A narrative study of the lives of "Combat Surfers" : suffering and surfing in the aftermath of war
2015-01-07T11:25:34Z (GMT) by
In this PhD thesis, the lives and experiences of a group of combat veterans who began surfing following their return from war are explored. Having encountered life changing traumatic events and experienced much suffering (with many becoming diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder), these veterans joined an ex-services charity called Surf Action where they were introduced to surfing alongside other veterans who shared their suffering. The purpose of this research is to explore the effects of surfing and, more broadly, of participation in the charity Surf Action in the veterans lives and on their well-being. It is the first in-depth qualitative investigation of surfing in the lives of combat veterans. Using a combination of life history interviews and participant observation, I collected and analysed stories from the veterans about their lived experiences. Through rigorously applying the innovative analytical approach of dialogical narrative analysis (Frank, 2010, 2012), also inspired by phenomenology, the effects of the veterans stories both on and for their lives and well-being are examined. The analysis first demonstrates that stories of surfing were focused on the veterans physical and sensory interactions with the ocean environment, and helped to cultivate the notion of embodied respite from suffering. It is then suggested that by telling and enacting a collective story, the veterans at Surf Action (the Combat Surfers ) created a therapeutic community through which they accessed mutual support, recreated positive military identities associated with camaraderie, and legitimised their struggles with PTSD. Next, the masculine performances which shaped the veterans actions and narratives around help-seeking and dealing with PTSD are highlighted. Furthermore, the analysis reveals the meanings associated with moving beyond the chaotic influence of trauma in the veterans lives and suggests ways of keeping well following trauma and PTSD. The thesis also incorporates an ethnographic creative non-fiction as a way of enhancing knowledge translation and facilitating wider impact and dissemination of the findings. Finally, the thesis concludes with empirical, theoretical, methodological, and practical implications of the research, with an emphasis throughout on what to the study adds to knowledge. The potential of surfing to contribute to veterans healthcare is discussed alongside recommendations for the charity Surf Action and future possibilities for expanding this research.