24 Jan 2020

Surf's up for Canterbury farmers

From Country Life, 8:23 pm on 24 January 2020
Farmers check out the waves with a surfing instructor before heading out for a lesson.

Farmers check out the waves with a surfing instructor before heading out for a lesson. Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

On Tuesday evening, a row of dusty farm utes fills the carpark on either side of a surf school truck at Sumner beach. The farmers have come from across Canterbury and within minutes they've swapped their stubbies and gumboots for wetsuits and surfboards.

After a quick sea safety briefing with a long-haired surf instructor, they grab a board and head into the water. There was a big swell and a couple of gnarly rips but the hardy men and women were all up for a pounding after a busy day on the farm.

They're taking part in a mental health initiative encouraging farmers to get off their farms and into the waves.

Surfing for Farmers Canterbury follows a successful pilot run in Gisborne last summer, where up to 50 farmers gathered for 13 weeks to try their hand at surfing.

It was set up by surfer, farmer and rural real estate agent Stephen Thomson. He was inspired after watching the Netflix documentary "Resurface". The documentary showed how surfing helped heal American war veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

He knew how much better he always felt after being in the salt water and was determined to give local farmers the opportunity to get off-farm and experience that same feeling of well-being.

After interviewing Stephen about the Surfing for Farmers initiative for a magazine, Christchurch journalist Sandra Taylor, a keen fresh water swimmer, decided to start a similar initiative for farmers in Canterbury.

Sandra says it doesn't cost a penny for farmers and it's proving to be a great way to de-stress.

"I think farmers are facing a lot of regulatory pressures at the moment and some of the banks are really tightening up, so for them it's an opportunity to get completely out of their environment...one of the guys said to me last week he's never done anything like this before!"

Surfing for Farmers kicks off at 6pm every Tuesday at Sumner beach. To find out more go to the Surfing for Farmers Facebook page.