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‘Surfing lets me escape from reality’ (Bella – participant)

An idea born from a conversation in the middle of the ocean one morning between two friends filling in the COVID19 lockdown hours, Brophy’s first STOKED surf therapy program has delivered more than the Foyer’s Chrissie Duncan could have hoped for.

‘Surfing and spending time in the ocean has a way of changing lives. The feeling of riding a wave or diving through the salt water reminds you that it’s good to be alive. It connects you to nature and helps us to press pause and escape the mental load of life. The ability to bring people together to experience this is an absolute honour’, Chrissie said.

STOKED is a ‘learn to surf’ program designed for young people aged between 15 – 25 years as a coping strategy for mental health, to connect young people to community, to deliver education on mental health & wellbeing and to provide exposure to the healing powers of the ocean.

The first program held in Warrnambool saw 17 young people take to the ocean for lessons by Go-Surf School Port Fairy and participate in education sessions ran by qualified practitioners from a range of Brophy programs including headspace, DARE, Healthy Relationships, as well as community leaders in the health and wellbeing field.

Anna Sanderson from the Better Futures team at Brophy said it’s just been a fantastic outcome for everyone involved.

‘The main aim of STOKED was not about surfing…. the focus was on connection, making new friends, experiencing something new and potentially learn a new shill, but learning to enjoy the ocean as a powerful tool to support good mental health… Young people could come and just sit on the beach to watch the waves, or put their toes in the water or swim but we had the surfboard and warm wetsuits there for all that wants to give it a go – free healthy food to finish off the session was also a huge hit.’

Volunteer mentors from the local surfing community were also a key part in the program’s success.

‘I’m pretty sure that four out of the five nights I wouldn’t have wanted to go to the beach. The participants that were involved were just brilliant………..they were so engaging and kept showing up which was unreal. Regardless of everyone’s ability, everyone just kept having a crack – get up and go again. Some of those smiles were pretty cool too’, reflected Leon one of the program’s Community Mentors.

Funded by South West Community Foundation and Helen McPherson Smith Trust, two more programs will be held in Portland & Warrnambool later in the year.

Check out STOKED’s first program here.