Mental Health

San Diego pro uses skateboarding to fight addiction, boost mental health

"Skateboarding, to me, is one of the best lessons in life because it's constant failure," pro skater Brandon Turner says

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Brandon Turner is a legend in skateboarding, getting sponsored at the age of 13 and quickly becoming internationally known for both his technical skating and tricks.

But as his fame grew over the years, so did his troubles off the skateboard.

"I did start drinking early on, before I was 18, so that played a part legally. I started getting DUIs, started getting drunk in public, started getting county jail time. And then eventually — long story short— ended me landing in prison," Brandon Turner told NBC 7's Brian Holt.

Turner got sober in 2016 and found his way back to his board, realizing skating was crucial to his recovery.

Taking away the stigma surrounding asking for help with mental health

Even more… he wanted to share his experiences with people and help them with their mental health and addictions. He eventually opened Westside Recovery in Pacific Beach. Brandon says he wants to take away any stigma associated with reaching out for help with substance abuse or mental health.

"Getting help is not weakness, it's power. And there are resources out there. Most of us, when we struggle, we think we're the only ones going through the problems. And that's just not the truth. It's an illusion. And there is help and there is resources and that's why I started Westside Recovery," Turner said.

What is the Westside Recovery program like?

The center offers outpatient and residential treatment programs. There are also activities ranging from Pilates to surfing to skateboarding to help with participants’ sobriety and their mental health. With skateboarding, Brandon takes outpatients to different skateparks twice a week around San Diego.

"Skateboarding, to me, is one of the best lessons in life because it's constant failure. Like with skateboarding, just like life, you're going to fall every single day, and the way you learn is how you pick yourself back up and your support system and people teaching you. So I use that analogy to help people with recovery," Turner said.

Those in the program range from total beginners to people who have skated in the past and are picking it up again, learning, progressing, and feeling a natural high.

So this program is just, like, amazing. It's better than any drug I've ever done. Yeah, I mean, just like, the feeling of riding on a skateboard, it's like, unmatched. You can't get that from anything else," program participant Wyatt Matuzak said.

Of course, one of the biggest attractions to the program is Turner himself.

"It's awesome. When I first met him, I was starstruck. I was like, my God. And now I hang out with him all the time and he takes me out to eat and he's like my life coach," Matuzak said.

Besides teaching people in the program to skate, he also helps them navigate other problems in their lives outside of the skatepark.

"He's one of those people you can go to if you're having a problem with one of the clients, if there's a situation at your house or back at home or if you're just not feeling it that day, you can just go to him, talk to him. He's a big person you can go to, and you can just be yourself around him," program participant Emma Horn said.

Helping others helps Brandon Turner, too

Once known for just skateboarding, Turner says helping others in their recovery process has introduced him to a whole new community… and given him a new purpose and passion.

"The word I can use for this is gratitude. And all I have to owe to it is my mentors and partners who taught me the approach of helping out in this field and everyone in the skateboarding community supporting me and the clients who are trusting me with their lives to help them make a better one," Turner said.

These days, Turner juggles both his recovery center and the demands of his skateboarding career. Now in his 40s, Turner is still traveling the world skating in contests and appearing in videos for his sponsors.

“I'm never gonna retire skateboarding because that's who I am, as in a person. So as long as I'm walking, I'll be riding a skateboard. But, yes, my purpose in life is helping people see the true power that they have within themselves," Turner said.

Turner recently traveled to London to speak at an event for the Ben Raemers Foundation. It's named after a professional skateboarder who took his own life in 2019.

The foundation aims to address mental health issues in the skateboarding community.

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