SURFERS from across South Devon paddled out together in Bigbury Bay last week to mark World Mental Health Day. 

The surfers were part of the charity the Wave Project, the UK’s leading surf therapy charity, and the first organisation in the world to offer ‘surfing on prescription’ via the NHS.

Volunteers, supporters and young people met in the water on their boards, joined hands, and formed a human circle in support of mental health. 

Gary Sinclair, from Ashburton has been surfing Devon’s beaches for over 30 years. Explaining the paddle out, Gary said: ‘The paddle out dates back in surfing tradition. In Hawaii if there was a death in the surf community, like-minded surfers would paddle out with reefs, join a circle and share a bit with that person before catching a wave back in. 

(The Wave Project)

‘That’s exactly what we did. We shared positive experiences we’d had over the year. We paid homage to those that were struggling and released the tension from ourselves before surfing back in.’

With the help of a local farmer and his tractor, the Wave Project’s logo was carved into the sand on the causeway between Bigbury-on-Sea and Burgh Island. 

Starting in Cornwall in 2010, the Wave Project is a charity running therapeutic surfing courses throughout the UK, supporting more than 2000 young people a year. 

As a volunteer that provides one-to-one mentorship for the project, Gary knows first hand the positive impact that surfing can have on people’s lives. 

The project’s six-week surf therapy programme helps young people experiencing anxiety or trauma to rebuild their self-confidence improve their outlook on their lives, by combining the joy of surfing with the culture of support created by the charity’s surf mentors.  

‘It was my way of giving back,’ said Gary, ‘I’ve gained so much from the sea and the Wave Project was such a good fit because I’ve surfed for so many years.’

‘Surfing is a real meditative experience. When you’re surfing: you don’t think, you just do. Your body takes over. 

‘I think that’s one of the key aspects of the success of the Wave Project. Statistics to show that the wellbeing and self-worth of the young people we work with is improved through the project and mediation is one of the key parts of that. 

‘That’s what I gain from it, it’s a form of meditation, you can forget your daily worries, you can be mindful by being mindless in the act.’

The Wave Project
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The work Gary and the Wave Project team does has now become a vital lifeline for many young people suffering from mental health issues. Referrals don’t just come from the NHS but a variety of sources and the scheme now has a lengthy waiting list.

Katie Smith, South Devon Coordinator of the Wave Project, said: ‘Since The Wave Project started in Devon, we have helped over 1000 children with our six-week surf therapy courses, plus many more on private adaptive sessions. We want to continue to support more children, especially across a county where we are all aware of the pressures put upon education and mental health services.

‘I hope raising awareness this way will make people think about how we, as individuals, can make a change and work together to make sure children’s mental health is top of the agenda.’