Week One | Seas the day
I’d been looking for the perfect volunteering gig involving mental health experience for a while. So when I found Ocean Mind and realised I could combine helping out youth who were going through some difficulties in everyday life with surf mentoring, and providing motivation to master a new amazing life-long skill, I knew this was the perfect opportunity. Could it get any better?
I will admit I was a bit nervous about meeting my little surfer. What if he doesn’t like me? Or worse, if he’s turns out to be a better surfer than me?
I was picking him and his brother up, so our day started with a big drive to the beach meaning we could get well acquainted before arriving at Urquhart’s Bluff. Luckily, Rachel (our legend coordinator) had done some detective work and provided me with some inside information on my passengers! Armed with knowledge from my nerdiest friend on the history of Lego, and having watched half a game of football in the past 6 months, we hit it off like a bunch of Collingwood followers.
We arrived to the sunniest day in months and the beach had put on a show. We all threw on our wetties and slapped on the SPF. We looked the part, could have been mistaken for rip curl pro’s, now we just needed the skills. Of course first there was a team bonding game, involving M&Ms (necessary).
Go Ride a Wave sent our very own private surf pro to show us a thing or two. We all gathered for a lesson in the sand, learning how to paddle, how to get to our knees, how to get to our feet, and most importantly, how to shaka like the cool kids do.
Finally we were in the ice bath ocean, and our job was to pull the kids out on the board over the waves, give them a big push onto the perfect wave, and encourage them to have as much fun as possible. There were heaps of high fives, smiles, laughs, shocked and amazed mentors, and of course collisions.
My favourite moment was watching two brothers, who weren’t super excited to get amongst the waves, ride side by side on the same wave, stand up together, and absolutely love it! I don’t think you would have seen bigger smiles on their or my own dials.
I was extremely impressed with the surfers eagerness to keep trying after being battered by wave after wave. The waves were addictive. Even for us mentors, as we hitched a ride upon the back of our surfer’s boards.
By this point it was getting a bit chilly, luckily the kids had expert mentors in the art of mummification to bury them in natures sand oven. The surfers were all pretty exhausted, but fuelled with well-earned muesli bars they found the energy to get changed and head of to tell their family about their new found talent. Meanwhile us mentors had a big debrief, shared all our exciting stories from the last couple of hours, and some energetic mentors got back on waves to make use of the amazing day Urquhart’s had put on for us!
Week Two | A good dose of vitamin sea
This week started off with a human knot. If you’ve never experiences this, just imagine sweaty palms, your body being stretched and twisted like never before, and the most laughs you’ve had in the last week. We were on the Superman Escape. Kidding, I wish. We were still in Anglesea and essentially,it’s a team bonding game
where communication is your only tactic to getting out of this tricky situation – like most things in life. I’ll admit our Ocean Mind team had some room for improvement, but far out we did a good job for our first time round. Week 3 us, just needs to make week 2 us jealous of how well we did. Mission accepted. It was finally time to get our keen sweaty surfers onto the waves to show a bunch of parents and a few lucky teachers how far they’ve come in one week. As a Mentor, I’d say our job was to remind the surfers that paddling and ‘chicken wings’ are still as important as week 1. Because, if your surfer was as keen as mine, he was standing up on the board before the wave came. This didn’t end so well in most cases. Belly flop city.
Watching all the other surfers ‘up their game’ this week was amazing! Some were paddling for their own waves, and the faces when they managed to catch a wave and get up on their feet all by themselves was priceless. My surfer even started pushing the board over some pretty big white wash like a pro. Awwwwkward when the mentor’s not needed in week 2… fortunately he still wanted to be pulled around in the shallows like a seal on a sunlounge, and I had my place in the group again!
A quick sandcastle and we were done for another week. The car trip back was just embracing as I have no skill in the “dib cool car” game, where points are earned for being the first to yell “dib cool car [insert correct colour here]” when you see a super duper cool car. So we changed subject, and decided to create goals for next week:
- My surfer would paddle to catch his own wave
- We would find a car game that I had more than a 0.3% chance at winning
- Have more fun than we can handle
Week Three | High tides good vibes
Another day another beach. This time we found ourselves down at Bancoora Beach. This was THE week. The week we were going to get some serious skill up. The week we were going to master this whole surfing business… Pity the old day light savings fairy got the best of us, and we had a slight delay in surf equipment. But no worries! This gave us ample time to, once again, tackle the human knot. And guess what? We neeeeeeeearly got it!! By week three the surfers were communicating like an almost functional family, and we were off without a hitch. Until, the end, where there were lots of hitches. But hey next week we have this in the bag! And theeeeeen it was time for more games. It was great to mix it up and have time to chat to everyone and see how they were going with their surfers.
After getting up in each other’s business in all our team bonding, we decided to spread out and explore the beach and rock pools, have some races, and get most of the kid’s shoes and towels wet. Oops, sorry mum’s and dad’s.
The van turned up, boards were here, and we were off into the waves. Of course, we had another beach lesson. This time, learning the big kid technique to standing up on the board! With a new skill on hand, and a slightly bigger wave than last week, the kids knew this was going to be a good one!
Everyone had some great waves, they picked it up straight away, and even the new surfers that just joined were carving it up perfectly. Until, we maybe had what my surfer referred to as a ‘near death experience’… out of nowhere we had the biggest wave we’ve ever tackled. We did see it coming, what we did not realise was the power she had behind her. We made a quick decision to ride it in/it was too powerful for my little arms to keep holding the board/there was no choice. He was off.
