Photography credit: the AVS Facebook page.
AVS currently has a fundraiser running through the Australian Sports Foundation. More Australian soldiers have lost their lives to suicide than fighting the Afghanistan War, and AVS need your help to achieve their vision of establishing a healthy, active and suicide free veteran community. AVS’s goal is to raise $50,000, and their hope is to be able to purchase a car, enter more surf competitions and purchase equipment for their Adaptive Surfers in 2019. Please visit asf.org.au/projects/association-of-veteransurfers/ to donate.
can be a dangerous place if not respected, while you’re out against the odds from big waves to even dangerous marine life, you are put back into an environment where you're once again not only looking out for yourself but the mates to your left and right. Your body goes into overdrive, you catch a wave and want to catch a bigger wave, you become competitive again, you set goals for new tricks to be learnt and at the same time you realise you’re having the time of your life and all those stresses you had when you arrived are somewhat a distant memory. Surfing has reminded you that you can still go out and achieve something when the odds are stacked against you, it’s what the military trained you to be. At the end of the session for the first time you feel tired but in a good way, you sleep a full eight hours without a pill, you feel excitement and happiness, you feel something for the first time in a long time. You realised you went out in a group activity without the need of alcohol, the anxiety and pressure of crowds quickly disappeared when you first hit the water. This is the feeling and effects of ‘Ocean Therapy’, it’s something Matt and Kieran experienced and needed to share it with their mates and the wider veteran community.” This is what AVS means to Matt and Kieran, and the community they’ve created. Matt explained,“… once you discharge there is a lack of purpose and identity, and we realised that surfing was a way for us
to stay connected with each other and help relieve stress. That was when we realised, we could use it to help others in a similar situation.” Kieran found strength from a similar moment, recalling,“We were both discharged from the defence force at the time, we were away in Papua New Guinea working security. During our time back home, we started catching up with our mates (that Matt and I had served with) and surfing, and Matt and I realised that this is a great thing; there’s no alcohol involved, so we can come down and feel no pressure. So, we decided to make a social group on Facebook, called it the Association of Veteran Surfers and initially, when we had our first surf club, it was basically just Matt and I that came to it. Then it just grew, it caught so much traction and we decided to make it official, we decided to commit to it and here we are. Three years later, we’ve got almost 100 members.” “I think the highlight for me is seeing a community of likeminded veterans and their families coming together, in that one common goal, which is to help each other. If anyone has any issues that community comes together and really helps… That’s probably the biggest achievement that I see, and I get a lot out of it. Going to our surf days and seeing everyone coming together, including families, their kids, all enjoying a relaxing time together. It gives me shivers down my spine when I see that,” said Kieran. Matt added,“The highlight so far for me is the community of veterans and their families we have been able to establish on the coast and the connection with the surfing community both here and interstate. 21
They have been very accepting of us and made the process of building AVS a lot easier. Especially Paul and Jenny from Kirra Surfriders.” Of the struggles veterans in our communities still face, Kieran said,“I think employers that are looking to employ veterans need to educate themselves a little bit on what PTSD is, and depression, and how to utilise a veteran’s skills and abilities, in a way that they can prove themselves. They have so many skills and strengths that you don’t get anywhere else, besides the military, but they don’t really understand how to utilise them.” Kieran explained from a managerial perspective employers need to do their research, but veterans also need to employ their skills in a civilian sense. Kieran continued, “I’ve personally sat in an interview and been told that generally they don’t hire veterans, because they’re mentally and physically screwed up, and that’s sort of the consensus, and stigma, that you feel. Obviously, that’s not all organisations but it does sit in the back of the veteran’s mind and it does throw them off a little bit. It makes them not accept what they might be suffering. It can make them think they have less chance of securing the job because of these restrictions, but in all seriousness veterans by nature are hardworking, have a strong work ethic and those sorts of things we can deal with without impeding on our job. That’s what we want people to understand.” Matt concluded,“You may not agree with the conflicts we have been in or the reasons for them, but the veteran community have signed up to serve our country and possibly die in the process. Yes, we made that decisions ourselves, but it is one we are extremely proud of and one of the complications is PTSD, it can affect anybody at any time, please just show support for our current and ex-serving military personnel and understand PTSD spreads far and wide. That stigma is still attached that you are weak if you have it and your mates don’t, but we are all struggling one way or another.” So, this June Get it girls, show your support for those suffering with PTSD, whether it’s for yourself, your loved ones or fellow Australians. We all need to support one another and break the cycle of stigma. June 2019