Covid 19 coronavirus: Surf therapy to boost mental health after lockdown

As we prepare to move back into Level 3, Kiwi surfers are itching to get back to their nearest spots to catch some waves. Juliette Sivertsen chats to Restoke founder Hayden Thorpe about his yearning for the water, and why people need surfing now more than ever before.

When the wave starts to push, the adrenalin kicks in. Your body needs to focus. Will you fall? Or will you make it? You enter a space where there’s no judgment. It’s just you and the ocean. You begin to slide down a wall of water. The board is flying. You are free.

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It’s this feeling Hayden Thorpe is craving, after a month of not being able to surf during the lockdown. He misses the freedom surfing provides, specifically, the buzz during that moment of speed and power as he slides down the face of a wave.

“This is the point where nothing else in the world matters, it’s like a space in time that your brain and body has been searching for. You choose what the next few seconds will hold.”

Thorpe, 34, has been surfing since his teenage years, and is the founder of a surf therapy programme called Restoke. The free course, which is fully funded by donations, is an eight-week mental health programme for people living with mental distress and uses surfing as part of the therapy process. It’s based at West Auckland’s Piha, where participants receive surf lessons and have access to counselling sessions as part of the programme.

“Surfing feels like you have been gifted time to find yourself and fly, all while being in the presence of nature and the humbling effect that has; it’s regeneration for mind, body and soul,” he explains.

It’s been tough for surfers not being able to get in the water this past month, especially when the swell and wind direction at this time of year create great surf conditions, says Thorpe. “Surfing is an essential part of people’s mental health and being told you can’t do it, makes you feel caged in and stressed.”

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