In the Basque Country, bipolar patients are treated with surf therapy sessions

This Tuesday afternoon in May, the appointment takes place on the large beach of Hendaye. A dozen patient volunteers ended up in a Surf Health Association minibus parked on rue des Mûriers, just in front of the sea. Everyone managed to pull on a wetsuit, sometimes sulking over a small round belly, before heading onto the sand at low tide.

limping, a little hampered by her board, dragging it or carrying it under one arm, under the other, on her head. Danny, surfer and specialist teacher, sets the pace, calmly and benevolently. “C’mon to start, we’re going to warm up, move and massage the board with the wax! “A few relaxations later, everyone throws themselves in the water, escorted by Doctor François Chevrier and Ainhoa ​​Ordonez, psychiatric nurse in Caradoc.

The doctor and the nurse in the water

Didier, 59, a brave, patient surfer, begins his second session. His tense face betrays a certain fear. “The stage fright,” he admits. “My concern comes from being overweight. Due to the illness, the medication, I’ve gained a lot of weight and I’m a bit ashamed. Besides, that’s why I didn’t go out at all anymore, I avoided showing myself. So imagine yourself putting on a jumpsuit at the beach! I who loved it so much. Surf therapy committed me and frankly I discovered incredible sensations. The myth of the blond, tanned, burly surfer lives on!


Didier, 59, the patient surfer who is discovering the sensation of gliding and regaining “confidence in his body”.

Emilie Drouinaud/ “SOUTHWEST”

In the water, the first few minutes are hesitant, the boards inevitably fly, are swept away by the waves, collide, get lost and beginners fumble a little, not daring to start. Like all beginners in the world. It takes all the patience of Danny the instructor, the company of Doctor Chevrier and the laughter of Aïnhoa for the little troupe to start finding some audacity.

The first to get up on his board is Jérôme: a few seconds of happiness carried by cheers from all his teammates. “There is no notion of a challenge,” assures Doctor Chevrier. Our priority is to enable them to find joy in movement. Living in the present moment, which is a significant breath of fresh air for these patients. »

The surfer-psychiatrist is up to his neck in water, without a board, to calm, encourage and stimulate everyone. And laugh between two broths.

“I won’t stay in the water anymore”

In the group, all are currently being treated at the Caradoc Clinic in Bayonne, undergoing chemical treatments but also various non-drug therapies. Some show slight physical fatigue, not very compatible with the practice of sport. But nobody lets go. Caroline, for example, in her wild forties, runs from one wave to the next and yet has nothing of an athlete. “It’s amazing how good I feel about it. I didn’t feel capable, I’ve never climbed a board in my life. I get there, even a little, it gives me confidence. I’m finally happy with myself. And then, here in the water, I stop brooding, my head calms down. The night after… I sleep. You know, good tiredness. »

Patient surfers on Hendaye beach encouraged by Doctor Chevrier in black overalls.


Patient surfers on Hendaye beach encouraged by Doctor Chevrier in black overalls.

Emilie Drouinaud/ “SOUTHWEST”

Lancelot is 21 years old, a nickname for an apprentice surfer who has just discovered he can stand on a board. The happiness of this moment of balance is written all over his face: “I feel more comfortable in my body,” he admits as he climbs out of the water. “A sense of well-being that I don’t know anywhere else and that is good for me mentally. »

Ainhoa, the nurse, snorts on the beach. In her opinion, people with bipolar disorder have a form of disability in common: “They stigmatize themselves and no longer dare to leave the house, they have lost their status. Surf Therapy allows you to work in this area that you forbid yourself, it breaks a lock. “The same observation for Dr. Chevrier, who concludes: “They are now part of the surfing community and not just bipolar people. »

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