Managing Stress One Wave at a Time

Scripps GI, family man and military veteran stays balanced by surfing

Mazer Ally, MD, a gastroenterologist at Scripps Health, stays balanced by surfing - SD Health Magazine

Mazer Ally, MD, Gastroenterologist, Scripps Clinic

Scripps GI, family man and military veteran stays balanced by surfing

Hit the morning surf along San Diego’s north county coast and you just may hang 10 with Mazer Ally, MD, a gastroenterologist at Scripps Clinic Jefferson in Oceanside. The water is his happy place — a space that allows him to find balance between his busy clinical career and his life as a married father of three. 

A retired Army physician, Dr. Ally grew up in Miami, the son of immigrants from Guyana on the Northern coast of South America. After spending much of his Army medical career at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Dr. Ally was restationed to Hawaii. 

It was in Hawaii that he decided to take stock of the stresses he had endured during his military and medical careers and take steps to alleviate them. 

“As a military physician, you have to spend time in the field. I went to Iraq from 2009 to 2010 and served in infantry with a reconnaissance unit outside of Baghdad,” he explains. 

“I was the only physician in my unit. I was young and immature and didn’t know what was ahead of me. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, but there were a lot of things I saw, and I didn’t quite know how to express or navigate my feelings,” he continues. 

Dr. Ally returned to Hawaii in time for the birth of his first daughter. He began his gastroenterology fellowship and focused on his studies and his growing family. 

“Once I got into my specialty, I loved every minute of it. I had a great family and a great work-life balance. But one thing I didn’t know how to do was manage my stress,” he says. “So, I took to the water.” 

Love at first wave

Dr. Ally enlisted the help of a local surf coach named Kimo on Oahu’s famous Waikiki Beach. From the minute he paddled out into the Pacific, it was love at first wave. 

“I immediately felt a sense of calming, healing and processing,” he says. 

For the next six or seven years, Dr. Ally met with Kimo two to three times a week, learning the sport from the ground — or shore — up. 

“It became an essential part of my life. We would talk about life. I learned a lot about Hawaii and the culture of aloha and what that means, and I learned about the surf community,” he recalls. “It was a way for me to process and manage the stress and anxiety that would show up in my blood. I had to play many roles as a physician, father and husband, and this was one thing I was able to do for myself.” 

Living aloha life in San Diego

Dr. Ally retired from the Army in 2017 and moved to San Diego, his physician wife’s hometown, to be closer to her family and nurture her medical career. He joined the Scripps Clinic team in Oceanside. 

While he may be on a different Pacific Ocean coast, one thing has remained the same: his respect for the culture of aloha. 

“Aloha means being true to yourself, paying it forward, being kind, loving one another and loving yourself,” he says, adding that it’s a culture he is proud to role model to his daughters, ages 7, 10 and 12, whom he is also teaching to surf. 

He even shares his love of the sport and the spirit with his patients, whom he sees at times on the water — a place that remains his destress sanctuary. 

“There’s a power within the water. It allows me to calm my mind and be with nature,” he concludes. “We’ve been blessed to live in this amazing place and be at these beautiful beaches, surrounded by dolphins and beautiful sunrises. I start the day with a bolus of energy, and I don’t let anything else derail it. It allows me to love my day.” 

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This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.

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