Surfing soothes the soul and transforms lives

There’s something soothing and comforting about the waves and surfing so it comes as no surprise that surfing is fast catching on as a mental health surf therapy program built around the concept of the transformative power of the ocean.

While she admits to not being as fond of the ocean as surfers are, MARINA REYNOLDS explores just what it is that captures the body, mind and spirit of those who are drawn to the waves.

Surfing is therapeutic and a life-saver for some. This is the gospel according to the Waves of Wellness Foundation (WoW) and the Sunshine Coast’s Making Waves program, run by Mental Health and Wellbeing Sunshine Coast.

As an Academy of Surfing Instructors (ASI) accredited surf school, Mental Health and Wellbeing Sunshine Coast does a little more than just teach surf lessons.

ASI surf instructor Jonathan Hampton has been combining his support for people with mental health issues and surfing for the past two decades.

Putting his passions together he has developed Making Waves, a surf program run through Shine Social & Communities that provides support for individuals experiencing persisting mental health issues that prevent them from taking part in activities and support recovery using the healing power of the ocean and the therapeutic effect of surfing.

Shine Social & Communities is a Coolum Beach NDIS-registered disability service provider that helps people live their best lives through a variety of various programs, including surfing.

WoW is a mental health surf therapy charity, committed to changing lives by delivering for-purpose, innovative support programs for people experiencing mental health challenges.

Its highly successful (and some might say addictive) program is run throughout Australia: Bondi Beach, Manly and Warriewood in Sydney, Melbourne’s Tullamarine, The Central Coast of New South Wales, Ballina and Newcastle, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts in Queensland and its newest location, Perth in Western Australia.

WoW believes dealing with mental health is not just about dealing with crisis, it’s also about finding healthy outlets for people who are struggling, recovering, and doing fine.

Recent research from the US investigated the effect of surfing on the wellbeing of combat veterans experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and found the act of being in the ocean with the waves “facilitated a sense of respite”.

Other studies have indicated surfing can help young people develop resilience and social and emotional skills.

Just last year, a Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH) pilot research project found promising signs that surfing could prove effective as a therapy for children with chronic conditions.

The Blue Healer project led by Senior Clinical Psychologist at PCH, Joanna White, is the first of its kind in the world to use surfing as a family-based intervention to improve the lives of patients with cystic fibrosis (CF).

The project is based on evidence that children with a chronic condition are known to be at two to three times greater risk of developing a mental health issue than their healthy counterparts.

Ms. White said the pilot program found overwhelmingly positive benefits for the entire family with improved physical and psychological wellbeing for patients and improved family relationships overall.

Jonathan Hampton can personally attest to the power of the waves when it comes to mental health. And its ability to save lives.

“I have always loved being in the ocean and surfing has always been a huge part of my life,” he says.

“One day I was waiting for a wave watching the sun come up over the water and asked myself ‘how can I share this with other people like me?”

“Part of my story is my own experiences with depression, anxiety and PTSD and it’s no doubt that surfing has saved my life.”

“For a long time, I allowed my past trauma to control much of what I did, how I saw myself in the world and the future was an extremely daunting concept to me.”

“I’ve worked in the mental health field for a long time, I used to be a teacher and then went and completed my master’s degree in social work.”

“This gave me the opportunity to start sharing my passion with people experiencing mental health issues. I completed my certificate in surf coaching through the ASI and I guess the rest is history.”

“Mental Health and Wellbeing Sunshine Coast and the Making Waves program is a small operation but the goal was to start sharing the love of the ocean with participants with more persisting and enduring mental health issues; people who are isolated and essentially fall through the cracks, not just in the wider community, but in the disability sector as well.”

“This is because large group settings with a more structured approach to their programs aren’t really going to attract individuals who are too scared to leave their unit”

“It gives individuals the chance to see what life could be like outside their ‘illness’.”

Mr. Hampton says the results and outcomes speak for themselves.

“People who have accessed the program have continued to surf, purchased their own surfboards or have gone on to join other surfing programs to broaden their experiences and meet other people who love to surf,” he said.

NDIS participants are encouraged to take their support workers to Making Waves sessions.

WoW founder and CEO Joel Pilgrim agrees with Mr. Hampton: “You jump in the ocean and it has the transformational power to shake away all the worries that might be affecting you from day-to-day.”

“I often refer to the shoreline as the bullsh*t barrier. Because it stops the bullsh*t that life throws at us. When you’re out in the surf, you’re in a really joyous state, and you’re sharing that experience with other people.”

More than just the calming effect of getting active in the natural environment, WoW is a program designed to attract people of all surfing abilities — from beginner to “hero” — who might not ordinarily seek out formal therapy sessions.

To find out more about WoW and its courses, locations and contacts, check out their website and social media pages – Facebook , Twitter and Instagram.

If you would like to find out more about Mr. Hampton and Making Waves, check out or

There is power in the surf. Let it empower you.

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