Our Leadership

Who is ISTO?

International Surf Therapy Organization is a collective of the world’s leading surf therapy practitioners, clinicians, researchers, and influencers working together to advance understanding in the sector through research. We are an information hub for surf therapy prescriptions and a place for sharing in the practitioner community.


We are:

  • The #1 go-to resource for the surf therapy sector (evaluation tools, programming, and annual events).
  • An incubator, accelerator, and a place for connecting in the practitioner community.
  • We organize, support, and grow surf therapy programs worldwide.
  • Our events bring together practitioners, researchers, pro-surfers, scholars, students, startups, and stakeholders to promote new relationships and share insights globally.
  • ISTO features the best value networking in the sector – hosting over 100 guest speakers annually (through monthly webinars, working groups, and annual conferences) and 1000+ attendees.

Executive Team


Kris Primacio – Executive Director

Kris currently serves as the CEO of the International Surf Therapy Organization (ISTO), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit she helped founded in 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa. Kris utilizes her Psychology Degree as a highly-skilled, compassionate, empathetic, and solutions-oriented professional dedicated to providing exceptional care for children, adolescents, and adults. She has provided care and support to patients and family members in healthcare environments, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Group Health Hospital, Special Olympics, and Northwestern Hospital, to name a few. Kris implements her branding and fundraising background to help bring exposure and identity to the International Surf Therapy Organization. She applies her genuine love for the sport of surfing and proven knowledge of the therapeutic powers of the ocean to help advance the exposure and research on surfing as a health intervention through ISTO.

Board of Directors


Matt Mattila – Chairman of the Board

Matt helped create ISTO as part of the Waves for Change team in South Africa. He’s experienced in collective impact across government, private sector, researcher institutions, and think tanks.

He brings a strategy background with roles at The Boston Consulting Group, Rocky Mountain Institute, Adidas, and Oakley. What he lacks in backside barrel technique he more than makes up for in spreadsheet skills. Currently residing in NYC, he’s keen to connect over coffee for those who’d like to contribute to the surf therapy sector.

Kristina L Burbich ISTO board

Kristina L. Burbich – Board of Directors

Kristina has over 15+ years of experience with digital marketing, user experience, creative direction/design, branding, and strategy for both D2C and B2B retail.

Her primary career focus has been working with well known apparel & lifestyle brands focusing on delivering unique online eCommerce user experiences that drive sales, conversion & business growth.

Originally from the east coast, Kristina now resides in Manhattan Beach where she enjoys beach life and all of the serenity and therapeutic vibes the ocean has to offer. Kristina supports various Philanthropic organizations, specifically “Alliance of Therapy Dogs” where she volunteers with her Therapy dog and Golden Retriever, “Karma”.


Jamie Marshall – Board of Directors

Jamie is a researcher working on the world’s first dedicated surf therapy PhD. His research primarily focuses on the exploration of change theories amongst established Surf Therapy programs worldwide.

His background is that of a practitioner having founded and managed the Wave Project in Scotland, an awarding winning surf therapy intervention that supports young people facing a wide range of mental health challenges. A natural interest into how this intervention achieved its outcomes led to a part time MSc in Physical Activity for Health at the University of Edinburgh and subsequent pursuit of PhD research at Edinburgh Napier University.

Jamie is also a keen surfer having surfed around the world and represented Scotland on a longboard.


María Pachelo, Board of Directors

Maria is the Founder of Serf Sin Limites, Occupational Therapist, Speaker at the 2020 ISTO Symposium for the first all Spanish Speaking Session with Dr. Giovanni Martinez and representing Argentina.

Maria spent several months in 2019 exploring surf therapy throughout Southern California and volunteering at every program she could that summer and early fall. She spoke with conviction that she would start her own program by 2020 (and she did exactly that before COVID hit). Maria also attended ISTO’s 2019 Symposium, flying back to California to volunteer her time to help deliver a successful 3-day Symposium.


Brian Schoo, Board of Directors

Brian brings an abundance of numerous skillsets to any table and any conversation.

He recently began leading the Nestle THRIVE program – a mental wellness ethos, meant to educate and de-stigmatize those struggling with mental health limitations (in corporate America). A massive undertaking, and very much aligned with ISTO’s visions!

Brian has been advocating for the healing benefits of time in the ocean and on a surfboard since college (since before he started surfing). One fateful trip to California from growing up in the Midwest changed the course of his life in so many ways.


Dana Styck, Board of Directors

Dana has been supporting surf therapy and volunteering with JMMF (Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation) since 2016. She’s continued to generously donate to ISTO, volunteered at the ISTO Symposium in 2019, and since 2019, helped with ISTO financials.

Dana is a very detail and results- oriented accounting professional with a strong history of achievement.

Advisors to the Board of Directors


Gregor Sarkisian, Advisor to the Board of Directors

Gregor, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Antioch University Los Angeles, has worked with the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation’s (JMMF) Ocean Therapy program since 2015 as a volunteer surf instructor and more recently as the Director of Research and Evaluation. Dr. Sarkisian attended his first International Surf Therapy Organization (ISTO) conference in July 2018 and has served as a leader in ISTO’s research efforts through his service as the Guest Editor of a Special Issue on Surf Therapy Around the Globe in the Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice and contributions to the special issue based on work with JMMF. Dr. Sarkisian is the principal investigator of two IRB approved studies (one with underserved youth and one with U.S. Veterans) in collaboration with JMMF.

Giovanni-Martinez-ISTO-advisor to the board

Dr. Giovanni Martinez, Advisor to the Board of Directors

Giovanni is a licensed Clinical Psychologist in Puerto Rico and the Executive Director of the non-profit organization Surf4DEM, Inc.

Dr. Martinez has vast experience working on the Diagnosis of the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), provides training in this area and developed alternative methods of intervention.  His groundbreaking research measured social and communication skills in a pre and post-test evaluation and results concluded there is scientific evidence to establish the sport of surfing as an alternative method to traditional therapy for children with autism.

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