Watch: Gisborne farmers hit the surf

Watch: Gisborne farmers are getting off the land and into the waves. Credit: Newshub

An initiative which encourages farmers to spend a couple of hours a week surfing is getting the thumbs up from participants - and those who work in the field of rural mental health.

"Surfing for Farmers" has been running during summer in Gisborne and invites farmers from the region to take some time off from the farm to go surfing.

All equipment is supplied, along with coaching and the afternoon is finished off with a barbecue.

The programme was the idea of local man, Stephen Thomson who works with the rural community in his work at AgFirst in Gisborne.

Organiser Stephen Thomson - "If we can save one person we have done huge things." Photo credit: Newshub

"There are a lot of issues around the country, and farmers are getting bogged down in the day-to-day stuff, so I thought rather than a seminar and talking about it, let' actually do something that gets guys off the farm," he said.

He said the programme has gone from strength to strength.

"We have around 40 participants a week, and always some new faces, so people are giving it a go."

Farmers like Robbie Kirkpatrick, who farms at Whangara, are feeling the benefits from taking a break from farming work.

"I have really enjoyed it. You are out there, trying to surf and when you finish, it feels good," he said.

Duncan Quinlivan works at Pamu's Parikanapa Station in Gisborne, and relishes the time in the surf.

"It's a really good thing to do, to get out, to get off the farm and get into surfing which I enjoy.

Farming can be all consuming and getting off the farm is huge. You just have to make time, to give yourself a bit of balance."

A barbeque and catch-up is an important part of the programme. Photo credit: Supplied

The surfing session is finished off with barbecue and catch-up, something Stephen Thomson said is just as important as the surfing.

"Some of these guys travel for up to an hour to get here, so we want to send them home with some fuel in their bellies."

He said it's not all about the food.

"It's just a sausage sizzle, but we have a bit of a debrief. We talk about how hopeless we are at surfing, rather than how dry the weather is or how high the grass is.

Local support


The initiative has been well-supported by the Gisborne business community, while the Gisborne Boardriders Club has also been vital in its success.

Mr Thomson said it was amazing to get such a great response when he approached potential sponsors.

"The support has been massive," he said.

"Eleven local companies have helped out and given financial support - there was no hesitation from anyone."

Surfing for Farmers encourages farmers to take a break from the farm and have some fun. Photo credit: Supplied

"They do a lot of work with farmers, so they were pretty quick to give back to the people who support their businesses."

Meanwhile the Gisborne Boardriders Club has been enthusiastic about the programme, providing all the gear and coaching for the farmers.

Surfing Development Manager, Flo Bub, said it was awesome to them enjoying the surf.

"It's fantastic to see them off the farm and enjoying the beach, and the mental and physical benefits of surfing." 

One coach is assigned to groups of around five surfers, to make sure they can learn and enjoy their time in the water.

"It's amazing to see the smiles when they come in from surfing."

Why it works


The success of the "Surfing for Farmers" idea has come as no surprise to those who work in the area of rural mental health.

Gerard Vaughan who is Project lead for Farmstrong, a nationwide wellbeing programme for the rural sector, said it ticked all the boxes for what farmers are looking for.

"Farmers have told us that they want information on being a better farmer, not information about health, and definitely not about mental illness and depression," he said.

He said most farmers are focussed on their land, stock and machinery.

"But if you are not focussed on the most important asset - which is the farmer and the people working on the business, and that falls over, then the whole business is at risk." 

Gerard Vaughan who runs the Farmstrong mental heath programme said many farmers are reluctant to take time out from the farm. Photo credit: Supplied

He was not surprised that the "Surfing for Farmers" initiative managed to get farmers involved.

"It really ticks all the boxes when it comes to the five ways to wellbeing, which are connecting, learning a new skill, being physically active, giving and enjoying your environment."

"When a community is responding like this, that is where you start to have culture change and where it becomes normal for a farmer not work every goddamn hour."

Future plans


After a successful summer, Mr Thomson would like to expand the "Surfing for Farmers" programme to other regions.

"It's definitely something I would like to see grow," he said.

"Gisborne was a pilot this year, but if we could get national support, I'd love to see a mobile surfing truck, to drive around beaches in the North Island."

Plans are underway to take the idea to other beaches. Photo credit: Supplied

"We could put it on the road, and grow the programme. The more people we can get involved the better."

He is keen to see more New Zealand farmers hit the surf and experience the benefits.

"If we can save one person we have done huge things."

Surfing for Farmers runs every Tuesday over summer from 5.30pm at Midway Beach, and is supported by Chrisp and Davidson, PGG Wrightson, Williams Transport, Beef and Lamb, Rural Support Trust, Whangara Angus, Bayleys, Paringahau Station, Rabobank, Ballance Agri Nutrients and ABC Design.

Where to find help and support:

  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)



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