Operation Soul Surf

The APJ is always keen to hear from and assist the many officers out there who are daily taking action to help and support their colleagues. Barry outlines how OSS came to be and what he hopes to achieve: 

 “When I floated the idea of starting a surf therapy program in the middle of a global pandemic, a number of people told me I was crazy. They were probably right but I pushed ahead anyway and I am so pleased that I did. In mid-2021, I decided to combine my passion for surfing and the ocean with my desire to support those who have experienced PTSD and trauma. I had seen a couple of documentaries on surf therapy programs in the USA and found them very inspiring so with the support of my family, I launched OSS last year. 

“For me surfing has always been my escape, a way to destress and release my inner turmoil. I was diagnosed with PTSD in 1995 after being the victim of an attempted murder that ended in a fatal police shooting. I was stationed in a country area at the time and having grown up on the New South Wales Central Coast, I was beginning to miss the ocean and surfing. I then transferred from the bush to a station on the Mornington Peninsula and was very fortunate to meet  a small group of guys who surfed and welcomed me into their lives. 

“For me, that was actually a bit of a saving grace as I had been experiencing some dark times and at one point began thinking that things would be better if I was no longer around. Thankfully, I found my love of the ocean again and rediscovered the joy I’d had as a kid growing up on the beach. It’s no exaggeration to say the ocean heals. This may sound super nerdy but waves produce negative ions, or atoms with a negative electrical charge. These negative ions increase oxygen flow to your brain, helping you feel more alert and energised and for me, the water has always acted like a reset button for my brain. 

I’ve been blessed to have the support of the Code 9 Foundation in Melbourne who are a first responder charity and also The Aussie Veterans Coffee Co. These two organisations partnered with me to help cover the costs of delivering my programme which was a massive boost. The non-profit charity Young Veterans have now come on board as a major sponsor for 2022. 

“Each OSS course runs for four consecutive Saturdays with 10 participants. The program is aimed at those with zero surfing experience or perhaps someone who surfed many years ago and would like to start again. The program is open to current or former police, fire or ambulance employees as well military veterans. 

“Because I live on the Mornington Peninsula, it was an easy decision for me to use Point Leo Beach as the HQ for OSS. It is still a pretty untouched part of Westernport Bay that is picturesque and a great place for beginners. I am partnered with the legendary East Coast Surf School, so all lessons are delivered by qualified and experienced surf coaches. OSS offers a supportive and engaging atmosphere for participants to learn at their own pace and by applying mindfulness techniques to cater for varying backgrounds and skill levels, our coaches make sure that everyone feels safe, happy and competent in the water and the feedback from OSS1 and OSS2 (our first two programs) was fantastic. 

“I was amazed at how quickly word spread about OSS not only within Australia but around the world and I have been contacted by a number of organisations including the International Surf Therapy Organisation (ISTO) in California who I have now partnered with as a contributor.

ISTO are world leaders in collecting and collating data from surf therapy programs around the world, so it’s terrific to think our surfers can help provide feedback on the benefits of the program and surf therapy in general. I am fortunate to also have the support of a number of local businesses who wanted to get behind my program and help provide a great experience for participants. Each surfer gets the four week program for free along with surfboards and wetsuits being provided at no cost, as well as an after-surf meal each week and a stoke bag containing a t-shirt, cap and other surf goodies. I wanted to make it an overall enjoyable experience for those involved and I think we are delivering on that. 

“I have more programs booked in for 2022 including a number of courses for the RSL who have reached out to get involved also. Seeing the smiles on the faces of those involved has been super rewarding and to be honest, some days I am not sure who is having more fun in the water, me or the newbies having a go at surfing. 

“Perhaps me being a little crazy might just be a good thing on this occasion!”

 by Sergeant Barry Randall 
Victoria Police 

Photographs generously provided by Scott McAulay (www.scottmcaulay.com)