Pro skater opens recovery center, uses skateboarding to help some overcome addiction
One San Diego drug and alcohol recovery program uses skateboarding as a tool to help people overcome addiction and improve their mental health. Westside Recovery was founded by Brandon Turner late last year.
The center uses activities like skateboarding, surfing, mixed martial arts and creating music as a healthy release. Turner is a professional skateboarder — a skating prodigy — and has been sponsored since he was 13 years old. He also struggled with substance abuse.
"It just started from drinking at a young age and hanging out with older people — just trying to grow up too fast," Turner said, sitting on a bench near the Linda Vista Skate Park.
After controlling his addiction, Turner became a mental health coach before opening Westside Recovery. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 46 million Americans ages 12 and over have a substance abuse disorder. In 2021, only 6% of those people received treatment.
"When I was going through my journey, and anybody mentioned the word, 'rehab,' It always sounded like a confinement to me," Turner said. "So, I wanted to help remove the stigma — not only with just rehab, but mental health and substance abuse as a whole — that getting help is not weakness and doesn’t mean you have a problem and you’re bad."
Turner hosts skate sessions twice a week at different parks across the county. His program works with both beginners and experienced skaters. He said skateboarding is a healthy release that teaches valuable lessons.
"Skateboarding teaches you failure on a daily basis — you’re going to be failing every single day," Turner said. "It’s not what you do when you fall — or if you’re going to fall, because you’re going to fall — it’s what you do when you pick yourself back up."
Turner's outpatient program includes a residential treatment center for therapy and group sessions. He said people could be in the program from 90 days to a year.
Brandon Lefever has been in the program for two months. Lefever grew up with Turner and used to skate every day; he said drinking pulled him away from his passion.
"The way I am — it kind of sucks to admit it — but when I start I wouldn’t stop," Lefever said. "I didn’t get belligerent or crazy, nothing like that. I was just tired of being tired and my headspace was kind of in a dark hole for a little bit, and I’m finally starting to crawl out of it."
Lefever said it was not until a close friend died that he reached out for help. After two months in the program, he said he is back to skating multiple times a week.
"The other day I told Brandon (Turner), 'It feels good to fall again,'" Lefever said. "And he’s like, 'What?' I was like, 'It feels good again to fall and get back up and try it again.'"
Skating clears Lefever's mind and he said the program helped him as an outlet for stress.
"It’s not what you been through — it’s how you deal with it," Lefever said. "So, now it’s kind of like I’m dealing with it the right away instead of with a bottle or other substances."
Turner's programs are primarily for those dealing with substance abuse, but he said that goes hand-in-hand with mental health. He also coaches at the Mental Health Center of San Diego. Turner said a sense of community is a vital part of recovery.
"The opposite of addiction is connection and it’s all about community, because the bigger your circle is with like-minded people, the more support you have," he said.
Turner said he takes a holistic approach to treatment. He is still on the pro-skating circuit and recently competed at an event in Japan.