Chiropractors On Board

By Katie Brown

Whether an occasional recreational hobby or part of a daily routine, surfing is one of the most popular water sports. Now, with variations like wakesurfing, bodysurfing and paddleboarding, almost anyone within water’s reach can join in on this popular and physically challenging pastime. From a surfing enthusiast to a professional competitor to an enjoyment-seeker, Today’s Chiropractic LifeStyle spoke to three chiropractors who have found that there are few things better than catching the perfect wave.

Tim Brown, D.C.

Since childhood, surfing has been a staple in Brown’s life. His dad was one of the top surfers in Newport Beach, Calif., and Brown was eager to follow in his footsteps. Fifty years later, Brown is still catching waves at least five times a week.

A multi-sport athlete, Brown’s interest in becoming a sports doctor was sparked during his time at the University of Redlands in California, where he played quarterback and receiver for the university’s football team. “I was injured often and was intrigued by the mysteries of the healing process,” he says. “I was constantly bugging the trainers and team doctors for their ‘secrets’ on how to perform and recover more effectively.”

After college, Brown began preparing for the MCAT with the hope of attending medical school. One day while he was surfing, Brown ran into an old friend who suggested that a career in Chiropractic would be a good fit for him. “He knew I was into living a healthy, natural lifestyle, and he recommended that I look into Chiropractic,” he says. “He gave me an article on Dr. Leroy Perry. He was one of the first internationally known sports chiropractors. Perry framed it up nicely for me by talking about health as being a balance between what we eat, think and do. It simply felt easy to decide that [addressing] the causes of disease, caring with natural means and offering the patient better lifestyle and activity choices for daily living was much more appealing to me than the career of the allopathic doctor who focused purely on symptom-oriented care, drugs and surgery. That article forever altered my path and purpose. For the first time in my life, I truly knew what I was meant to dedicate my life to—
becoming the best sports chiropractor I was capable of becoming.”

Brown graduated from Cleveland Chiropractic College in 1984, and three years later he opened his own practice, Newport Spine and Sport. Since becoming a chiropractor, Brown has had the opportunity to combine two of his passions—surfing and caring for athletes. He spent nine years as the Director of Sports Medicine for the OP Pro Championships, also known as the U.S. Open of Surfing, and is currently the Co-Medical Director for the Association of Surfing Professionals, Northern Hemisphere. His career has also led him to adjust and care for some of the world’s top athletes in sports other than surfing. Upon being named Director of Sports Medicine for the Association of Volleyball Professionals, a position he held from 1987–1996, Brown became the first chiropractor to be named medical director for a professional sport. Brown has also been named to many sports medicine teams over his career, including the U.S. Track and Field Championships, Ironman World Triathalon Championships, U.S. Diving, Ballet Pacifica and Race Across America. In 1998, the American Chiropractic Association Sports Council named him Sports Chiropractor of the Year.

Today, Brown’s main focus is his company IntelliSkin, which produces posture-correcting garments. Having worked with athletes who were competing primarily in sand and water, Brown began using his Specific Proprioceptive Response Taping techniques (SPRT) on his athletes. “After five years of taping many hundreds of injuries, one of my athletes said, ‘Hey. When are you going to wise up and just build me something I can put on and take off?’” Brown says. “Intelli-Skin can be used during competition, training, recovery and travel. It protects from injury while improving function because its futuristic design stimulates the sensorimotor system to improve muscle balance by retraining posture and quality of movement.”

Even with his non-stop schedule, Brown still makes time to catch a few waves as often as possible “One of the greatest things about surfing is that it’s a constant highlight,” he says. “I’ve got a short attention span and enjoy stimulating my senses, and with surfing, you get to be out in the beauty of nature, getting healthy and exercising. No two waves are ever the same, so every time you catch a wave, it’s a fresh experience that trains you to keep focused and be prepared. I love all sports, but nothing is a close second to a good day surfing.”

Craig Pruitt, D.C.

