An innovative mental health program that combines wellness and surfing is heading to Newcastle from this week.
Waves of Wellness will kick off its free six week Sand 'n' Surf program this Wednesday and Thursday, combining weekly wellness discussions with learn-to-surf lessons.
Each session begins with a 30 minute chat before participants hit the water. Surf therapist Kyle Tenkate said a lot of men had trouble talking about their mental health, so the program was designed to raise the topic in a relaxed setting without judgement.
"Nature in general is so good for mental health," Mr Tenkate said. "With surfing, you feel very small in a big ocean, and that gives us perspective and time to reflect.
"People always seem to come out of the ocean happier than when they went in."
Mr Tenkate said the concept came about after a "lightbulb moment" from CEO Joel Pilgrim while he was working as an occupational therapist.
"He was having trouble with one client and was unable to find the right intervention," Mr Tenkate said. "He took them surfing and the client opened up much more.
"Surfing takes you out of that clinical environment."
The program was last held in Newcastle in March, but COVID-19 forced an early end to the sessions. Mr Tenkate said the program then went online with a "couch surfing" program, but is now back in person with additional protocols in place, including sterilisation of wetsuits and boards, social distancing and masks when needed.
The initiative is backed by Movember, which has contributed close to $1 million in funding to the program in the past four years.
Movember Global Director of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Brendan Maher said the organisation aimed to challenge the status quo around how men seek mental health assistance and one of the ways it was doing so was investing in innovative ideas like surf therapy.
"Waves of Wellness is all about health by stealth - it breaks down those barriers and gets men out there, making new mates and talking about their mental health in a way that doesn't feel forced or intimidating," Mr Maher said.
"The work these guys are doing out there among the waves has a real and measurable impact on those who take part, and we're thrilled to play a role in bringing the benefits of surf therapy to more men around Australia."
WOW Sand 'n' Surf is open to people aged 16 years and over. While designed for men, the program is open to both men and women.
Sessions start between 6.30am and 8am at Nobbys Beach. To register visit: wowsandnsurf.com