West Cornwall based Rich Emerson has been battling against post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of serving in Operation Desert Storm. Since his discharge he has experienced all the classic symptoms of PTSD including self-destructive impulses, suicidal thoughts, guilt and depression.
Before he left for the forces aged 22 in 1993, Emerson had been a lover of surfing and his relationship with sport continued to develop once he had enlisted as he excelled in anything athletic and sporting. Since leaving, Emerson has found that riding waves has helped him to rebuild his life. He recalls the moment he first wanted to be a surfer when he witnessed the sport for the first time 13 years ago and he described the sensation of being out there.
“Surfing is about being in the moment. You can’t think about anything else other than being in the sea, waiting for waves, riding them. The salt water draws the negativity out of you. You feel pure afterwards.”
Emerson has now set up the Operation Amped, the UK’s first surfing weekend for ex-servicemen with PTSD. He came up with the idea after seeing a similar event take place on a Gwithian beach, near St Ives in California.
Fellow surfer and photographer Russell Pierre was at the event and confessed that he felt choked up watching the men who suffered for our country learning to surf. “One veteran told me he hadn’t laughed so much in six years since leaving the Army. The smiles, the laughter and the sheer joy were contagious.”