Pruitt did not have an instant connection to surfing. While working for his practice in Middletown, R.I., one of Pruitt’s patients, who at the time was covered in sand and seaweed, suggested that Pruitt give surfing a try. A lover of water sports, Pruitt enjoyed activities like fishing, scuba diving, waterskiing and spearfishing, and he soon decided to heed the advice of his patient. But after a few unsuccessful—and painful—attempts, Pruitt was reluctant to continue. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is not very fun. Being held under water and tossed like a rag in a washing machine really sucks,’” Pruitt says. “But after I caught my first wave, I was hooked for life.”

Before Pruitt became a chiropractor, he was serving in the U.S. Air Force as a Security Police Officer. After hurting his lower back and experiencing muscle atrophy in one of his legs, Pruitt was told surgery would be his only route to recovery. “The Air Force doctors wanted me to do surgery, but I went to a chiropractor instead,” he says. “I literally watched my leg grow back to a normal size and thought, ‘That’s cool—no surgery, no drugs. I would love to do that for people.’”

Pruitt graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1999 and opened his own practice, Pruitt Chiropractic. “We have always focused on contributing to our community and correcting subluxations,” Pruitt says. “Our community was ready for our style of Chiropractic—simple, principled and fun.”

Through his practice, Pruitt has had the opportunity to care for many local surfers and water sport athletes. “In our office, we see a lot of surfers, swimmers, skateboarders, windsurfers and watermen,” he says. “I have a lay lecture designed for water sport athletes to teach them the benefits of chiropractic care to reduce the possibility of injuries and increase performance and longevity. People who surf want to do it until the day they die, and that requires a healthy spine and nervous system—period.”

Now, with 13 years of surfing under his belt, Pruitt has had an array of experiences, from a terrifying injury that almost ended his surfing career to traveling the world to enjoy some of the best waves. Yet, between running his practice and spending time with his family, Pruitt, who still continues to surf daily, says his favorite moments in the water are when he’s enjoying the camaraderie of his surfing friends. “I like when we camp on the beach, surf, cook over a fire and chill out,” he says. “We talk about ‘that wave’ we caught—its shape, its speed and how we rode the wave. You end up remembering a moment in time when you were riding a great wave, and you just keep replaying the image over and over again, like a favorite movie.”

Sam Vella, D.C.

While on track to become a dentist, Vella, an accomplished downhill skier, found himself surfing in California after making a major career change. A pre-medicine major at Oregon State University, Vella had sustained a few neck and lower back injuries from skiing and was seeing a chiropractor. “After going to a chiropractor for those injuries and seeing what he did, I thought it would be a lot cooler than looking at people’s mouths all day,” he says.

Soon, Vella enrolled at Life Chiropractic College West and took up surfing to satisfy his athletic inclinations. After graduating in 2000, Vella embarked on a nine-month trip around the world. With a portable adjusting table and surfboard in tow, he visited 22 countries throughout Europe, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia and beyond to spread the chiropractic message and experience the world.

Upon his return, Vella opened two practices in San Diego before landing in Haleiwa, Hawaii, on the North Shore, where he opened his third practice, Vella Chiropractic. Aside from caring for his patients at his practice, from 2004 to 2011 Vella served as the attending chiropractor for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, a series of three professional surfing events in Hawaii that take place in Haleiwa, Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline. 

“I think the special moments are being able to care for the world’s best surfers. It’s an honor to be able to do that,” Vella says. “I absolutely love what I do, and I think it’s an honor and privilege to be a chiropractor. I love how it fits into my lifestyle in Hawaii. I’m keeping people healthy and myself healthy.”

In September 2011, Vella opened a fourth practice in Honolulu. While Vella’s main focus remains providing chiropractic care to his patients and expanding his practice services, he’s still able to surf about three days a week. “With surfing, I like the physical activity side and being in nature,” Vella says. “It’s the way it teaches you to be absolutely present and go with the flow, and you learn to go with the next wave that comes at you.”