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Image: two children in the ocean on a surfboard being held in place by a coach who sports a #SurfTherapy graphic on their shirt

The Unexpected Ways Surfing is Helping Youth Heal

An upcoming wave of innovative relationship therapy has been shaking things up in places where one child will have an average of 8 traumatic experiences in a single year. It involves what connects us all: our desire for community, to be heard, and of course, what bridges most divides—the ocean. And the best part about it? Well, it’s actually working.

If the organization we are about to introduce you to doesn’t prove there’s a Conspiracy of Goodness movement happening in the world, I don’t know what does. Thankfully, this particular conspirator of goodness is doing something each one of us can help expand —and you’re probably already involved in an activity that is leading the way!

Image: two children in the ocean on a surfboard being held in place by a coach who sports a #SurfTherapy graphic on their shirt
Source: Tao Farren-Hefer
Courtesy of Waves for Change

“What we find is especially kids who grow up in communities where there’s big gang culture, they’re looking for belonging, they’re looking for risk, they’re looking to distinguish themselves from their peers. And if you then offer them a sport like surfing, they find a little tribe—sort of that sense of belonging—they find risk, and they distinguish themselves from their peers because they’re doing something totally new.” — Tim Conibear, Founder of Waves for Change (W4C) 1

The lasting impact of Waves for Change

Waves for Change (W4C) was founded in 2014 by a man who had originally arrived in South Africa to learn how to make wine. 2 But instead of staying in the vineyard, every weekend, Tim Conibear found himself bringing van-loads of local kids out to the beach to surf.

It didn’t take long for him to notice that the surf club was helping the kids immensely; letting them open up, meet and connect with other people their age, learn a new skill, and just simply, play.

Image: A young person surfing on a small wave with two people cheering for them in the background
Source: Courtesy of Waves for Change

The surf club became a form of therapy for kids who had very few opportunities for support.

The beach turned into the place the kids could open up about their lives. They were able to be in the ocean, leave their stress off of the beach, and learn the skills to cope with it when it arrives again.

Many South Africans are no stranger to stress and trauma. And this can have detrimental effects on mental and physical health. Stress pumps our bodies full of cortisol as if we are in constant fight or flight mode, putting our heart into overdrive. It also can manifest in destructive ways if emotional support is not present. 3

But W4C has been able to bring that support to their lives. Just take a look at their mission:

“By fusing the rush of surfing with evidence-based mind/body therapy, W4C provides a child-friendly mental health service to vulnerable and differently-abled youth living in under-resourced communities. Through access to save spaces, caring mentors, and a provision of weekly surf therapy sessions, W4C gives children skills to cope with stress, regulate behaviour, build healing relationships, and make positive life choices.” 4

This first video gives us a wonderful introduction to their organization, the impact they’re having on the children, the community around them, and the world as a whole.

And as you watch, remember: All of this started because of the efforts of one person who saw a gap and filled it just by doing something they love. This, my dear friends, is a scalable and entirely replicable operation with a phenomenal impact. This is something we can all get involved in. Take a look:

Via: Waves For Change #SurfTherapy 5

Isn’t that fantastic?

Imagine the kind of impact this could have for people worldwide.

What’s special about this sort of program is that people aren’t coming here to get help. They aren’t here for therapy, they’re here for the community. It seems that these two work hand in hand, doesn’t it?

And sport is the perfect arena for it. Whether you’re skiing, skateboarding, playing chess, or surfing, you already have something in common with the people around you: You all love the activity. That’s a jumping off point for any relationship. Just feeling the support, encouragement, and understanding that comes along with this shared interest has a powerful impact on our health. 6 And when that community also brings focus to mental health and tending to ourselves, well, the benefits are endless.

Have another look at what W4C is making possible in this wonderful film produced by Jamie Hancock:

Via:  jamie hancock 7

If you’d like to see more work from Jamie Hancock, head over to their website and Vimeo page! And stay up to date with Jamie’s work by following along on Facebook and Instagram.

Waves for Change: A Simple Solution Worth Sharing

“A simple solution worth sharing.” That’s how Tim Conibear described what Waves for Change is doing while giving the TEDx Talk we’re about to share here. They aren’t doing anything new—surfing has been around for a very long time. Heck, sports have been around forever. But our focus on how they can help the entire person—not just their physical self—is something that we seem to collectively be stumbling into around the world.

