CAPE TOWN, South Africa – Volunteers and staff of a surf therapy program providing child-friendly mental health services for youth at risk in unstable communities in South Africa were busy Thursday unloading containers with a very special Surf-Aid: hundreds of boards donated by United States surfers.
Over 700 surfboards of all sorts and sizes were generously donated to support two African surf therapy non-profit foundations: “Waves For Change,” a Laureus award-winning children’s organization, and “Surfers Not Street Children.”
“Since being at Waves for Change, the children show a willingness to engage with each other, build friendships and high fives,” Robyn Cohen, National Director of Waves For Change (W4C), said in a statement. “Lots of high fives.”
The initiative was launched via the #cantstealourvibe surfboard drive, an enterprise started by United States professional surfer Patrick Gudauskas, his brothers Tanner and Dane, and South African professional surfer Mikey February.
W4C works in communities affected by violence, poverty and conflict, where mental health services are often stigmatized and under-resourced.
Many South African children who suffer from daily exposure to violence and stress suffer from acute emotional and psychological stress, the statement said.
“Lacking emotional support, stress often manifests in anti-social and high-risk behavior,” the statement said.
W4C was founded by Tim Conibear, an avid surfer who went to South Africa after graduating from university in the United Kingdom.
In 2009, he started a small surfing club in Masiphumelele Township. The club began voluntary weekend surfing sessions, which soon grew when local community members recognized that surfing was a great way to engage young people.
Early surfing sessions showed that children experienced improved feelings of belonging, strength, trust and confidence – key pillars of wellbeing.
Improved behavior was noted by teachers and parents.
According to W4C, 96 percent of the children reported feeling happier and 93 percent felt more confident, among other improvements.
Surfing is a water sport in which a wave rider, or surfer, rides on the forward or deep face of a moving wave, often carrying the surfer to the shore.
A surfboard is a relatively light elongated platform, but strong enough to support a person standing on it while riding a breaking ocean wave.
Each year, approximately 400,000 surfboards are manufactured.
Surfboards hail from ancient Hawaii and are known as “papa he’e nalu” meaning “wave-sliding” in Hawaiian.
They were made from local trees, such as koa, were heavy and could measure up to 5 meters (yards) long.
According to ancient Hawaiian culture, the sea was a living being and could express emotions.
A good surfing day required a proper wave, and Hawaiians would ask the sea to provide the waves, relying on Kahunas (priests) to pray for the good surf with ritual chants and dance ceremonies to please the sea so it provided good surf waves.
Surfing was not a mere sport, it kept Hawaiian chiefs in fighting shape and was used to resolve conflicts.
W4C operates in some of the most at-risk communities in South Africa, and also in Liberia and Somalia.
Its 2018 objective is to open another 10 centers across the African continent.