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New mental health program changes lives through surfing

Surfers in the water

Mental health surf therapy charity Waves of Wellness (WOW) Foundation is set to launch their new 8-week learn-to-surf program in Lake Macquarie.

The WOW Surfing Experience (WOWSE) is designed to teach people experiencing mental health issues how to surf – and is on offer to people in Lake Macquarie for the first time, thanks to the funding support of nib foundation.

This news comes after a successful year for WOW, with programs in Newcastle, Bondi, Cronulla, Ocean Grove, and Wet 'n' Wild.

Novocastrian WOW CEO and Occupational Therapist Joel Pilgrim, said the WOW Surfing Experience aims to normalise mental health challenges, and has been designed specifically for people experiencing mental health issues within local catchment areas.

"The primary focus of this program is to target social connection, which can be significantly impacted when going through difficult times. We're helping people open up in a neutral, non-intrusive natural environment. This aims to improve social engagement and quality of life for participants," Mr Pilgrim said.

"Preliminary research reveals that this program impacts participants in many important ways, including improved confidence, strengthened social supports, improved daily structure, increased enjoyment of life, decreased worry and anxiety, and a sense of accomplishment."

Former program participant, Brad said the Surfing Experience has played a big role in his recovery. "It gets people up and motivated, it's a real kick start, it's got me fitter, and happier, and has set me a routine. Yeah it's been really beneficial for my mental health."

The growing evidence for surf therapy has been strengthened through the establishment of the International Surf Therapy Organisation (ISTO), of which WOW is a founding member. ISTO aims to facilitate best practice in surf therapy globally.

According to Black Dog Institute (2012) (one in five (20%) Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental health illness in any year, however, only 65% of people with a mental illness do not access any treatment.

nib foundation Executive Officer, Amy Tribe, said the program gives young people the opportunity to learn how to use surfing as a coping strategy and encourages them to explore alternative healthy outlets and positive ways to improve physical and mental health and wellbeing.

"Using surfing and the ocean as an outlet to facilitate positive therapeutic outcomes, program participants are encouraged to discuss mental health issues in a social and relaxed setting with the overall aim of reducing symptoms and improving mental health," Ms Tribe said.

The Lake Macquarie program will kick off on May 2nd. For more information and to register, send WOW an email to [email protected].