HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — While the weather might not be ideal for surfing right now, a new nonprofit is hoping to use surf therapy to help veterans and first responders.
Third Rising Coast plans to combine traditional “talk” therapy with therapeutic activities in the water.
The nonprofit was founded by Shelley Ritter, whose grandfather was a veteran. It was through shared experiences that she was able to start the organization.
“Looking back at it now I can see some of the symptoms he had during Vietnam with PTSD and depression. I couldn’t really connect that until I went to therapy for PTSD symptoms and I realized a similar thing was happening,” Ritter said. “A lot of people find therapy through yoga or art, and surf therapy really popped out to me. Whenever I went out on the water, I noticed those symptoms that I was experiencing started to decrease.”
Ritter and Surf Coordinator Nico Cernigilia say they want to help connect veterans with the lake.
Cernigilia’s grandfather served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
There are many service men and women who are still suffering from the trauma they experienced during the war, and the nonprofit wants to show them the physical, mental and emotional benefits the lake has to offer.
“The hard part is getting passed using it like a prescription of going into the water and feeling better but moving into it spreading not on the water but into your whole life,” Ritter said.
This surf therapy program will last eight weeks and will launch in May.
Yoga and other calming activities will begin each session, followed by group therapy with a trained counselor, followed by a majority of time spent surfing or paddle boarding on the beach.
“We believe it’s really worth a shot of trying to provide this program. It has been spreading … this surf therapy movement. People have found such great relief and healing and we are just excited to have it in West Michigan,” Ritter said.
The nonprofit is still needing some help to put this program on. They’ve almost reached their $20,000 goal to make this a year-round program.
In the winter, they hope to have more seasonal activities like hikes or cross country skiing.
The nonprofit is looking for any donations, surf instructors, lifeguards and veterans or first responders willing to give this kind of therapy a try.
“I want participants to know that learning to surf doesn’t usually happen overnight but the process is so fun and rewarding. We aim to create a community that gives back to those that have served us,” Cernigilia said.