For former big-wave surfer Rusty Moran, the idea of ‘saltwater therapy’ is no foreign concept. He has long believed in the magic effect of the surf and says “it seems to slow everyone down”, an important part of mental rejuvenation in his eyes. After encouraging members at his surf school in Gerringong to value the mentally restorative effects of being in the ocean, Rusty saw a documentary that featured OneWave founder, Grant Trebilco. He immediately clicked with the OneWave message and decided to get involved. Rusty would go on to become the Seven Mile Beach ‘tribe leader’, facilitating weekly Fluro Friday sessions – free events that combine surfing, open conversation and brightly coloured clothing to raise awareness of mental health issues.
Hurdles and big waves
Raised in a family suffering from episodes of alcohol abuse, Rusty felt like he was in a state of “chronic fight-or-flight”. He sees his teenage years plunge into the world of big wave surfing as a direct response to this childhood trauma. After losing a number of friends to the extreme sport, Rusty decided to chase the thrill of risk-taking elsewhere: through a career in property. Unfortunately, the Global Financial Crisis wiped out his business, and he fell into a two-year long depression. Nowadays, he fights his depression through “saltwater, being in the sun, and putting smiles on peoples’ faces”.
Rusty sums up his own mental health struggles as “flat battery periods” that have (and continue to) impact his day-to-day life. He feels like, even now, these 24-hour flat battery episodes still occur once every two or three weeks, and connecting to the ocean, nature, and other people is what pulls him out of them. In fact, Rusty’s passion for connecting to nature has seen him remain predominantly barefoot for the last six years, grounding himself to the earth beneath his feet.
The ritual of support
Much in the spirit of both seasoned surfers and the OneWave philosophy, the ritual of taking time to watch the waves and check in with each other is just as important as actually getting in the water.
With up to 15 people attending the regular Fluro Friday sessions, Rusty says the “circle of support [is] the medicine I needed every day.” Being able to find healthy coping mechanisms with other people who can empathise with mental health struggles is something he considers extremely important.
Not only does the weekly routine of support make a difference, Rusty also thinks the idea of dressing up for Fluro Fridays is a great way of sparking conversation about mental health issues that are all-too-often kept silent. His favourite outfit to throw on for a Fluro Friday is “a big coat that’s been embroidered with amazing gold lace stitching”, occasionally paired with a green and yellow wig.
Getting ‘the right tools in the toolbox’
As a tribal leader and mental health advocate, Rusty has heard a vast array of peoples’ personal stories, but he is still surprised by the effects “the communal process of just being with other people” can have. For him, every tool in someone’s ‘mental toolbox’ that can be put to use is invaluable. What many people might not realise, is that one of those tools is listening to the stories of others.
He recalls a photographer coming to a Fluro Friday event. She asked if she could sit outside of the ‘anti-bad vibe circle’, but Rusty convinced her to join, knowing that experiencing the circle so intimately would be key to understanding why the event was so powerful. As Rusty tells us, she became “so engrossed with hearing other people’s stories…when it was time for her to talk, she just started crying and letting out all of this built up stress, because she hadn’t had anyone to talk to.”
Rusty sees reactions like this as positive steps towards better mental health, especially in an environment like Fluro Fridays where conversations take place in a safe and non-judgemental environment.
Leaders need a tribe as well
After feeling emotionally drained by a recent event and noticing the familiar feeling of his “battery going flat”, Rusty reached out to his OneWave group online and asked for help to process it. One of the members called him, and after talking through everything, he found that having someone that was willing to listen and empathise was just what he needed. “It sorted the issue and I just felt so good. I slept like a baby.”
Rusty’s next goal is to provide surfing training and saltwater therapy to military veterans. He’s also an ambassador for the NeuRA Foundation, and is looking forward to dying his hair bright pink for Mental Health Week in October. He’s certainly keeping busy, and, in what won’t surprise any of his tribe members, is “committed to giving [his] life purpose by helping other people.”