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Local non-profit introduces surf therapy to veterans, first responders

Third Coast Rising volunteers teach vets and first responders how to surf Lake Michigan waves.

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. — It's quickly gaining a global following. Surf therapy is defined as a "method of intervention combining surf instruction or surfing and structured individual or group activities that promote psychological, physical and psychosocial well-being." Sharing this effective therapy with veterans and first responders is why West Michigan based non-profit Third Coast Rising exists.

13 ON YOUR SIDE got to see firsthand why it works.

The beautiful blue waves of Lake Michigan can bring healing. 

"It's all about mindfulness, I feel like surfing is the best thing for being mindful," said Mark Cox, the veteran contact for Third Coast Rising. He first learned of surfing's benefits while serving in the Air Force.

"It's going to be so awesome for veterans and first responders to get out here because they don't have to think about the past or the future or the worries they might have, they just think about the moment," Cox said.

Grand Haven Public Safety Lt. and first responder contact Ryan Enlow was one of the first to go through the eight-week program. 

"Going from having a counseling type session on the beach where we talk about challenges and overcoming some of those things and then going out onto the water where we overcame some of those challenges and then coming back and talking about it was great," Enlow said.

When the surf is flat, the group improvises with paddle boards. 

Enlow wants to see the program grow. 

"I know a lot of first responders who struggle day to day," he said.

It's those people Third Coast Rising founder Shelley Ritter really wants to reach with surf therapy. 

"To really incorporate mind/body connection and to help approach issues like PTSD, anxiety, depression and more."

She is hearing great things from participants. 

"After our first eight-week program, getting that feedback that it really is effective, that it's working and people are seeing relief from those symptoms is so exciting," Ritter said.

Enlow shares these words of wave wisdom: "Stop getting pounded in the face by waves. Find the right group of people, find the right direction, and you are going to have an easier time in life just like you get carried along on a board with the waves."

"These veterans and first responders need to get out here and they are going to experience freedom like they've never experienced before. I find so much freedom out here," Cox said.

Third Coast Rising's next eight-week session starts Sept. 17. You don't have to know how to surf to volunteer. To learn more about Third Coast Rising, visit their website. It's there that you can also make a donation. One specific need right now is a 16-foot covered trailer to haul the surf and paddle boards to the beach.

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