themselves as a part of something greater. US4K’s surf and life skills training clinics enable community mentors to work with foster and orphan youth to prepare them to transition out of the system, and give them something positive to focus on in their daily life. US4K works with some youth who have suffered incredible emotional and physical abuse and we believe that the ocean is one on of the ultimate healing tools when dealing with trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Adaptive surfing is categorized as surfing accomplished by someone with a disability. We are learning that disabilities can take on all shapes and forms and are not limited to just physical limitations. More and more organizations and foundations are using water therapy to treat PTSD and emotional trauma, primarily in veterans returning from conflict. Our youth must overcome their fears and learn how to focus 100% of their thoughts and actions, without distraction, into a singular function in order to be successful in the water. Surfing is one of the few experiences that the youth have available to help them do this. Surfing and water therapy can begin and advance healing in our youth in many ways, but I will focus on just two main points.
First, being in the ocean and surfing can alleviate emotions that our youth can’t seem to get a break from in their ordinary lives. Surfing requires an intense amount of focus when in the water. Surfing may be the only outlet where these youth can commit their full attention and focus to something that lets them be in the moment and free from the pain and emotional suffering they sometimes experience. This teaches them, indirectly, to cope with emotions such as fear and anxiety in a safe and supported environment.
Secondly, it is widely known that exercise is a way to naturally release hormones in our bodies that produce healthy and positive feelings within the body. Surfing requires a tremendous amount of physical exertion, which leaves our youth happily tired and exhausted after a long day in the water. One of the most common side effects from PTSD and emotional trauma is Insomnia. Surf Therapy allows our youth to naturally battle insomnia by safely exerting energy from their bodies, which prepares their body for a restful night of sleep. Our belief in the healing properties of surfing aligns with Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (2015) theory of “flow”, which states, “physical exertion and intense focus (required to surf) often produces flow states, which flood the brain with neurochemicals like anandamide and serotonin,” the same substances found in antidepressants. In addition, it’s believed that when people are submerged in water, their bodies alter the balance of epinephrine and dopamine to the levels achieved during meditation.”
US4K is committed to providing this surf therapy as a natural approach to healing PTSD and emotional trauma in the youth we serve. US4K is committed to serving our youth and providing an Ohana to them that is nurturing and supportive as they transition to adulthood. Adaptive surfing is just one of the many aspects of our organization that is making positive change in the lives of local youth. To learn more and join our ohana, please visit www.urbansurf4kids.org.
Craig Jenkins is the San Diego Chapter President for Urban Surf 4 Kids