‘World-first’ as Edinburgh Napier student undertakes PhD in surf therapy

A trip around the world to hot, sunny beaches with great swell for surfing, all expenses paid. It sounds like a daydream a student would drift off into during a lecture.

Thursday, 31st January 2019, 10:01 am
Updated Thursday, 31st January 2019, 10:10 am
Jamie Marshall is undertaking a PhD in surf therapy

But now an Edinburgh Napier University student from East Lothian is doing just that in what will be a world first PhD in surf therapy.

Jamie Marshall, from Innerwick, used surfing in his early teens as a way of combating his mental health struggles and is now researching theories behind how surf therapy can be utilised to help those living with mental illness and disabilities.

After discovering his passion for wave-riding aged 14, on some of Scotland’s finest stretches of coast, Jamie went on to instruct surfing in Newquay in Cornwall during the summer holidays while at university. It was here that he found out about Wave Project, a surf therapy programme which works with young people facing mental health issues.

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Jamie gets involved with some of the surf therapy sessions with young people in Liberia.

Following this, he decided he wanted to bring the Wave Project to Scotland, and spent the next five years building up the Scottish arm of Wave Project in Dunbar from an initial clientele of 20 to now over 100 each year.

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“Scotland now has a history of excellence regarding surf therapy and I’m delighted to have played a part in the success that the Wave Project has had here in this country, working with vulnerable young people across Edinburgh and the Lothians,” he said.

Once he obtained a Masters degree in Physical Activity for Health at the University of 
Edinburgh, Jamie stepped down from his role at Wave Project in order to further research surf therapy and is now working on a PhD in the subject, which is set to be a world-first.

Funded by Napier and in collaboration with the University of South Wales, the study will look at various surf therapy programs around the world and investigate how they’ve been used to combat challenges associated with mental health, disability, poverty and adverse environments.

Jamie said: “A key part of my PhD is to support the evaluation of surf therapy based upon the experiences of participants. My last research site was in California working alongside the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation supporting veterans facing challenges associated with PTSD. The results were super-interesting in terms of the significant respite that this type of therapy could offer.

“Surfing can be a fantastic vehicle for enacting positive change – we just need to continue to build upon the theory and evidence to prove it.”

More recently, the research project has taken him to Liberia where he’s working with Waves For Change, a leading organisation in surf therapy. Here, he will focus the effects it had on young people affected by trauma due to the Ebola crisis and the country’s civil war.

Coinciding with his research, Jamie also puts out The Stoked Research Surf Therapy Podcast, speaking with leading figures in the surf therapy community.