Northern Ireland

Is surfing a new form of therapy?

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionSurfing the waves to wellness in NI

The frigid water of the Atlantic on a windy November morning is not enough to deter some budding surfers on the north coast.

Barbara Marshall, a respite foster parent, brings her three girls to Benone beach almost every Sunday.

"The excitement in the morning... they are up, ready and organised," Ms Marshall says.

"I've been bringing them a few Sundays but they absolutely adore being here."

Image caption The courses last six weeks and young people of any surfing ability can take part

The girls are participants in the Wave Project, which is being piloted in Benone and Portrush.

The Wave Project is a surf therapy charity that works with vulnerable young people struggling with their emotional wellbeing.

This can include young people who are struggling with low self esteem, low self confidence, high levels of anxiety, who have been through trauma or who feel alone and isolated.

"I'm really hoping that it keeps going next year because it's just such an adventure for them, in fact I know that the eldest wants to become a volunteer," Ms Marshall says.

Image caption They learn to surf with the help of a volunteer 'surf mentor', who becomes a buddy throughout the course

Twenty two young people have been referred to the project from all over Northern Ireland.

Referrals are made through professional agencies, doctors, and school principals, with the children learning to surf with the help of a volunteer who becomes a buddy for them throughout the course.

The charity has 11 other programmes across the UK, from Cornwall to Scotland.

Image caption The project has long-term aims to continue in Northern Ireland and offer support to young people

Ava, 13, one of Ms Marshall's foster children, says surfing makes her feel healthier and fitter.

"You don't have to go deep in the water," says Ava.

"You can go to whatever length you need, and if you're scared of water, it does boost your confidence."

Beth Griffin, Wave Project NI co-ordinator, said they hope to be in Northern Ireland for the long-term.

"We would like to get to the point where this service is available to all children in Northern Ireland and for it to be prescribed as a new form of therapy for them," she says.

Image caption Surfing has been found to relax and boost confidence

The Wave Project says it has published two independent reports looking at its surf therapy programmes, one of which found it resulted in "a significant and sustained increase in wellbeing".

Local project co-ordinator, Carla Magee, says the pilot scheme was a "huge success" with a lot of positive feedback.

"The parents have expressed a lot of gratitude for the course and many have noticed an increase in confidence and resilience in their son or daughter," Ms Magee says.

"One mother commented how much more calm her son has become since taking part in our surf therapy course."

Confidence boosting

"The young people have all given very positive feedback, even if they've been colder than ever before, they have all had so much fun and have a great sense of achievement in their skills."

She also said they had been "blown away" by the natural ability of the young people.

"We have witnessed great improvements in skills each week, both surf skills and personal attributes of the kids.

"And with it we have seen a huge improvement in their confidence."

Related Topics

More on this story