ENCINITAS — Del Mar resident Kylie Slavik has never really described herself as an athletic person, but recently, the upstate New York native tried her hand at surfing. In an area renowned for its vibrant surf culture, Slavik had a different reason for jumping in the water — to manage and improve her mental health.
“If I’m getting too stressed or getting anxious, it helps me to shift my state into something that’s more positive,” Slavik said.
Slavik took up surfing through the Encinitas-based program, Encinitas Surf Lessons and Surfing For Empowerment.
A few months back, she ran a quick Google search for nontraditional programs to help with anxiety and PTSD when she came across this one. Led by instructor Jason Weber, each session teaches the client how to surf, and more significantly, how to positively use that experience to tackle stressful situations on land.
“This way, when something happens in life, they just close their eyes and remember the feeling of getting thrown around by the waves and staying centered, instead of spinning out of control,” Weber said.
Although Weber developed his methods independently, he taps into a variation of Neuro-Linguistic Programming Therapy, or NLP.
This is the process of linking experiences to emotions and accessing those feelings as “anchors” to cope with stress, depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions. Surfing For Empowerment also utilizes “flow state therapy.”
Kris Primacio is the executive director of the International Surf Therapy Organization, a nonprofit spearheading research in the field. She describes this phenomenon as being “in the zone.”
“It’s too hard to concentrate on the fight you’ve had with your significant other or the deadline you’re trying to meet when you’re looking out for waves,” Primacio explained. “You can switch off from the trauma and stress that you experience on land.”
The effects of Surfing for Empowerment and surf therapy are similar to those gained from traditional therapy.
Many participants will see a therapist as well, but Primacio says the fun and light-hearted nature of surfing helps reduce the stigma around therapy, making people more inclined to add it to their care.
“People are looking for alternatives that are affecting their mental and physical health and well-being,” Primacio said. “There’s a cool factor to surfing. It doesn’t tie in that negative stigma that is attached to traditional therapy.”
Weber says by surfing, his clients actively experience a mindset shift in a positive way.
“Instead of sitting on a couch and talking about problems to understand them, we are actually going out on a board, having an experience and having the transformation be fun and exciting,” Weber said.
Slavik has two more Surfing For Empowerment sessions with Weber. Already, she says she finds more confidence tackling her day-to-day by applying strategies learned in the water.
“With life you get a little more leniency, but with the ocean not so much,” Slavik said. “If you’re not putting into practice what’s being learned, you’re going to get knocked over. The next wave is coming.”
More information on Jason Weber and Encinitas Surf Lessons and Surfing for Empowerment is available online at www.encinitassurflessons.com/surfing-for-empowerment.
Top photo: Surfing For Empowerment instructor Jason Weber helps a group find their center on land first before jumping into the ocean. The two-and-a-half to three-hour session teaches clients to change their mindset through surfing. Photo courtesy of Jason Weber