Move over, Freud. Your couch is being replaced by a piece of wood on wheels.
On the shady slopes of pavement in Greynolds Park in North Miami Beach, a therapy counseling session is in progress.
Once a week, amid the sprawling canopies of hardwood hammocks and mangrove forests, patients sort through emotions — while pushing on a longboard skateboard.
Donning kneepads and helmet gear, Alex Batista, 47, smiles as he rides silently alongside his therapist.
“Longboarding forced me to focus on what I was doing and not what I was going through — the suffering and everything else,” said Batista.
Last October, Batista’s wife Claudia, 48, died after undergoing a year of intensive chemotherapy treatments for ovarian cancer. They were married 12 years.
“ I was in this black hole. There were a lot of emotions going on. So I thought, ‘What do I do?’ ’’ Batista said.
What he did was ask his wife’s therapist for help. Her counseling sessions had helped her before she died. At first, he had regular talk sessions with Isaac Farin, a marriage and family therapist in North Miami. But Farin, an avid longboard skater, was developing a new treatment using the sport.
“I use longboarding as exercise, but I started to feel different. My stress was being reduced and I liked how I was feeling. It was a different sense of joy,” said Farin.
Farin realized longboarding had all the hallmarks of the positive psychology theory called flow. Flow is what surfers and skateboarders call stoke and it’s that feeling of complete happiness in the moment. Farin believed that by teaching his patients to longboard, they could take their minds off their pain, let go of fears, maintain a sense of control — all while having fun.
When all those things happen at once, time seems to fly by.
“ I believe in this process of using the present moment to move towards a more hopeful future. It’s a little bit different than some traditional psychologies that focus more on the past and then, only then, will you change,” said Farin.
Batista, who was a pitcher for Florida Atlantic University, liked the idea of exercising but didn’t want to leave his home. Farin suggested Batista take baby steps.
“I suggested he come to the park with me and if he could only put on his sneakers that would be fine, ” said Farin.
Once he got to the park, Batista said it wasn’t much more effort to get on the board. He quickly found the sensation of riding a longboard gave his mind and emotions a break.
“The first time we went longboarding, it made me realize how important it is to exercise. For one, it helped me not think about what I was going through and reminded me that having a healthy body helps you have a healthy mind,” said Batista.
Today, alternative forms of therapy are helping people sort through emotions, conquer phobias and face childhood traumas. So far, Farin is the only therapist to have his longboard sessions sanctioned by the International Distance Skateboard Association (IDSA). This recognition means his lessons qualify as an organized event. For a $20 yearly fee, participants can purchase medical insurance that covers injuries during a session — with coverage up to $25,000 an incident.
“We know longboarding helps. The way I like to explain it is that the second you hop onto a board, you have endorphins times 10. Slowly people like Isaac are proving that longboarding is a legit treatment,” said Jonathan Strauss, founder of IDSA.