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Riding the waves to mental health in Yamba

Yamba, on the NSW North Coast, is famous around the world for its surf breaks, perfect beaches and a gentle night-time buzz. It is now the latest home of a growing program that provides mental health support for local men and teens while they are out on the waves.

Waves of Wellness connects with males in an environment that is more conducive to providing support and forms part of the growing number of the grassroots men’s mental health movement in Australia that includes walking groups, poker groups, book clubs, dining groups, boxing and sports-based programs that are providing effective male-friendly services.

Backed by Movember, Waves of Wellness, has run 88 programs impacting the lives of more than 1000 people through specialised surf therapy programs in Sydney, Newcastle, Melbourne and the Sunshine Coast over the past four years. The program came to Yamba via the local surf school, Surf Camp Down Under.

"After working with teachers in the Clarence Valley, it was clear support like this didn't exist in the area. With the level of mental health challenges experienced in the region, we made it a priority to get the WOW Sand 'n' Surf going in the local community,” program found Joel Pilgrim told The Daily Examiner.

One boy interviewed for the program talks about the time his father died in 2015. “He didn’t do a lot of drugs that I know of. He drunk for two weeks and then he got home as we got home and he said goodbye to us, and the last words I said to him was, ‘Where are you going?’ The boy was later told by police that his father had died. “Yeah, he um hung himself,” says the boy, who knows his day is going to be better on a 'surf day'. 


The staff in the program are skilled surfers and also trained mental health clinicians. Program coordinator Mark Micelli says the program uses surfing in the ocean to achieve what psychologists refer to as a ‘flow state' and creating a state of presence. 

"Having mental health awareness and education in a different environment, like the beach, can be so helpful for a lot of people who might feel confronted by conventional methods of support. Being outside in a familiar space and learning a fun skill like surfing, is a great way to reach people and encourage them to talk and open up,” says Yamba program coordinator Vicky Lord, 32.

"With teenagers who experience issues with their mental health, I notice them being so much more open when we do stuff outside, away from school or typically clinical environments."  

Programs are free for participants and no referral is needed to join.  WOW caters to all ages, wetsuits and surfboards are provided. Note: some programs have been cancelled during COVID-19 and virtual programs can be access by anyone in Australia with an internet connection. FIND OUT MORE

The next Yamba Waves of Wellness Youth Surf Program starts on August 12 at 9.30am. Register on Facebook. 


Read: New therapy program surfing into Yamba this week (Daily Examiner) 

Read: 10 surprising facts about men's mental health (AMHF) 




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