Battling the waves for mental wellbeing

Former British commando Bobby Ball is on a mission to get veterans in the water to combat mental health issues.

X Forces Mission Surf at Ngarunui Beach on Sunday, March 24 is the pilot event bringing the wider veteran community together using surfing as ocean therapy.

Inspired by similar groups in California and Australia, Bobby wants to connect the veteran community through surfing and provide the sense of camaraderie lost to the veterans once they leave the forces.

Bobby knows too well the enormous toll transitioning back to civilian life can take on ex-service men, women and their family members.

This can range from dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other depression related illnesses, anger issues, drug and alcohol abuse, and can force some into isolation and unable to find the help they need.

“Most veterans struggle to find a career or life that matches the defence force, many isolate themselves, feel as though they never fit in, have relationship problems and never find a way to get back on track. Loneliness and boredom after serving adds to the problem,” he says.

It was 15 years ago when Bobby and another serving commando buddy, about to be deployed to Iraq, hit the waves at Whale Bay for the first time.

They weren’t expecting the 6-foot breakers they encountered and both kicked into survival mode putting their army training into full use that day.

“We finished the day with massive grins on our faces and I knew from that day on, I was always going to surf. Surfing is not the solution to all one’s woes or problems, it’s not a cure but there is something in it.’

Bobby formed Veterans of Combined Forces Surfing Association (VCFSA) to share the sense of release he found in what he calls Blue Mind, a term he borrowed from the book of the same name by Dr Wallace J Nichols.

The book confirmed for Bobby that there really was something in the healing benefits he had come to experience from surfing.

“It’s about being in the moment – you don’t have anything else to think about.”

Bobby’s not on his own when it comes to fighting for veteran’s welfare, former SAS soldier and Victoria Cross recipient Willie Apiata recently started Post Transition an organisation advocating for better care for former NZ Defence Force personnel, particularly around the treatment of PTSD.

Going back to nature to be soothed and healed has played a vital part in Bobby’s own recovery since discovering surfing all those years ago.

“Get in the water, walk beside water, move across its surface, get under it, sit in it, leap into it, listen to it, touch it, close your eyes and drink a big glass,” he says.

“Working with VCFSA and my incredible board of trustees keeps driving me to help others discover and embrace their own personal connection to water.”

Bobby reckons there’s no better place than Raglan to hold the inaugural surfing event and he’s been overwhelmed by the support from the surfing and local business community.

Janine Jackson

For more information about the event and VCFSA check out their Facebook page or contact bobbybvcsfa@gmail.com.