2023 Guatemala Retreat
Check out our life changing surf therapy retreat
Each Year we take graduates from our 12-week Adaptive Surf Therapy Program on a 12-day intensive retreat to Guatemala. This year we were beyond grateful to partners and incredible companies Fence and Deck Connection and Trex to make the retreat a reality. This is a time for our Veterans to sink deeper into the skills they've learned during our program. The group is challenged with daily activities; each day starts with meditation at 0600, followed by guided surf (in bigger, more challenging waves than most have previously experienced), group breakfast, yoga and finally group wellness followed by lunch, afternoon surf, and dinner. Additionally, each Veteran agrees to participate in our community building project with local non-profit Choza Chula. This year we helped to phyiscally and financially support the secondary school's permaculture garden.
The intention of the retreat is to create an environment full of the right kinds of stress, helping our Veterans to get the most out of the mental health journey they are on. Challenging surf creates opportunities to face fears head on, to be ok being humbled, and further develop surf mastery. By combining this with the mindfulness of yoga, and the guidance provided by wellness, it's the perfect recipe to do real healing inner work. You can check out the experiences of one of our Veterans below!
I was struggling with a lot when I joined WSF. Things that had happened that I just couldn’t let go of. Things that I had never talked about with anyone because I guess I never really had the opportunity or felt like I could. I didn’t want to burden anyone with what I thought was basic, boring shit. I also just felt like I wouldn’t be
heard. I didn’t even sign myself up for WSF. One of my buddies from the fire academy actually signed me up because I probably would’ve never done it myself. I didn’t really know what to expect but was hopeful I’d meet people and learn how to surf. It was hard because I couldn’t go to many of the open surf Sessions due to my schedule, so I didn’t get to know many people I was going through the program with. Most of them I didn’t even see until I graduated. This meant I got to spend a lot of one on one time with Aaron. That’s okay though because Aaron is a cool dude who taught me so much. Out of the water I had Claire, my wellness coach and instantaneous friend. She just got me. Our breakfasts at Lost Dog were more or less the beginning of me just letting it all go. I’ve learned so much from so many people in Warrior Surf. I was super excited and surprised when Clay asked if I wanted to go on the Guatemala trip. I honestly had little idea what I was getting myself into when I was invited to go on the trip, and there were times I wanted to back out. I was scared I wouldn’t make any friends and worried that it would be too expensive, I wouldn’t like it, etc. It’s funny to think back on those feelings now after what this trip has given me. Guatemala was completely transformative. So much had
happened in the four years since graduating college, and I just wanted to rest. Guate was that rest for me. I didn’t really notice anything had changed until I got back because I was so present in every moment of that experience. I feel like it gave me my worth back. Not only my worth, but it brought me back to who I am at the core and how I want that to translate into my life. I feel like in a way these people have helped shape me back into myself. Does that make sense? So much so that I quit my job the day I got back from the trip, and I decided to go after one of my dreams. Seeing how Connor, Josh, and Jesse were living this completely countercultural lifestyle made me realize it’s what I’ve been looking for, but I didn’t know that it existed. It kind of gave me permission to do what I’ve been wanting to do for so long. It was like catching a wave in Paredon. Exciting
and terrifying and wonderful.
I had been involved with the Warrior Surf Foundation for about 6 or so months when I was invited on the retreat to Guatemala. I had heard everyone talking about how great it was. Mostly I kept hearing about the “10 foot waves” we were going to have. I had just learned to surf and was a little bit intimidated, but it sounded like the chance of a lifetime, and since my “scared” is broken, I accepted.
I knew it was not just some surfing party trip. There would be Surfing, Yoga, Meditation, and Wellness groups. It was going to be a therapeutic trip, and it was just what I needed. I have been in various therapies over the years, some more beneficial than others. This trip turned out to be much more than I had expected.
If I have a cut on my arm, it hurts. It is an open wound. If I treat it, it will scab over and eventually become a scar. It will no longer be painful but it is part of my history. Probably one of the most profound realizations that I had at the Warrior Surf retreat in Guatemala was that,
I have open wounds to my psyche. Left untreated or ignored, they had festered and became infected, and it had affected the rest of me. I needed to treat my wounds, let them scab over. As a result of our various activities, a realization occurred to me: that I could look forward to a time where my mental wounds were no longer painful open wounds, but merely scars from pain that I had survived. They would be a part of my history, part of who I am, a reminder that I had endured and remained alive, spiritually and physically. That realization was intense. I felt a huge amount of happiness all at once. For the first time in a long time, I could imagine being truly happy. Yet, at the same time, I felt a huge catharsis of some deeply stored pain that I have apparently been carrying around with me for a long time.
During a very beneficial group wellness session, I had intended to crack the door, just a little bit, and let out some of the angst from when I was in the Army. But it didn’t work out like that. I guess pain is pain and I didn’t get to pick which pain was getting purged that day. My brain knew what was crippling me emotionally. I surrendered, I opened myself up to healing. Shortly after the group my thoughts shifted to my 24 year old son who was killed 3 years ago. A few moments later I would be lying in the sand outside in an alley weeping bitterly. But it was beneficial, cathartic, and healing.
As I walked the streets later that day I felt a huge sense of gratitude. I was grateful for the opportunity that had been given to me, and grateful for the changes that I could feel taking root and sprouting within me. I was actually taking advantage of, and benefiting from the therapy. The surfing, the yoga, the wellness, the meditation, something was working. The sun shined brighter; I was remembering what it felt like to have a positive outlook on life. Once again I found myself smiling, while feeling the tears well up. It was as if I had stored pain that I couldn’t deal with until now. Until I had found this level of contentment, I would not have been able to process and let go of the garbage. I probably walked for 3 hours. I was enjoying the moment, and it felt good.
We all know the phrase “garbage in, garbage out. You get out of it what you put into it. I wasn’t going to waste my time, or squander the opportunity. I needed it. I was hanging on by a thread. I was tying in all of the other therapies that I had been through. As a result of diving in fully, I became more connected to the other veterans and group members. I guess it was a group of people who understood, and were in the same boat. I realized I wasn’t as completely anti-social as I had felt. I just needed a place to work some shit out.
This retreat gave me a chance to purge old pain and have a glimpse of happiness that I had thought was unobtainable. It forced me to work through challenges, like dealing with airports, or being around other people 24/7, basically social issues. Meeting and overcoming the physical challenge of surfing in a new, more dangerous environment.. But, this time I had support, other veterans. Some of whom I knew already, some I met on the trip. Friends. I didn’t know it yet, but we were all about to become friends, and enjoy the happiness that comes from being connected to other people. I guess overall, I have a new outlook on life. I still have a lot of work to do on my journey, but I have a direction to go now. So, thank you to the Warrior Surf Foundation, the awesome staff, and all the veterans and their family members that participated. My course has been altered.
I did not have any expectations leading up to our trip and yet found myself overflowing with happiness and gratitude. This retreat brought on a whole new set of challenges of which I was able to gain extreme focus and mindfullness. Even though I was in an unfamiliar place, I was able to unwind and find great peace among the ocean and my peers.
The yoga provided my body with calm and healing. The wellness provided my mind with peace and inner reflection. The surf provided my soul with worldly connection and stillness.
I was able to take home with me many memories, a new sense of life direction, and a new exploration of peace within myself. The laughs I shared, the struggles I faced, and the bonds created among my peers will forever be a staple of hope in my life. Not only was I physically in a paradise, but mentally and spiritually, too. My whole being moving at a new frequency more in tune with nature, myself, and life.