In June 2022, LG Electronics Australia recognised Barry Randall as a hero in his local community of Point Leo, Victoria for his ongoing dedication and support for first responders and veterans through his organisation, Operation Soul Surf.
As a police officer, Barry has seen and experienced first hand the devastating impacts of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), particularly in first responders and veterans. Following a traumatic incident on the job, Barry himself was diagnosed with PTSD and as a means of managing this condition, turned to the ocean as he found it to be incredibly therapeutic. However, it wasn’t until he watched a documentary from the US about surf therapy that the idea for Operation Soul Surf was born.
We sat down with Barry to learn more about his story and how he has made an impact on his community through Operation Soul Surf.
What inspired you to give back in your community?
BR: I have worked as a police officer for the last 28 years and in this time, have seen many colleagues suffer from PTSD as a result of incidents faced on the job. It is an isolating and in many cases debilitating condition that impacts many first responders and veterans.
Having personally experienced PTSD after a traumatic incident on the job, and also seeing my wife suffer from the same condition after her work colleague took her own life, I was on both the giving and receiving ends of the disorder. It was clear to me how important it was to have a strong support network that understood what you were going through. This is what inspired me to start a program where people suffering from PTSD could turn to - a space where there was no judgement, only support, and somewhere they could also enjoy themselves trying something new.
How did you come up with the concept?
BR: I have always been around the ocean and surfing has been a part of my life for many years. It has not just been a much-loved hobby, but also something I found to be quite therapeutic. Following my PTSD diagnosis, it was something that really helped me to manage it. I made the connection after watching a documentary on a surf therapy program in California. I realised that the experiences I were having out on my board in the ocean was in fact a real form of therapy, with its own science backed theories. I then began to look into whether there was anything like what I saw in the documentary, active in Australia. After finding no organisation exploring surf therapy for first responders and veterans in Victoria, it became the catalyst for Operation Soul.
I took the idea of surf therapy for first responders to some colleagues and former first responders, and they thought it was a great idea. After saying they would be interested in taking part, it really ballooned from there. I was so surprised at the speed in which I received interest from the community. But it ultimately told me that this was something people needed, which only fuelled my passion to get the service up and running even more.
To help formalise the organisation, I took the idea and all the interest I received to Victoria Police. Thankfully, Victoria Police were very open and supportive of the idea and since then the program has just taken off.
What results have you achieved so far?
BR: I first started the therapy sessions as part of Operation Soul Surf at the end of 2021, and since then we have had 50 participants attend our programs. As a result of the sessions, about half of the people attending have integrated surfing into their daily lives.
For many, if not all of the participants, taking part in Operation Soul Surf has not only improved their quality of life as they manage their PTSD, it has also provided new friendships that are based on genuine understanding and care for one another.
For me, knowing how hard it can be to just get out of bed when experiencing PTSD, having a group of people who get what you are going through, together at the beach is an achievement in itself. We have had participants who have gone from not leaving the house in months to completely integrating surfing into their life after just four sessions learning to surf. I often say that I have the best seat in the house, as I sit closer to shore and watch the surfers come in. I watch them achieve something they have not done in the past or for a while - like stand up on the board for the first time or leave the house after many months.
One experience that will always stay with me, was a young army veteran who at one stage thought he was going to have a double leg amputation, stand up on a surfboard for the first time. Regardless of how many people participate, all that matters at the end of the day is that these people, who have already been through so much, leave with a smile on their face.
Have you come up against any challenges?
BR: Like many others, the main challenge we faced was COVID. Being a small program, and starting out in the midst of a pandemic, lots of people said I was crazy for trying - but being a little crazy has paid off.
Beyond the coordination, it was challenging to get the participants in the water, with a number of surfers cancelling multiple times and talking themselves out of joining as a result of their PTSD. But these are challenges that Operation Soul Surf could navigate.
As someone who experiences PTSD and has seen colleagues and loved ones also endure the condition, the entire premise of Operation Soul Surf is to support those living with PTSD and encourage them to take the leap into trying something new. Surfing is very physical, but it is also a very mental sport. Having to watch the water, time your movements, and activate your entire body to work with you really helps to get your mindset out of that dark place, which many suffering from PTSD experience.
Most importantly, helping others and exercising are often recommended ways of managing PTSD, as it releases endorphins that can bring someone out of intense stress. This is exactly what Operation Soul Surf provides. Once people have attended their first session, it’s like a weight has been lifted and they are able to see positively again.
What’s next for you and your initiative?
BR: Continuing our main objective of being a support network for those suffering PTSD is what is most important for me and the future of Operation Soul Surf. I want to make sure that the impact we are having on our current participants can be experienced by others living with PTSD.
We are currently organising a reunion for past participants, as well as a family day to expand the community that we have started building. Ultimately, the next step is to ensure that the impact we have had so far is continued for future participants - I want everyone suffering from PTSD to know there is a community of like-minded people out there, ready to support them on their journey to recovery.
What does being named an ‘LG Local Legend’ mean to you?
BR: I was actually unaware that I was nominated for the LG Local Legends program. It wasn't until I learned who nominated me that I believed it.
When I first started Operation Soul Surf, my only objective was to create a community group that would help people like me. It has never been about the recognition, but to receive it has been incredible. It tells me that the support system we have created with Operation Soul Surf is exactly what our participants needed, and that is all that matters to me.
Knowing that major companies like LG are giving back to communities is amazing and I am so thankful that Operation Soul Surf has been recognised.
LG Electronics Australia would like to say thank you to Barry Randall for his tireless contribution to his community and support he provides to first responders and veterans in Victoria. For more information about Barry’s mission, visit operationsoulsurf.com.
If you know someone like Barry making a difference through their time, actions, talents and/or dedication to others, you can nominate them to be named an LG Local Legend by visiting: LGLifesGood.com.au.
We are looking forward to celebrating their achievements with you soon!