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Surf Therapy -with 1:1 adult & peer mentor support

by Holly Sayce in Port Talbot, Wales, United Kingdom

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We use evidence based ‘Surf Therapy’ with 1:1 adult mentors to help young people with mental health challenges and physical disabilities

by Holly Sayce in Port Talbot, Wales, United Kingdom

The Challenge

One in four adults experience mental illness in their lives, and this costs the NHS £12billion per year in direct costs alone. 50% of these mental illnesses are established by age 14, and 75% by age 18. These if untreated can lead to complex physical and mental ill-health, and shockingly 75% of young people are not receiving treatment.

These mental health challenges can be due to a number of reasons:

  • Severe Trauma/Adverse Childhood  Experiences
  • Severe anxiety
  • Family breakdown
  • Bereavement
  • Bullying
  • Low self-esteem
  • Discrimination
  • Physical disability

The more of these a child experiences, the more complex the mental health issue, and the more likely it will develop into ‘risk taking behaviours’, lead to poor outcomes and progress into physical and mental ill-health in adulthood. 

Despite this, we are able to build in a number of protective factors around young people such as positive relationships, resilience, feelings of success and achievement, adult emotional support etc. - and the more of these that are in place around a young person, the less likely the progression of physical and mental ill-health.

The Wave Project and Surf Therapy

Our charity aims to improve the lives of children and young people by building in protective factors around our young people. We take referrals from GPs, social workers, mental health nurses, schools etc. for young people with varying complex mental health challenges or physical disabilities. We use evidence based, award winning ‘Surf Therapy’ with voluntary 1:1 adult and peer mentors to help these young people to improve their wellbeing:

1)    From the point of referral, our Project Coordinator work with the young people and their families to reduce anxiety and build confidence in the lead up to beginning 'Surf Therapy', and create solutions for any specialist needs;

2)    The Project Coordinator recruit and train a team of volunteers to give 1:1 support to each child during the sessions so that they have access to an emotionally available adult - an intervention that has been proven to interrupt the progression of childhood adversity and trauma into more complex mental and physical ill health;

3)    The young people are initially given a 6 week course of Surfing where we use specially trained, qualified instructors to teach our young people a new skill – something that they can thrive at and something that will challenge them physically and build fitness and self esteem;

4)    We support our young people to take risks in a safe environment and build resilience through falling and trying again. The volunteers are crucial here in cheering/encouraging/celebrating their every achievement - no matter how big or small;

5)    We introduce them to a group of like minded peers so that they can make friends and build a supportive network– likewise for parents;

6)    We introduce them to the therapeutic, calming but sometimes wild ocean and use surfing – a sport that naturally promotes Mindfulness, and one that they would never usually get to access. The many therapeutic qualities of Surfing and the outdoors have been proven to have a lasting effect on these children's wellbeing;

All of these elements of Surf Therapy enable our young people to thrive and really feel like they belong somewhere, when they previously felt disconnected and lonely. In addition to this, not only are the young people and families on the courses brought into the Wave Project family, but members of the community are upskilled in mental health support & are a community resource for future generations. These volunteers also report wellbeing benefits from joining the Wave Project family. The Wave Project’s Surf Therapy, was recognised by the National Lottery in 2018 who awarded the Sport for Social Change award. Our outcomes are independently evaluated and peer reviewed - please click this link to read our independent longitudinal impact report.

This project will enable young people to access a 6 week Surf Therapy course and progress to a long term sustainable 'Surf Club'. After the initial costs of Surf Club, the project will be self-sustaining. Participants will be asked to contribute £5 for a session (although fees will be waivered for young people who can not afford this). Parents and volunteers will maintain the project primarily with local fundraising such as film nights, bake sales, face painting etc.

Once the young people have turned 14, they will also be given the option to undertake training and to volunteer as Surf Mentors themselves. This in turn can further improve wellbeing by learning and developing new skills, developing a sense of pride and purpose especially from helping other young people who visually benefit so much from Surf Therapy, boosting self-confidence etc.

