Rob Sanderson is the Founder and Director of SWEL which provides a positive setting for Veterans and First Responders to decompress, disconnect, and reinvigorate through the sport of surfing.

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SWEL hosts free, all inclusive, weekend-long guided surfing “missions” for deserving first responders and veterans where participants learn how to surf as a new way to decompress, disconnect, and reinvigorate themselves away from the stressors of their demanding careers.

For first responders and veterans, physical separation from a world of hyper-vigilance, high personal risk, adrenaline spikes, and unpredictable encounters is key to the ability to manage stress. SWEL uses a pairing of therapeutic sport, primarily surfing, and skills-based learning to promote healing through improving one’s self-efficacy.  

Travel, lodging, meal costs, and equipment associated with SWEL Surf Missions are fully funded through the generosity of donors, partners, and sponsors, allowing participants to be fully present without the worry of financial burdens often associated with traditional therapy programs.

SWEL uses volunteers in the local community who are passionate about surfing to further create a robust and community-connected impactful program. Surf coaches are formally vetted prior to participation, and many have their own experience finding refuge in the ocean to relieve stress. Other SWEL Surf Mission volunteers include yoga instructors to teach and provide participants with another way to connect and align their bodies and minds, Chaplains who provide a supportive, participant-led listening ear, and other empathetic civilians who assist with mission logistics.

I have no idea why I was so pumped in this episode. I think it has a lot to do with the passion of those I’ve been talking with behind the scenes. Rob is one of those. He is so passionate about what he is doing, and I just love seeing that and having the chance to talk to those like him, Matt, Steve, Abigail, John, and so many more. 

If you are a vet or first responder out there, get back in touch with the crew. There must be one or two of them that are on the right path that you can chat with. I isolated myself for so long. I just sat quietly in mixed groups or parties. 

Have you ever answered the questions too honestly? Haha I had one just the other day. The response, “Why do you suck the air out of every conversation? Everything is about death with you.” They were joking, but it feels true sometimes. 

I was speaking with an upcoming guest, and I mentioned to him that I loved those times me and the boys got together around a bar and just talked story. It was so nice to get those thoughts out and in an environment where death wasn’t a conversation stopper but the start of an even better story. He said, “That’s not all good and not all bad.” It’s healthy to have those chats.

Rob has created a healthy environment where these hammers can get together and have those kinds of conversations again. The one he shared about the two officers that haven’t seen each other since the one saved the other after he was shot in the face still gives me goosebumps. I loved this episode, as I do most of them. I hope you find something rewarding in it also. 

Resources Mentioned:

  • “The Impact of Ocean Therapy on Veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)” by Dr. Russell Crawford
  • Surfing
  • EMDR
  • Meditation 
  • Eating right
  • Hiking 
  • Tactile Meditation
  • Physical fitness and staying fit
  • Do challenging things

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