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Community Story: Groundswell Community Project

May 26, 2022

Meet Groundswell, an innovative organization bringing research-based surf therapy curriculum to womxn across the globe.

Hi Jane Community, Jack from the Jane Community team here. I am excited to introduce you to Groundswell, one of Jane’s bursary recipients. I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Mo Mata, one of many people doing great work at Groundswell. Mo is an associate marriage and family therapist and leads the administrative side of the Groundswell Community Project.

I’d love for you to start by telling us a bit of Groundswell; how did it start and what the project does?

Of course. So it all started with Natalie Small, Groundswell’s founder. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist who studied expressive arts therapy in Buenos Aires and also studied in Berkeley with the IEATA symposium 2010. She found expressive arts, including surfing and outdoor therapy, to be transformative for individuals and communities overcoming trauma, abuse, and intergenerational violence.

Finding her own personal healing through her connection with the sea inspired Natalie to found the Groundswell Community Project.

Six years on, Groundswell is working along the coast of California from San Diego to San Francisco. You’ll find us in Peru and Scotland too, bringing surf therapy to womxn - an inclusive term to welcome anyone that identifies as a woman - and girls overcoming abuse, addiction, and trauma around the globe.

What is your background, and how did you get involved with the project?

I’m an associate marriage and family therapist. When I was finishing up my master’s degree, I had to pick a practicum site to get client hours, and one of my professors told me about Groundswell. She thought I would really enjoy working with them and that I aligned with the work they were doing.

She was right! I find being in nature to be so healing and surfing is super awesome. I applied and got involved as an intern at first. A year later, I was asked to join the team as their administrative assistant. 

It’s really exciting because we’re in such a state of growth right now.

🏄🏽‍♀️ Within the Groundswell community we call each other surf sisters because whether or not you’ve been surfing your whole life or you haven’t even seen the ocean, we’re still surfing the waves of life together. It’s something that we take pride in owning; it’s a part of our identity.

All that growth must also come with a lot more administrative work.

For me, the big part of this year was figuring out a new registration process for us. Luckily, I had heard about Jane through one of our surf sisters, she’s also a licensed marriage and family therapist that owns her own clinic, and she uses Jane in her day-to-day. I ended up seeing a couple of patients with her and while using Jane thought, “Hey— Jane’s pretty cool and it’s super easy. Could this work for Groundswell?”

I reached out to Jane and chatted with Randy, Jane’s mental health advocate. He just got the ball rolling for us. He worked with us to figure out how Jane could work for Groundswell.

It’s made things so much easier, not only on the backend, but it’s such a smooth process now for the participants. We’re super happy with how things are going for us.

🎤 Jane Team Shoutout: We’re always amazed by the selflessness of our community. If you’re a registered charity, a nonprofit, or currently offer your services for free (or a mix of free and discounted services), you may be eligible for a Jane bursary. Providing you with a free subscription or reduced rate is our way of saying thank you for the amazing work you do. Please apply here, or reach out to our team to learn more about the eligibility requirements.

Before Jane, how were you handling your bookings and how is it helping Groundswell now?

We were using a mixture of Google Docs and we partnered up with some surf schools and used their registration systems. It’s difficult not having your own registration system and counting on somebody else. We needed to have the ability to access our information wherever we were, be that on the beach or in our office. The biggest appeal for us was just having everything on one site rather than having it across several different ones and the confusion that created for us.

🏄🏽‍♀️ With Jane, not only were we able to consolidate everything in one place, we’re now able to access our files anywhere at any time.

Can you explain how surf therapy can be beneficial for those dealing with trauma?

For me, the ocean is like a mirror of what’s happening in my life. Every time I go into the water, whether it’s surfing, swimming, or snorkeling there’s so much that I have learned from the ocean. From finding the courage to paddle out or challenging myself by not going out and learn how those choices, both in surfing, could be transferred into our lives.

How can I challenge myself in this situation, in this relationship, is it going to be beneficial for me to go for it, or is it more challenging to not? It’s learning to transcribe those choices and feeling into your life and how that can be beneficial. I know it’s helped me. 

Not only that, but the water just has so much healing power. It’s been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. Or how being in the ocean is similar to being back in the womb. So there are both the scientific elements and then all the metaphors that the ocean can provide that we can use both in the water and out of it.

I think the ocean and water are great analogs for life and its stressors.

Yeah, and I know for me the water was super anxiety-provoking for a long time. I had to build a relationship with the water first and learn my limits too.

For our eight-week programs, the first 3 sessions are all about simply building a relationship with the ocean and learning how to read the waves, read the rips, and how to work with her.

I’d love to know a little bit about your programs and about some of the goals people work on at Groundswell?

Our Southern Californian programs are all eight weeks and our bay area ones are four weeks, you can think of those as our intensive programs. Every week there’s a different therapeutic goal and a different surf goal. 

The goal in the first week is to spend time building your relationship with the ocean. Reading the water and learning how to fall because you are always going to fall. That’s one of my favourite sessions because we also integrate that into how it’s the same in life, and how we learn to get back up and find that resilient self in both the water and on land. Some of our last sessions are spent learning about belonging and how we find a place in the lineup, how we belong in our social circles, and our families lives.

On the topic of falling and getting back up. What do you think the biggest success has been for Groundswell so far?

I think the biggest success for Groundswell has been the huge interest that people have had in it. Our community is just booming and it’s so cool to see that same thing happening not only in the US but across the world.

I had the privilege to go to Peru this past month. Getting to see Groundswell in a different country has been such an inspiration. The empowerment it has brought to so many womxn, their confidence level just increasing from zero to one hundred and that being able to see that reflected in their daily lives has been so inspirational, it’s the most beautiful thing to see.

As one of Jane’s bursary recipients, why would you recommend Jane to others?

I think the first thing that comes to me is that Jane is just so well put together. It’s super user-friendly, simple, and organized and you can get creative with it in the best way possible. Knowing where all of our intake forms are and everything about our participants booking is really huge for us. Not to mention the integrated payments and being able to see who’s paid and who hasn’t.

We’ve had the help of the Jane Jane team all along the way. Everybody from Jane is just so helpful and super sweet and so that makes it a lot easier on us on the back end of an organization too. If I have to reach out, I know I’m really going to enjoy talking with the person on the other end of the phone or email.

The Jane Team was able to make it so that Groundswell’s existing methods work together with how Jane works.

I know that surf season is just around the corner, I’d love for you to give those that are thinking of joining Groundswell one final message about your programs before we wrap up.

I think you should definitely do it. It’s such a life-changing experience. Either eight weeks, four weeks, single day, whatever you’re able to do, do it. Groundswell is just a great community to be part of. We have drop-in sessions that are donation-based too. If somebody can’t afford a full eight-week program but wants to be part of the community, we’ll figure it out.

🏄🏽‍♀️ At Groundswell you’ll meet so many great people, you learn a lot about yourself and about the people around you. You’ll learn about the Earth, about the ocean, and grow deeper into self-love and sisterhood. My life has changed just from being part of Groundswell.

Resources from Groundswell

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