Surfing for Farmers

Nominee/entrant details

Surfing for Farmers

Organisation details

Size: 1-5 staff

Industry: Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing

Organisation background

<p>Surfing for Farmers is an initiative that is helping improve mental health and wellbeing in New Zealand rural communities. Launched in Gisborne in 2018 by Stephen Thomson, people around the country have seen the success of the Gisborne model, and reached out to replicate the programme into 19 regions, from the top of the North Island to the very bottom. The learn-to-surf programme provides an opportunity for farmers to step away from what can be an all-consuming business, get fresh air, exercise and interact with other farmers, rural families and industry professionals.</p>

Executive summary

<p>Surfing for Farmers (SFF) is a surf therapy initiative that is saving lives. SFF creates stronger, healthier communities by bringing surfers, agribusiness professionals and the rural community together for a weekly social learn to surf evening. The result of these evenings improves the mental wellbeing of farmers around New Zealand. SFF should win this award as we have sponsored 4,128 farmers to surf (upto 07/21). This has a positive ripple effect on the mental health and wellbeing of the farmers\' families, friends, staff and overall workplace as the farmer is acting from a more whole and well state of mind. </p>

Background on situation and opportunity

<p>Two of the most commonly identified factors at the farmer level were worrying about finances and work.  Financial worries included irregular and uncertain income and financial debt, the effects of new government regulations and compliance with these, bureaucracy, and the amount of paper work required. Some farmers reported having to take an additional job off the farm to supplement their income rather than sell the farm which was running at a loss. Farmers reported worrying about work including high workloads, time pressures, long working hours especially during peak work times such as harvesting or calving, difficulties with understanding new technology and solitary work. The most commonly reported symptoms reported were sleep problems, feeling irritable and down, fatigue, and high rates of stress.


<p>1. Social Isolation/lonely: Weeks can be very lonely and repetitive for farmers. Our programme lets farmers participate in a social evening at the beach for a free surf lesson followed by a BBQ and debrief. Farmers really look forward to the event each week over summer which increases overall wellbeing. <br /><br />2. Connection to their community: The rural community often get left out of community events as they are aimed for urban people. Inclusion in SFF connects farmers to other farmers in their community, support systems to improve wellbeing and connect with other industry related employees. <br /><br />3. Meet friends: Northland farmer who had been living in Northland for 5 years and had not met any friends. After participating in Surfing for Farmers he was connected with other farmers of his age. He now has ongoing relationships with other people in his community he can be social with. Because Surfing for Farmers has a broad age group there is always an opportunity no matter what age or gender to create friendships through our programme. <br /><br />4. Getting off farm: Creating positive habits by getting off the farm is our Why of our organisation. “Bringing farmers together, off-farm and into the surf to enhance well-being”. Farming is very stressful, includes high workload, long hours 6-7 days a week. This causes mental and physical burnout that if not acted upon results in serious illness if not suicide. Doing something for yourself whether its once a week, fortnight or month improves mental and physical wellbeing which overall helps people show up better for their families, friends and on farm performance. <br /><br />5. Sparking Communication: Bringing farmers together in a relaxed evening for a surf lesson relaxes the mind of farmers so they can be in a present mind when having conversations with each other after the surf.</p>


<p>How it works: <br />1. The initiative runs for approximately 13 weeks, on a weekday evening at regional surf beaches. 2.Those taking part are provided with surfing gear (wetsuits, surfboards) and lessons free of charge. <br />3. Local boardrider clubs or surf schools provide gear and coaching. <br />4. The programme has a strong focus on providing a safe and supportive environment. <br />5.The surfing session is followed by a free barbeque where participants \'debrief\' about the session and general catch-up. <br /><br />Surfing for farmers would not exist without the backing of local and national sponsors. Sponsors allow us to help cover operational costs like surf coaching, bard and wetsuit hire. Each of our 19 regions is funded by their small to large businesses who are in the agricultural industry or normal business practice. The businesses that support the regions come down to the beach to help out on the BBQ or offer help in the water to push farmers into waves. This creates a healthy collaboration between our sponsors and surfing for farmers and industry professionals and the farmers. Bringing people together both from rural and urban areas down to the beach for the evening creates stronger, more healthy community. Local Mayors, councils and government organisations/MP’s like the ministry of health are very supportive and help us promote the evening in their region or Nationally.</p>