There was mention of my surfer’s life flashing before his eyes. But you know what? He got straight back on the board and went back out there. That’s my favourite thing about the ocean. The waves will get you when you least expect it, but with every wave you tackle, you get a little more confident and willing to fight back. And that’s exactly what he did. Proud mentor here!
We had a few more waves, and he absolutely showed the ocean who’s boss. I think we even had one successful wave were he achieved the goal of paddling to catch his own!
We then took a surf break, and headed up to the lookout to take it all in. Like any kid, we were done with that in 10.2 seconds and on to the next activity.
Back to the beach for a quick whole body sand wrap to get the body temperature back to normal, then back to the carpark to pack it all up.
Unfortunately, I’m not able to attend next week… so I may call a friend on this one, and you can get a different perspective on life at Ocean Mind!
Week Five | Making waves
Week Five and back to Anglesea for one last time. I had major FOMO from last week and it didn’t help from the start when all the boys could talk about was how I had missed seeing them tandem surf for the first time. Yes, they both managed to stand up on the same board and not push each other off for a whole wave. I guess you can’t have it all, but I was determined to see this one happen again.
We arrived in the car park, and after the kids had finished drooling over the Ferraris and Lamborghinis out for their Sunday mission, we managed to fit some good old surfing in.
But FIRST… We must play games! And this one was on trust.
They say trust to a relationship, is like a rope to the bungy jump. Slightly essential. Which was pretty relevant, as we were about to put our full trust in the team catching us before we fell and died got bruised bums.
This week plenty of VIPs had made their way out, and as usual the kids put on a show and it was so nice to see the faces of some very proud mums, dads, and teachers!
I noticed most mentors looking like lost puppies, as most of our surfers had paddling out down pat, catching a wave was a piece of cake, and now they were tandem surfing?? The grasshoppers had become the masters. What more is there to learn?
I guess we will find out next week!
Week Six | You can’t stop the waves but you can learn how to surf
Get ready, this one’s a tear jerker. The last week and the kids are off on their own in the surf world. Well, apart from the monthly surf club were us mentors eagerly await their arrival and hope they never forget their first fans. This week’s surfing was all them, they were the experts now, and mentors were just cheering on wave after wave as they showed us all the tricks in the book. We had 180s, 360s, coffin surfers, meditating surfers, tandem surfers, if there was one more week they would be surfing on their heads.
You could tell their confidence had grown every week and they were so stoked to have mastered this new talent. Every second sentence out of my surfer’s mouth included “let’s go further” or “let’s get a big wave”, as he tackled some of the back waves and was thrilled he lived to tell the story. The trust between the mentors and surfers had also developed massively, and they knew that if they wanted to try something new we were there every step of the way. We had gone through a bit together by now, had some pretty scary waves, learned how to get out of a rip, and that the ocean isn’t as scary as they might have thought. So I hope all our surfers had gained a bit of resilience and can think about how well they were able to cope with tricky situations in the ocean, and know they can tackle plenty of what life might throw at them. As well as know that there are a big bunch of mentors at surf club waiting to hear what’s news and have heeeeeeeaps of fun with our fave little surfers again!
To celebrate these amazing achievements, we headed to Torquay, had a scrumptious BBQ, a skate, a chat with families, and handed out some certificates and photos of the kids on their best waves. The kids were able to give Ocean Mind some feedback on the program, how it had made them feel, and what they had gained from the experience. Then it time for our last snag and to head home ☹
I dropped the brothers off for the last time; the sad part was 50 metres down the road I “dibbed a cool car” (see week 2), and realised I had no one to compete against anymore and this was sad. I’ll never forget my first mentees and our journey together. But I so can’t wait for the next program and to help more kids get out and experience all the ocean can offer. I hope if you’re reading this you’ve been inspired and jump straight on the bandwagon for a good time and an awesome way to improve the mental health of kids around Geelong and The Surf Coast!
I want to help break to the stigma of mental health so here is my story. My first experience with depression started when I was a teenager.
I had a fairly happy and healthy childhood apart from the severe bullying all throughout primary school. Not only were their girl germs and boy germs in primary school there was also Rachael germs. I can look back now and laugh at it all but for that scared little 7-year-old girl was told nobody wanted to go near her, it was confusing and heartbreaking.
All she wanted to do was fit in. All she wanted was some friends and to play games outside but instead, she hid in the art room. The only escape from the torment of the other school kids.
By the time I got to high school, I was broken. I would do anything to fit in. And that’s when I started to become the bully. I hated myself for my actions but the fear of being unliked was too great.
I sank lower and lower and the self-hatred got stronger and stronger.
I didn’t want to live. I was a horrible person and I couldn’t change otherwise I would be a lonely person and that was worse. Alcohol and marijuana became my medication and that just made everything worse. I spiralled out of control, getting in trouble at school, at home and on the streets. I felt out of control. I knew I was on the wrong path but I didn’t know how to get off. At one of my darkest points, I stood on a cliff willing myself to jump. I am so thankful I never did.
My parents could see my hurt but didn’t know what to do. The organized a stay at a psychiatric unit where I was labelled with manic depression. This was my first contact with mental health services and for me it’s wasn’t the right place. It did start me in the right direction for seeking help though. I recognized the potential for feeling better. I started the long long journey of healing.
All through my life, I have experienced episodes of depression. When I was in my 20’s I tried to deny those feelings, pretend to the world they weren’t there. I had to be strong. I now know that to get help is to be strong, not weak. Let’s band together and show our strength.