The opportunity to get off the farm, learn to surf and have some fun has proven to be a simple but successful formula to relieving stress for a growing number of farmers around New Zealand.
Thanks to Gisborne Bayleys agent Stephen Thomson, a long time surfer who puts himself more in the “average” than “brilliant” category of surfing ability, more farmers around New Zealand have been introduced to the joy of the sport.
Stephen felt compelled to introduce farmers to the sport after much time spent as a farm consultant in the Gisborne region.
“I was very much dealing day to day with farmers who were experiencing the stress and demands that their business brings. Seeing the statistics about farmers’ mental health which are not good- it got me fired up to thing there must be something I could do about it.”
He was also inspired by a Netflix documentary he watched called “Resurface”.
It is the story of a Marine veteran who had come close to taking his own life before he tried surfing, a sport he found some solace in. He came upon it through Operation Surf, a surf therapy group for army veterans.
It inspired Stephen to think about how he could apply the same approach to farmers who as a group are socially isolated, under pressure and often lacking a healthy outlet for stress.
Working with Gisborne Boardriders’ Club Stephen managed to line up some keen coaches, boards and wetsuits for the farmers to use, and some sponsorship support from Bayleys and Ballance Agrinutrients.
A year on the initiative has expanded to Mount Maunganui, Gore Bay in North Canterbury and Sumner near Christchurch.
“Before I committed to it I put a few feelers out, and knew there were some older farmers out there who had surfed, and maybe lost the passion or time for it.”
He knew if he got a handful of farmers on the first day just over a year ago, he’d be happy.
“Instead I got 25.”
The surfing is a fun, refreshing change after a day spent on the farm. But Stephen also knows it offers the farmers the opportunity to socialise in a different environment, sharing experiences as a group of learners, learning something knew and getting their minds off the usual demands farming brings.
“That is even more so over the summer when things have been so dry, and you’ve got that extra level of stress dealing with keeping your animals well fed.”
He says he’s been impressed with the level of skill the groups have developed.
“We have a few white water warriors who are happy just to be that. But we also have ome guys who kept surfing last winter after we finished, and they are getting fussy about their waves now!”
Sam Hain farms in the hill country 50km west of Gisborne and for him every Tuesday evening over summer holds special significance.
It’s his chance to head to the coast and get into the water with the Surfing for Farmers group, leaving the heat and stress of the hill country behind for a few hours.
“I started just over a year ago when Stephen kicked off with it, my wife thought it would be a good thing for me to do. Often when you live somewhere like this, you don’t always do the things that are on your doorstep.”
A year on Sam says he’d never claim to be a competition standard surfer, but his skills have got better thanks in part to having some good instructors.
“I absolutely love it, and feel more confident about going out, it’s a great thing to do.”
The groups are meeting once a week through the summer, although this year Stephen says that may be extended further into autumn.
“We finish off with a barbeque and a few beers and a catch up. Right now it’s pretty dry through much of the North Island, so for some of the younger farmers who have just started their farming careers, it’s a chance to talk to a few older guys who have been through it, and pick up a few ideas on coping with it.”
Farming aside it is the waves that are drawing the farmers back to the coast for some stress therapy and a social catch up.
Stephen has not rule out some sort of inter-regional farmer’s surf competition as the surf students become more adept.
“And there has even been talk about a farmers surf trip to Bali.”
Anyone interested in the group can check it out on its Facebook page – surfing for farmers.