In September 2010, a group of 20 young people sat on the beach at Watergate Bay, Cornwall, for a surfing lesson. They had all been diagnosed with mental health disorders, ranging from mild to severe. Some participants had been self-harming, others experienced severe anxiety, low mood or depression. One participant was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Yet to watch them on the beach, none of this was visible.
It was the start of The Wave Project – the world’s first ‘surf therapy’ course funded by a government health service. The NHS had agreed to fund this as a pilot scheme, with a view to providing further funding if it was found to be effective.
The results of self-evaluation showed that wellbeing rose among the group overall, with participants feeling calmer, less angry and more connected to each other, after surfing. Young people experiencing anxiety grew in confidence. One young man, who had a diagnosis of selective mutism, began talking freely again during the course. It was the first time in the UK that surfing had been used to support mental health.
Following on from these humble beginnings, The Wave Project was formed as a community interest company in January 2011 . Our early mission statement, then as now, was to enable young people who are struggling to prove to themselves that “I can do it!” The Wave Project model expanded from Cornwall across the South West of England to North Yorkshire, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London, where we continue to try to support children by changing lives through surfing.