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Changing lives through surfing and surf therapy

Trine Roald
Trine Roald
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Becca surfing

Surfing is a great activity and therapy. It combines aerobic exercise and strength training with a stress-relieving mental health workout as you progress and develop new skills. You get all this while having a blast - and it’s inclusive.

Becca is an adorable and active girl living in Cheshire. She happens to use the Innowalk dynamic stander due to physical disability caused by quadriplegic cerebral palsy. That’s how we learned that she has been surfing with her twin sister through the Wave Project. The family went to Croyde in Devon last year for holiday, an area they are very fond of, and that’s the first time Becca tried surfing. 

The brave ten-year-old just loves the Wave Project where she can be herself in a safe and positive atmosphere while having fun with her sister and her friends. The surfing experience has given her confidence and self-esteem.

I think it's the most fun I ever had! – Becca.

Becca surfing and smiling

What are the benefits of surf therapy?

The surf therapy is designed to help young people to:

  • feel more positive about themselves
  • be more resilient to cope with other problems in their lives
  • have great self-esteem and self-worth
  • improve ‘social wellbeing’ – the ability to make friends and form social relationships
  • improve their vitality – fitness, risk taking and passion for life.

Impact and evaluation has been embedded in the Wave Project since day one. In the past 10 years, they have gathered information from over 3,000 young people in the UK, so have a large dataset measuring change across 17 measures of wellbeing including self-esteem, resilience, confidence, social trust, positive functioning and friendships. The results show that The Wave Project has had a significant positive impact on the wellbeing of vulnerable young people.

The Wave Project is on a mission

As the world’s first “surf therapy” initiative, the Wave Project started in 2010 in Cornwall, UK, funded by the NHS as a pilot scheme. 

It’s a long-established body of evidence which shows that when you organise therapeutic activities around particular tasks, people benefit not just from social interaction but also build confidence.” NHS health commissioner Joe McEvoy.

The Wave Project was formed as a community interest company in 2011, and their mission is to enable young people who are struggling to prove to themselves that “I can do it!”. It has grown from a charity, based solely in Cornwall, to one that operates all over the UK.  

Children say that the most important part of their therapy comes from the volunteers. They provide one-to-one support for children in the water, helping with participants’ physical needs – managing the boards and the waves. Today, the surf sessions are delivered by 900 trained volunteer surf mentors across the UK.

Becca surfing with her crew

Today the Wave Project is also part of a growing global movement of surf therapy programmes from around the world, organised in the International Surf Therapy Organisation. Here practitioners and researchers collaborate to advance the use of surf therapy as a health intervention .

The Wave Project is funded by donations from supporters. The objective is that the nationally award-winning surf-therapy courses are free of charge for participants and families. Most people choose to support their work by joining their Membership Programme. The members give a monthly donation to ensure the service is always available to young people who need it. Another way people support their work is by purchasing branded clothes from their Online Shop.

The Corona virus situation

As we write this article the Wave Project has temporarily postponed their surf therapy sessions as a result of the knock on effects of the coronavirus. They fully intend to return to delivering surf therapy to young people when the UK Government advises us that it is safe to do so.

Surfing for everyone, a year round activity

If you think the salt water waves are a bit too cold during the winter season, there is now a year round surf destination in Bristol, called The Wave. They offer an inland 180 meter long artificial surfing lake, designed to ensure it is fun for all, whatever age, fitness, learning or physical ability.

The Wave

The idea of building a surfing lake came to The Wave’s founder, Nick Hounsfield, an osteopath and lifelong surfer, in 2011.
He realised that many of the health issues people were battling came about due to inactivity, a disconnection from nature, and a breakdown in connections between people. To address this, he wanted to create a health and wellbeing destination that was safe and cohesive. They have worked hard to develop a truly inclusive approach to learning that can be adapted to suit all levels and abilities and helps to build confidence as well as surfing skills. The Wave in Bristol opened in October 2019.

The physical and mental health benefits of surfing are well known within the surf community, and evidence is growing about just how good surfing is for you. Read their blog which gives a nice summary of the Health benefits of surfing for body and mind

The Wave is part of Wave Garden which has other attractions around the world. 

As we write this article also The Wave is temporarily closed due to the Corona-situation. Check their website for updates on when they open again.

Photo credit: @littlewoodrobin

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Trine Roald
Trine Roald

The author worked as Head of Marketing for Made for Movement for 7 years before she pursued other adventures in her own company. Trine Roald has over 20 years of international experience within a variety of industries. As Head of Marketing for Made for Movement she was passionate about communicating stories and know-how featuring possibilities for improving the quality of life among people with severe disabilities.

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