October-November 2022 | Features

Riding on the crest of a wave

Riding on the crest of a wave

Sarah Colquhoun from Torrington Rotary in Devon describes The Wave Project which is helping young people’s mental health.

For young people struggling with all that life is throwing at them, The Wave Project provides the perfect environment for them to prove: I can do it!

I’ve been working as the project coordinator for The Wave Project in Bude, Cornwall.

The Wave Project is a young people’s mental health charity which was started by our CEO Joe Taylor In September 2010 when a group of 20 young people sat on the beach at Watergate Bay, Cornwall, for a surfing lesson.

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They had all been diagnosed with mental health disorders, ranging from mild to severe. Some participants had been self-harming, and others experienced severe anxiety, low mood, or depression.

One participant was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Yet to watch them on the beach, none of this was visible.

This was the start of The Wave Project – the world’s first ‘surf therapy’ course funded by a government health service as a pilot scheme, with a view to providing further funding if found to be effective.

Following on from these humble beginnings, The Wave Project was formed as a community interest company in January 2011.

Students receive a safety briefing from Wave Project instructors before a session at sea.

Our early mission statement, then as now, was to enable young people who are struggling to prove to themselves that “I can do it!”

The Wave Project model expanded from Cornwall across the South West of England to North Yorkshire, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London, where we continue to try to support children by changing lives through surfing.

In total, we now operate from 32 beach locations across the United Kingdom.

The Wave Project provides an evidence-backed six-week surf therapy course for young people aged between eight and 18-years-old who are referred to us by professionals such as GPs, social workers, and schoolteachers.

These young people are referred due to a range of different challenges in their lives from bullying, depression, or grief, to physical or learning disabilities.

At The Wave Project our sessions allow them to experience the joy of the coastal environment and the waves, in a way that is safe and supported.

Our young people report feeling more confident, having made new friends, and having new skills by the end of a six-week course with us.

One aspect which sets us apart from a lot of mental health support services is that once the young people have completed a course, they can join a Wave Project surf club. This ensures continued support and positive development

A lot of our surf club members go onto becoming volunteer surf mentors to help other young people.

My greatest achievement was when I managed to stand up on the surfboard and this has given me some confidence to keep trying.”

One of the main reasons that The Wave Project works so well for young people is that we work with volunteer surf mentors. We offer training to volunteers, which means that they can work one-to-one within a group setting under the guidance of surf instructors, to support young people in the sea.

In Bude, we have outstanding volunteer engagement, allowing us to deliver a great number of sessions regardless of the weather, the surf conditions, even the time of year.

The volunteers continue to bring warm smiles and positive vibes to make every session a huge success.

The children are taught to surf by fully qualified surf instructors who see children who are experiencing conditions including selective mutism, severe autism, major confidence issues, to individuals with cerebral palsy and mobility issues.

Surf Instructor Mike Greig said: “To witness such amazing changes in personalities when they enter the water simply reaffirms that this is a project we love to be involved with.

“The pure joy that emanates from these young people when they catch a wave, regardless of if they are standing, sitting, or lying down, is what brings us back every week.”

All those taking part have the full support they need during all tasks.

The young people on the sessions give us great comments on the feedback forms, including this quote from a young person who completed a recent course in Bude.

They wrote: “I was amazed to find out I had been accepted onto The Wave Project. I was excited and it gave me something to look forward to. However, I found it challenging to get out of bed and into the right mindset to participate.

“My greatest achievement was when I managed to stand up on the surfboard and this has given me some confidence to keep trying.

“I am really grateful for the opportunity to come along and be amongst some lovely people and I will remember this experience for the rest of my life, I felt like I had nothing to worry about during the sessions and that was a massive escape from my day-to-day life.”

The Wave Project is always on the look-out for new volunteers. You can sign up on by visiting the website.

You don’t need to be able to surf to help.

We also welcome volunteers who would like to volunteer their time for activities such as fund-raising, office duties, website design, or to help in one of our retail shops; we always have lots of volunteer roles to fill across the country.

If you are aged 14 years plus, enjoy working with children and having fun we’d love to hear from you!

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