How we started

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. They assigned a clinical psychologist, Dr Kathryn Lovering, to evaluate the programme, based on data gathered by the project organisers.

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.

Speaking to the BBC, NHS health commissioner Joe McEvoy, said;