Fundraising Strategy & Proof of Demand

The Wave Project began in 2010 in just one location in Cornwall, but has now grown throughout the UK – all of the way up the coast from Cornwall, Devon, and Dorset to London, Yorkshire, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Many of these projects, whilst originally beginning on grant funding, are self-sustaining thanks to our communities of wonderful volunteers, who work tirelessly to run community fundraisers such as bake sales and coffee mornings, sponsored walks/climbs/challenges, clothes sales/swaps, auctions and raffles, arts/crafts sales, games/quiz nights etc.

Additionally, we have developed a new approach and are beginning to put in place partnership agreements with our referrers, which from Spring 2020 includes a £150 contribution from referral partners. A number of our partners have agreed to pay this for 2020, with our project coordinators working on increasing this to all referrers in 2021/2022. We also have a membership scheme for supporters of the Wave Project who give a monthly donation – again our project coordinator is working in the local communities to increase members.

Based on local need and demand, we would like to expand Surf Therapy to reach 120 new young people over 2020 and 2021–  with new Surf Therapy cohorts and Surf Club sessions running in Spring, Summer and Autumn.

South Wales

The South Wales project was established in 2014 and supported over 100 new young people to access Surf Therapy in its first 3 years. We deliver from two locations on the South Wales coast, Aberavon in Port Talbot and Rest Bay in Porthcawl. We work with young people from around 8 local authority areas experiencing a range of difficulties such as mental health issues, physical and learning disability, bereavement, young people in the looked after system, young carers and young people at risk of offending.

The communities our young people come from make up the South Wales coalfields area. This area has continued to experience issues of unemployment and poor health since the closure of the coal mines; disproportionately to the rest of the UK (BBC News, 2014). Isolation and loneliness are identified as significant issues across Welsh communities, believed to be worsened by cuts to transport and facilities like day and youth centres (BBC News, 2017). It is believed that half of all mental health issues will have begun by the age of 14. With specialist CAMHS facing long waiting lists, often with many young people that could be supported by other organisations, the need for early intervention and alternative support for young people is often cited in Welsh policy and guidance (National Assembly for Wales, 2018). 

Wales is one of the most deprived regions of Europe and contains some of the most deprived boroughs in Britain (Eurostat, 2014), with many young people affected by poverty, family breakdown and social exclusion. The Prince’s Trust Macquarie Youth Index (2014) has shown that young people from deprived homes are significantly more likely to face symptoms of mental illness, including suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks. The country has higher than average incidents of suicide and poorer than average mental health among young people (Public Health Wales NHS Trust Annual Report, 2013). In Wales, one in 10 children between the ages of 5 and 16 has a diagnosed mental health problem, and 50% of people who develop serious mental health problems in Wales have developed symptoms by the time they are 14 (Welsh Government, Together for Mental Health, 2012).  

Our South Wales project utilises a mix of individual and group fundraising events, small community events and monthly membership donations. With around 50 volunteers across our two locations, we are grateful to have passionate, dedicated volunteers who identify opportunities in the local community that help contribute to the continuation of our surf sessions and spread the word to encourage volunteers and support. This year a group of Wave Project supporters have completed an Everest Trek, fun runs, tough mudders and rowing events raising over £2000.  Currently, one of our awesome volunteers is developing an English-Welsh surf dictionary which we hope to publish via Amazon and generate funds for our work. 

This together with any funds we raise from this would go towards funding the new young people from South Wales. It costs us £300 for each young person to go through Surf Therapy, and £150 for Surf Club. This is primarily due to the preparatory and ongoing work to ensure that their emotional needs are met and the activity is safe and appropriate for the individual. 


This project offers rewards in return for your donation.

£500 or more

Surf Therapy Jumper

Get comfy in our cotton Surf Therapy sweater. The sweater has the softest texture and a relaxed unisex fit. Show your support for The Wave Project with our 100% cotton hem label and back printed logo.

£75 or more

0 of 50 claimed

Wave Project Wristband

Wave Project Wristband

£100 or more

0 of 20 claimed

Wave Project Mug

Enjoy a warming brew in our enamel Surf Therapy camping mug. The mug holds an impressive amount of beverage and has a lovely contrasting navy blue lip for ease of sipping (or slurping – if you’re in a rush).

£200 or more

0 of 50 claimed

Canvas Surf Therapy Bag

Our canvas bag is a true multi-tasker, whether you’re popping to the shops or out for the day this sturdy cotton bag will comfortably cary your cargo whilst keeping you stylish.

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