Using surfing as therapy for disaffected and disadvantaged children

Mental health and young people

The Wave Project works with young people, aged 8 to 21, who have been identified as being at risk of or diagnosed with a mental health issue, learning difficulty or physical disability; for example ADHD, Autism, anxiety and depression. In some cases, their problems are exacerbated by self-harm, challenging behaviours, eating disorders or other coping mechanisms. Whilst each young person is affected differently, they often share:

  • Exceptionally low confidence
  • Poor self-esteem and self-image
  • Lack of self-belief
  • Isolation from their peers, social exclusion
  • Feel stigmatised/labelled

The young people will already be working with and are referred to us by professional services, such as psychologists; Child and Adolescent Mental Health; social services or crisis teams. 

Recent evidence has shown that a child with good mental health is much more likely to have good mental health as an adult, and to be able to take on adult responsibilities and fulfil their potential. (Young Minds, 2014). Therefore, early prevention and intervention work with young people is key.Wave Project logo

Surfing as therapy

The Wave Project offers fully funded surf therapy courses which are proven to help young people feel calmer, more motivated and better about their future. Sessions are delivered by professional surf instructors and supported by a team of local volunteer surf mentors.

Young people work at their own pace to overcome challenges and develop a sense of pride in their achievements. There is no pressure to succeed, our instructors and surf mentors work to create an atmosphere of support and positivity.

Over time, we see the young people change from isolated and shy ….to more engaged, confident and happy. The ethos of acceptance, support and learning to overcome challenges, alongside the revitalising effect of being in the sea, is a unique and powerful combination that really does transform lives.

After completing their course, the young people are welcome to join the Wave Project surf club. The clubs provide longer-term support and friendship, helping to reduce isolation. With over 325 members we’re one of the largest surf clubs in the UK. Although we mainly go surfing, we also run a variety of winter activities from beach cleans to surfing Santa's Christmas parties. 

For young people and their families who are finding life hard, the Wave Project gives them a sense of identity and becomes a significant part of their lives.

Kids waving hands in surf

The Wave Project

In 2010 the local NHS Trust in Cornwall funded a six-week pilot scheme to examine the benefits of surfing on the emotional health of young people. The results showed that going surfing once a week helped clients feel more confident, improved their outlook and gave them a sense of fun. Encouraged by the results, The Wave Project was established in 2011.

The Wave Project is now an award winning UK charity that helps young people experience a better life through surfing. Our work has been hailed as an innovative and accessible way in which to help young people improve their mental health and well-being.

The charity has since expanded out of Cornwall to support young people in Devon, Dorset, Isle of Wight, Brighton and Scarborough in the North East. We also have active projects in East Scotland and across Wales.

With only a small staff team of 15, our work is largely dependent on our community of over 300 volunteers, who helped to transform the lives of over 800 vulnerable young people during 2016.

Changing Lives

Ana Bella started her Wave Project journey in May 2016 and what a journey it has been! She immediately took to surfing and was up on her feet on the first session riding the waves like a pro! Ana is 12 and has a diagnosis of ADHD and undergoing screening for Autism. Before she started surfing she was having serious anger issues, anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of confidence and generally having a really tough time.

“The moment she started surfing, she could not wait for Sunday’s – she has never been that enthusiastic about anything before! There was never a problem with her leaving the house to go surfing, she was super comfortable with her peers and instructors, which I had also never seen before.

She has made some friends (something that is really hard for her to do), gained confidence, enthusiasm and her self-esteem has grown. Ana is now un-medicated and a lot happier, although of course the symptoms are all still there, she can deal with them better than before.

I too have made some really great friends with some of the other parents-  a welcomed outlet to talk with others that not only empathise but sympathise.

She can’t wait to get back in the water and see everyone – neither can I." Ana Bella’s Mum

The Wave Project website ->