Three summers in, Surfing For Farmers still riding wave of success and helping manage stress

With its third summer now behind it, the popular Surfing For Farmers programme is looking to cover even more coastline when temperatures warm up again later this year.

After starting out in Gisborne, the programme - which helps farmers manage stress by teaching them to surf - took place in 16 locations around the country this year.

Founder Stephen Thomson says he was inspired to launch the initiative after seeing a documentary showing the benefits of surfing for US army veterans.

"I said to my wife 'I think we can do this with farmers'," Thomson told Magic Talk's Rural Today on Tuesday.

With many in the farming community battling stress or other mental health issues, the idea is to get farmers off the farm and into the water, where they can wash away their worries and talk about something aside from farming for a spell, Thomson says.

"We target farmers and we get them down to the beach and we give them a surfboard and we give them a wetsuit and we get them some coaching. They go down there and they come out of the waves absolutely grinning from ear to ear."

He says since the very first event in 2018, when 24 farmers showed up, it's "just absolutely gone gangbusters". 

And it's not just traditional farmers being catered to - all those involved in the primary industries are welcome.

"It doesn't matter if you milk a cow, chase sheep or beef around or grow fruit - a farmer's a farmer. We don't care what you do on your farm, we're more than happy to have you there because we all carry the same sorts of burdens."

Now, with winter on the way, Thomson says organisers have just had a strategic planning meeting to look at expanding the programme.

"Everyone's still hungry as to keep going," he says, adding there are "a few plans in the pipeline".

He says the aim is to crack 20 regions in the coming summer.

"If people keep coming we'll keep going."

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