Stress-busting surf programme for farmers expands

Organisers of a programme which helps farmers manage stress by teaching them to surf are expanding the initiative in an effort to reach as many in the rural sector as possible.

Surfing for Farmers, launched in Gisborne last summer, encourages farmers to spend a couple of hours a week surfing to stay on top of their stress and mental health.

Modelled on an idea used to help former US servicemen, equipment and coaching are supplied and the afternoon is finished off with a barbecue.

The programme was the idea of Gisborne local Stephen Thomson, who has a long-running association with the local farming community, and is supported by local sponsors.

"With alot of big numbers around stress and mental health and suicide in the farming community, I was keen to do something about it rather than keep hearing about it."

Thompson said the weekly surfing sessions are a rare opportunity for farmers to talk about something other than farming.

Stephen Thomson is keen to expand Surfing for Farmers across the country.
Stephen Thomson is keen to expand Surfing for Farmers across the country. Photo credit: Newshub

"It's awesome to be involved with local rugby club or dog trials, but too often all the same people fall back talking about farming," he said.

"The conversation all comes back to how dry it is or how much feed you have, or what's going on.

"We get these guys down at the beach and it's something completely different and the conversation changes."

After a successful first season in Gisborne the programme has expanded into the Bay of Plenty, with weekly sessions at Mt Maunganui.

Some of the Gisborne farmers who took part last summer.
Some of the Gisborne farmers who took part last summer. Photo credit: Supplied

"We are evolving - it's now surfing for farmers and horticulturists, anyone who works with primary industries, we are keen to see you."

During the first season of Surfing for Farmers in Gisborne, up to 50 farmers took part each week. Thomson said it was heartening to see the numbers grow and the ages of those taking part creep up.

"As we went on the average age got older, we broke down the barrier of seeing surfing for just young people."

"We started seeing young and old, father and sons from the same farm and a handful of over 60-year-olds having a crack for the first time."

While coaches from the local boardriding clubs are on hand to help those taking part, there's plenty of laughter and time for a yarn at the debrief barbeque. 

"No one who comes down to surfing for farmers is going to pick up a massive sponsorship package any time soon," joked Thomson.

He's keen to expand the programme into as many centres as possible, and share the benefits of getting farmers out surfing.

"There's nothing better than getting out in the ocean away from it all. No cellphones, no dogs no sheep, no broken fences, just you and the surfboard and a bit of swell, no drama."

Surfing for Farmers is held weekly in Gisborne on Tuesday's at 5:30pm at Midway beach and in Mt Maunganui on Thursday's at 5:30pm at the beach at Marine Parade.

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)