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By Collin Breaux | Twitter: @collin_breaux While other therapeutic clinics and in-person services were forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic, Surf & Turf Therapy has remained open. Surf & Turf is a therapeutic nonprofit organization founded in November 2018 that treats clients through equestrian activities and surfing. Their equestrian therapy is conducted in San Juan Capistrano and their surfing therapy is in Dana Point. Clients come to them with a range of issues, from cerebral palsy to autism. “With the pandemic, we actually saw our weekly numbers double,” said Founder and Executive Director Jillian Stewart. “A lot of the kids that we work with don’t benefit from telehealth services.”
Carter Coleman, 4, receives horse-riding assistance from volunteer Tyler Aasland. Photo: Collin Breaux
Surf & Turf’s sessions have been small and intimate settings, following all public health protocols in place. In-person equestrian sessions never stopped during the onset of the health crisis, though volunteer hours at the horse-riding barn were scaled back due to safety concerns. “I trained the families on how to lead and sidewalk for the horses,” Stewart said. “I would lead the session from as far away as I safely could be, and have the family members be the ones actually implementing the treatments for those first handful of weeks.” The surf side did pause for about six weeks because of the parking lots being closed near the beach, questions about the ocean spray and how the virus spread, and not being able to safely wear face coverings in the ocean. Surfing therapy resumed after Memorial Day. Due to the increase in service demands, Surf & Turf is looking at adding staff and volunteers—and also ensuring they have sustained funding. Surf & Turf has been busy with summer camps this year, though that may change going forward. “This year’s probably the last year we’re going to be able to sustain doing camp and our regular program, because it’s a lot,” Stewart said. “They’re long days. Thankfully, my staff are great and love it, because, otherwise, there’s no way we could do it.” Some of their clients have become more comfortable in the water as they gradually get more surfing experience. Clients get a lot of benefits from the horse-riding and surf sessions such as help with balance, core strength, and postural control. “Those things really are the foundation to be able to do things like handwriting in class or doing your own buttons or even speaking,” Stewart said. “It also helps with sensory input and regulation.” The program has grown over time and now gets a lot of daily emails from people who want to participate, Stewart said. “That’s always kind of been my goal, is to have a big community—everyone doing a little instead of just relying on one or two people for referrals or funding or whatever,” Stewart said. “I’ve always wanted it to be just a big family vibe.” To get involved or for more information, visit their website at
Collin Breaux Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at

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