Waves of Wellness for Premier’s Youth Initiative

Over the last eight weeks, participants from our Premier’s Youth Initiative (PYI) program engaged in the Wave Of Wellness (WOW) Surfing Experience. WOW is an eight-week evidence based learn-to-surf program for people experiencing mental health issues. The primary focus of the program is to introduce surfing as a way to improve physical health, mental health and wellbeing in a neutral, non-intrusive environment.

Each week, the program addresses a different mental health theme, allowing participants to learn new skills and strategies through storytelling and connection with like-minded individuals, before heading into the waves for a surf at Nobbys Beach, Newcastle.

We caught up with PYI participants, Chris* and James*, and PYI Employment and Education Mentor, Dom Attard, to talk about their experiences with Waves Of Wellness.

“It’s really great to talk to the mentors about mental health. It’s good to know that nothing you say will leave the circle – it’s a really safe space,” Chris said.

“The activities really help me to feel confident to get out into the world.”

Chris just started a new job in waste management and made his way to Nobbys Beach in his work boots and high-vis gear to engage with the program before his afternoon shift.

“The program really gets the negative energy out and it’s a good way to get out of the house and start your day,” Chris said.

James, who surfed until the very last second of the session, liked the outdoor and group environment of the program.

“The program is amazing! The surfing has had a real benefit mental health wise,” James said.

“I like that the discussions are in a group and you know you’re in a safe space. It feels like you have people there for you who actually care.”

Not only do the participants see and enjoy the benefits of the program, but the mentors do too.

“Taking mental health topics and discussing them in a space like this makes for much more positive engagement. Here, we are taking away the normal conventions of a counselling room,” PYI Mentor, Dom said.

“Similarly, people are more relaxed in a peer support environment – it’s been really cool to see.”

“Physical activity is the perfect way to promote a healthy life style and to look after your mental wellbeing,” Dom said.

Waves Of Wellness CEO, Joel Pilgrim, is passionate about changing the mental health landscape, and strives to implement innovative programs that break down the barriers and stigma of traditional mental health treatment and support.

“We’re excited to be working with Samaritans and have the young people from PYI join the WOW Surfing Experience. It’s a great way to give them a chance to connect, share stories about mental health, and learn some skills and strategies to manage their own wellbeing,” Mr. Pilgrim Said.

“Seeing the changes and level of growth from week one to week eight is incredible.”

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the participants.

The Premier’s Youth Initiative is a pilot program that provides services to young people leaving statutory out-of-home care (OOHC). In the Hunter and Central Coast region, PYI is run by Samaritans in partnership with Path2Change, My Foundations Youth Housing and Youth Connections.

Young care leavers will have access to a personal advisor, education and employment mentoring as well as help to find long-term accommodation. The program assists them to develop strong personal networks and skills to navigate multiple adult support service systems and increase their capacity to manage crises and change as they transition to independence. Poor mental health was identified by the team as a barrier to work and study. The Waves of Wellness program was chosen for its youth friendly support and understanding as a way to improve mental health and wellbeing.