Content warning: this article contains discussion about trauma and suicide.
While one in three army combat troops are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, less than forty percent seek help.
That’s one reason why a surfer and a veteran who met through Gerringong Uniting Church are launching a new ministry that helps veterans learn how to surf.
The ministry is part of a growing movement of surfers partnering with veterans to promote the activity.
For veterans suffering from physical and mental trauma, surfing is a sport that helps by giving them a chance to unwind and focus on the water and physical activity.
Along with their families, former professional big wave surfer Rusty Morann and veteran Glenn Kolomeitz are both members of Gerringong Uniting Church.
As Mr Kolomeitz recently told Sky News, the idea for the ministry came up at church. He confided in Mr Moran that he was feeling stressed because the anniversary of one of his friends’ deaths by suicide was approaching.
“I was a bit stressed [about the anniversary],” Mr Kolomeitz said.
“I spoke about it Rusty, and Rusty said, “I’ve got the answer for you, brother. ””
“I was sold immediately,”
Mr Moran, who owns Gerringong Surf school had heard about similar programs in the United States.
“Surfing puts us into a flow state where we’re waiting for a wave,” Mr Moran said.
“Then when we get on the wave, we’ve got about five or ten seconds where we’re fully focused and in the present moment, of just thinking about nothing else but just being on that wave.”
“I think soldiers are trained the same way. They’re trained to wait patiently, and then burst into action and get a big adrenaline rush. Surfing replicates that and just puts us out in nature and gives us exercise.”The two say that they are taking the idea further with clinical oversight and “a massive outreach to veterans and their families.”
“I’ve seen the trauma overseas…I’ve been to too many funerals of mates,” Mr Kolomeitz said.
Surfing, he said, had impacted the lives of veterans who had attended an event the pair hosted.
“You could just see the before and after in these blokes. It was amazing,” he said.
“I’ve just been seeing faces light up from adults who are…in their fifties who have been broken and suicidal, turn to surfing and get a new lease on life,” Mr Moran said.
The two aim to run a clinical trial to “prove beyond doubt that surfing is a modality to heal emotional trauma” and hope to get universities and corporate sponsors on board.
The monthly surf meets are open to any returned soldiers and their families.
For more information, contact the Association of Veteran Surfers Sydney.
Anyone who is feeling distressed can call Lifeline on 131 114.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor