A group of about 30 women, all dressed in Christmas-themed attire, stand together on Baby Beach in Dana Point Harbor before heading out on the water on stand-up paddleboards during the 3rd annual Santa Paddle fundraiser, benefiting Surf and Turf, a therapy group that helps kids with special needs ride waves and horses, on Saturday, December 10, 2022.
While other therapeutic clinics and in-person services were forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic, Surf & Turf Therapy has remained open.
“With the pandemic, we actually saw our weekly numbers double,” said Founder and Executive Director Jillian Stewart. “A lot of the kids that we work with don’t benefit from telehealth services."
"My biggest accomplishment as a business owner is the community and environment we have created. Surf & Turf is a place for EVERYBODY - everyone is welcomed, appreciated, and celebrated. This sense of community is at the core of who we are. We refer to it as the "Surf & Turf Family" and wouldn't have it any other way!"
"Lucky for me, the smiles and positivity that come from my patients during therapy sessions is infectious, which lead to a lot of recognition and new patients signing up quicker than I ever expected. Word also spread of my background in Hippotherapy or using the horse as a tool in therapy, and so my personal horse, Biscuit, was my first member of the team. I always say it was supposed to be my weekend “passion project” but after less than a year of working three part-time jobs while voluntarily trying to keep up with the word of mouth referrals for S&T, I had to take the plunge and go for it full time."
The staff and volunteers at Surf & Turf Therapy are committed to bettering lives of kids through non-traditional therapy and activities including surfing, horseback riding and community integration. "We're really founded on the values of inclusion so we try to do as much of our work as we can out in public where the individuals with disabilities we're working with are side by side with the rest of our community ..."
Nature can be so incredibly healing. We've covered it in-depth on our blog. On this podcast, we take it one step further by exploring specific therapies that you may not know so much about and also involve nature: surfing and horseback riding (or hippo-therapy). Who better to guide us than Dr. Jillian of Surf and Turf Therapy, a California-based organization whose mission is in “bettering lives through non-traditional therapeutic activities?”
As an equestrian for 25 years and a surfer of more than a decade, Dr. Jillian is making moves to integrate non-traditional approaches to physical therapy. She uses activities like surfing, horseback riding and community activities to improve daily life skills like walking and talking. Her philosophy is to "see ability, instead of disability."
“We have been doing it since the summer, so it hasn’t been too long, but in the short amount of time he has been with Surf & Turf and specifically working with Jillian, he’s improved a great deal,” Koo-Mahathirath said. “He enjoys it. He loves it. He loves the social aspect of it. Every time he goes to a session, there’s new volunteers, and it’s engaging for him to interact with all of these new individuals and it helps him want to do better and perform for the people that are volunteering.” The event at Orange County Polo Club—a big supporter of Surf & Turf—was the first formal fundraiser for the nonprofit
We were honored to be included in this article within our first year of serving. Check out our photo they selected and learn more about other various surf therapy groups!