Surf therapy program Ocean Mind teaching youngsters to ride a wave to feeling better

Ocean Mind uses a mix of surf therapy and mentoring to help the kids improve their self-confidence.
Ocean Mind uses a mix of surf therapy and mentoring to help the kids improve their self-confidence. Photo: Jason South

When Isabella was nine-years-old, a traumatic incident in the pool turned the avid swimmer completely off the water. 

But this year, thanks to Ocean Mind, an organisation helping children experiencing difficulties in their lives, the primary school student went back into the water to surf. 

"I was all shy, I didn't really know what to do, I was scared and thought I would go too far and nobody would be really able to help me," Isabella says.

Isabella says learning to surf with not-for-profit group Ocean Mind has given her more confidence.
Isabella says learning to surf with not-for-profit group Ocean Mind has given her more confidence.  Photo: Jason South

"Then I started just to surf, I went out as far as I wanted and they didn't push me. I could just go at my pace. 

"It was fun and relaxing."

Started last November, Ocean Mind came about after founder Rachael Parker took surfing lessons while travelling and found it helped with her own depression.

"When you are in the water nothing else matters, you are just present in that moment, it is almost like meditation," Ms Parker says. 

"It is just freeing from all those negative thoughts and feelings that you are having."

Conducted at beaches on Victoria's Surf Coast, the six-week program is open to children aged six to 18 years by professional referral and has 13 volunteers. Graduates join an Ocean Mind surf club to continue lessons and be mentored. 

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Kicked off with $5000 seed funding from UK-based The Wave Project, the program has been running on state and local government grants, with Ms Parker working three jobs to contribute her own money if needed.

But, she says, the smile on the children's faces make it worthwhile. 

"I think the feedback from parents on ...how much noticeable change they have been able to see in their [kid's] confidence and ...outlook to life has been the biggest motivating factor," Ms Parker says. 

Ocean Mind founder Rachael Parker says surfing helped her own depression.
Siblings Isabella and Sebastian with  Rachael ...
Ocean Mind founder Rachael Parker says surfing helped her own depression. Siblings Isabella and Sebastian with Rachael [centre]. Photo: Jason South

Isabella says she was shocked when she stood on the surfboard for the first time. 

"I felt I could do it every day. I felt amazed," she says. 

Mum, Mel Brew says she could see the difference in Isabella from the start.

"Instantly ...she was proud of herself, she was happy," Ms Brew says. 

"Massive smile on her face and then every time we went, it was just the same."

On some days, Isabella's two brothers have also joined in to have a go. 

"It's sort of being like a family therapy session," Ms Brew says. 

"All three of them just light up when they talk about the water. They all just want to go surfing."

Isabella says surfing makes her feel more confident. 

"Getting out of the house and just having fun, getting my feet to actually touch the sand feels amazing," she says. 

"It feels like you are flying, really. You are on top of a wave and you feel like you are ruling the world.

"Queen of the wave."

For information or to donate or sponsor, call 0422 703 592, or email info@oceanmind.org.au or visit https://oceanmind.org.au/.