It’s been a tough 12 months for many NSW South Coast teens, first hit by bushfires, then isolated from their peers by COVID-19.
Now a new program is aiming to help them ride out the peaks and troughs of 2020 by introducing them to another passion: surfing.
The Eurobodalla branch of Surfrider Foundation Australia has secured funding to run a series of surf lessons, known as the Swell Program, for teenagers from bushfire affected communities across the Shoalhaven and Eurobodalla shires.
Police from the South Coast Police District and PCYC are working together with members of the Surfrider Foundation to provide lessons with a focus on physical and mental fitness, improving self-esteem and self-worth, and making healthy life choices.
Participants are also introduced to the goals of the Surfrider Foundation to protect the ocean and beaches and to respect culture.
Surfrider Foundation Australia Eurobodalla Branch leader Allen Grimwood said the first session attracted 13 teens who were keen to put the dramas of 2020 behind them.
“There was just a lot of laughter and happiness,” he said. “It provided some short-term relief from everyday pressures – a diversion from this year’s events.”
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Mr Grimwood said the links between surfing as a healthy outdoor-based activity and improved mental wellbeing are well documented.
“Surfing promotes physical health, mental health and wellbeing in a natural and relaxing environment,” he said.
“It also promotes an understanding of the natural environment and the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems. The Swell Program uses the ocean and surfing as a means to facilitate a healthy lifestyle and a clean environment based around shared values among friends and peers.
“I’ve surfed for 47 years. I’ve dedicated my whole life to it. You don’t grow out of it, like football. It’s a passion that can keep kids on the straight and narrow.”
Students from the bushfire affected areas of Bendalong-Conjola, Tabourie-Durras, Batemans Bay, Malua Bay and Mogo-Moruya have been selected to participate in the lessons, which are being provided by local surf schools.
At the end of each lesson, participants are provided with breakfast followed by presentations about health matters, caring for the natural environment and the significance of culture.
During the first lesson, students carried out a beach clean before returning to school to complete the remainder of the school day.
The Batemans Bay lessons will continue until mid-December, with the Swell Program to move to other areas during late summer/early autumn in 2021.