Listen to him speak about the studies Waves for Change has conducted with universities on the impact of their efforts, and hear the story of how this all began and the journey they’ve been on in this last video. It’s a phenomenal talk!

Via: TEDx Talks 8

Be sure to head over to Waves for Change’s website to learn more about their work and the #SurfTherapy movement. And follow them on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date with everything they’re up to.

Spend a moment on their media page to see more great videos that highlight their work!

Find ways to make it okay for people to say they’re not okay.

Handling trauma and stress is hard enough on its own without the added pressure of pretending we’re all good. Noticing and accepting when we aren’t is the first step towards improvement. It’s the step we need to find what will help us curate the tools to bring with us when the stressors pop up again.

Image: A child smiling and laying on their back in the ocean while a coach lifts them up
Source: Tao Farren-Hefer
Courtesy of Waves for Change

Traditional therapy—the image of therapist and patient sitting across from each other on a couch that probably pops into your head when “therapy” is said—isn’t for everyone. And if something doesn’t appeal to you, then you aren’t going to do it. It’s as simple as that.

Waves for Change and the thousands of other programs focusing on sports therapy and other alternative methods around the world are changing how we go about helping ourselves be healthier.

Why not encompass healthy tools inside of an activity we love? Or a new activity we’ve found interest in? Whether that’s surfing, knitting, playing music, hiking, rock climbing, cooking, or looking for birds, there’s something out there for everyone.

Here’s what we can all do:

The next time you’re participating in an activity with a group, just take note of how you feel. What’s it like to be around others who share the same interest?

Image: group of children and coaches sitting in a circle with their eyes closed
Source: Courtesy of Waves for Change

Why do you keep coming back to do it? Do you feel supported? Understood? Inspired? Is it easier to open up? Where’s your mind? On the difficulties you’re facing daily, or are you present? 

There are already so many benefits to group activities and play… what could happen if we began shifting the focus just a bit?

Make sure you share the impact of what you’re doing with others. We humans love reviews—the assurances that what we’re going to do will be beneficial to our needs. And thankfully, social media and the internet as a whole has made it easier than ever for us to share the additions to our lives that have made a difference. When something impacts you positively, share it!

Stay open to new possibilities!

  • Sam

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” — Albert Einstein 

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  1. “Waves for Change – Changing Lives, One Wave at a Time.” YouTube, Waves For Change #SurfTherapy, 19 Apr. 2017, https://youtu.be/E1ZtQnRkgTU. Accessed 10 Apr. 2019.
  2. “Lewatle.” YouTube, Reef, 22 Oct. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=v35bZddAKvM. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.
  3. “About Waves For Change.” Waves 4 Change, www.waves-for-change.org/about-waves-for-change/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2019.
  4. “Waves 4 Change.” Waves 4 Change, www.waves-for-change.org/. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.
  5. “Waves for Change – Changing Lives, One Wave at a Time.” YouTube, Waves For Change #SurfTherapy, 19 Apr. 2017, https://youtu.be/E1ZtQnRkgTU. Accessed 10 Apr. 2019.
  6. Lam, Christine A, et al. “The Impact of Community Engagement on Health, Social, and Utilization Outcomes in Depressed, Impoverished Populations: Secondary Findings from a Randomized Trial.” Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine : JABFM, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 May 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4868397/. Accessed 17 Apr. 2019.
  7. “Waves For Change.” Vimeo, Jamie Hancock, 25 Mar. 2019, vimeo.com/326317981. Accessed 10 Apr. 2019.
  8. Conibear, Tim. “Surf Therapy – A Wave of Change | Tim Conibear | TEDxCapeTownSalon.” YouTube, TEDx Talks, 23 Jan. 2018, https://youtu.be/tkqJmH0oEP0. Accessed 10 Apr. 2019.
Image: Samantha Burns

Sam Burns

Former Editor-In-Chief

Sam wrote and edited hundreds of articles during her time on the Goodness Exchange team from 2016-2021. She wrote about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the Goodness Exchange, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and procurer of cheeses.

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