In just under a month, I’ll be by the beach in Cornwall listening to one of my favourite bands, Sunset Sons.
But it’s not just a standard gig. This one, in a venue by Perranporth beach, is in aid of an absolutely brilliant charity called The Wave Project, which helps reduce anxiety in young people and improve their confidence – all through surfing.
The Wave Project was launched in 2010 in Cornwall by a voluntary group funded by the National Health Service. The primary aim was simple – provide one-to-one surfing lessons for young people with mental health issues, learning difficulties or physical disabilities as a way of getting them outside, exercising and feeling more confident about themselves. The participants were all young people who other services had been unable to reach.
After just a few lessons, the young surfers reported significant improvements in their moods – they felt a lot happier and displayed much more confidence.
With such brilliant results, The Wave Project was quickly established as a not-for-profit company, obtaining further funding from BBC Children in Need and later from the Big Lottery Fund.
The charity grew and now it spans across the UK – from Scotland down to the Isle of Wight.
In fact, my local hub in Shoreham (West Sussex) has just been shortlisted for the Brighton and West Hove Sainsburys charity of the year scheme. The Wave Project in Brighton and Shoreham do occasional events but they really need more funding or public backing to get regular sessions for young people. This could be just the support they need!
I first became aware of the charity through Surf Girl magazine, and now I follow their updates on social media. Having learnt to surf only recently, I’m still firmly in the beginner stages, and I understand totally why surfing can boost someone’s self esteem, give a sense of achievement or just provide a bit of much needed fun. When you finally catch a wave (usually after missing quite a few, or exhausting yourself paddling), the thrill is incredible. Plus, being in the water can often help calm your mind. You forget your troubles and focus on one thing, and one thing only – the next wave.
So in my opinion, it’s no wonder The Wave Project has been so successful at opening doors to young people and giving them a positive boost.
But it’s not just that. The thing that really helps The Wave Project is it’s army of passionate volunteers and instructors.
The charity gets local surfers to work with clients and teach them to surf, but these surfers are a mix of paid staff and volunteer surf mentors who work in partnership with established surf schools. A lot of surf mentors actually started out as clients themselves…
To be able to teach anyone to surf, or do any kind of watersport, takes a lot of patience. You’re at the mercy of the elements – the sea can be unpredictable – and learners have to keep going both physically and mentally. The best instructor, in my opinion, recognises this and focuses on the basics (how to stand and how to ‘pop’), the techniques (how to turn, how to gain speed…) as well as the mentality (how to keep going when you feel like the waves are too big or surfing is too difficult). The surf mentors are doing all this but focusing on one thing only – ensuring their client has the best experience possible.
The Wave Project‘s ethos, in my opinion, is perfect and sums up what surfing should be about.
Our ethos is to be totally client-led. The role of the surf mentor is to encourage and enable, not to push clients towards an arbitrary goal.
Surfing should primarily be about having fun. And The Wave Project recognises this.
Across the UK, we’ve been hearing reports of the increase in mental health problems among young people. There also seems to more people suffering from anxiety, and our increasingly hectic lives do little to help.
The Wave Project strips things back to basics and encourages young people to embrace nature and just have fun in the ocean. I believe that often, we just need to find something that makes us happy, or do something that bolsters our confidence and makes us believe in ourselves. And that’s precisely what The Wave Project have managed to do.
So on the 15th, yes I will be happily jamming to one of my favourite bands – but I’ll also be supporting a charity which does incredible work and needs to be able to continue to do so.