Engagement and communication

<p>Surfing for farmers has been promoted around the country via national and regional radio shows. For example I was on RNZ talking about our organisation at the start of summer and for farmers to check out our website for info and times. We have a Facebook, Instagram and website where we upload photos from evenings and promote times in regions. We have been overwhelmed by the support from agri-businesses who have published articles in their newspapers or newsletters. Each week our volunteer coordinators will text the farmers a couple days before the event letting them know that we look forward to catching waves with them this Thursday. Text messaging or emailing for us is the best way to community through to the farmers as the average age farming is 69 most do not have social media.</p>


<p>Summer 2020/21 we surveyed 110 farmers from around the country. The survey was at the very first lesson of the summer pre and post surf. Main question we measured pre survey then post survey with the same questions: <br />1. mental clarity: pos change 9.99% (pre to post surf) <br />2.connection to nature : pos change 4.35% (pre to post surf) <br />3. how lonely do you feel: pos change 1.20% (pre to post surf) <br />4. socially connected : pos change 6.20% ( pre to post surf) <br />5. I do not have enough social events to participate in: pos change 2.14% change (pre to post surf) <br />6. I can often talk about my friends with my family: pos change 7.35% pos change (pre to post surf) <br /><br />Below are 3 farmer testimonials <br />“Surfing for Farmers offers an awesome opportunity to get amongst it, challenge yourself, learn a new skill, great comraderie, all off farm at a stunning NZ beach near you - what is there not to love about this.” <br />— Amanda Cave Ngatapa - Gisborne<br /><br />“Surfing for Farmers is the perfect way to wind down after a hot day in the orchard. Great to meet other like-minded people and challenge myself learning something new. The whole team are really supportive. Thanks for making it happen”<br />-Nick kiwifruit grower in Opotiki <br /><br />“I’ve been attending Surfing for Farmers for three years now. Farming can be a demanding job at times and to have the opportunity to get out on the waves and forget about things is magic” -Wok Allen farmer in Gisborne <br /><br /><br /></p>


<p>This summer we will be in 19 regions around New Zealand with 50 Head coordinator Volunteers. To date after 3 summers we have had 4,159 farmer surfs in. The rapid growth around the country proves the event is a success and needed for our farmers. It has been overwhelming speaking to industry leaders, farmers and agribusinesses who show full support of SFF. We welcome anyone aged 19+ male/female and all ethnicities. <br /><br />Story:  Northland farmer had been living in Northland for 5 years who was very lonely as he had not made any friends yet. He saw our event and got really into it. The best part not only was he improving his own wellbeing but he has now made friends of his age in his region. Our programme brings together a range of farmers ages 20- 65yrs with an average age of 50yrs old.<br /><br /> Story:  In Gisborne, we have a farmer who is 25 that had taken on his first farm lease. During 2020/21 summer he experienced his first drought. After the surf, he was having a beer with a older farmer (mid 50\'s) who has had 7 droughts in his time. The surf allowed the young surfer to be present and take on positive conversations and action plan from the older farmer who has been there before. He then was able to implement this on farm. If he did not come down to our programme the young farmer would be in his head with the pressure of the drought on farm stressed in an endless battle. <br /><br />Story: Amanda (Gisborne, aged 55)  has gone out and purchased her own board and wetsuit. She and 4 other ladies have started a woman surf group where they meet on the weekends around Gisborne beaches for a surf then go for a coffee. </p>

Innovation and creativity

<p>Surf therapy is the vehicle our organisation uses to engage farmers in physical activity and connection to the ocean. Most of our regions have surf schools/board rider clubs that provide their surf coaches, board and wetsuits to us. They all qualified ISO instructors with first aid at the beach. 3 of our regions this summer will be lead by volunteer surfers who believe in our why and offer their skills to the farmers. After the surf the group will come together and have dinner and a cold drink for a debrief. This is all in a relaxed, fun and enjoyable environment.</p>

Supporting materials (optional)

Photograph of key staff (optional)

Link to video (optional)

Referee details

Janet Wright, Head of communications (ANZCO Foods)

0278392423 • [email protected]

Key contact

Stephen Thomson, Director (Stephen Thomson)

0274506531 • [email protected]

3 Months
Since posted
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Principal Sponsor
AIA VitalityAll About People
ANZCO FoodsBenestar
Business Leaders' Health & Safety ForumEmployers & Manufacturers Association
Ember InnovationsMentemia
Ministry of Health
PwC New ZealandRussell McVeagh
SparkThe Warehouse Group
Whittaker'sWoo Wellbeing
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Charity Partner
Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand
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