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Love of surfing helps tackle mental health challenges

Thursday 19 September, 2019

Grant Trebilco tackles the surf in his Fluro Friday gear (Credit @SHANNONGLASSON)

A Mount Maunganui man who battled mental health challenges for years has used his love of surfing to help others overcome their own struggles.

Grant Trebilco used his passion for riding waves to “get the stoke back”, and he says others can do the same ahead of next week’s Mental Health Awareness Week in Tauranga.

“After years of battling mental health challenges without seeking treatment, I was hospitalized in 2012 and diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a manic episode,” says the former Tauranga Boys College student. “When I was released from hospital, the ocean, surfing and good people were my saviour during some tough times.”

Grant’s family moved from Tauranga to Mount Maunganui when he was in his late teens and he says, even though he moved to Australia eight years ago, the Mount will always be ‘home’. He returns whenever he can to be with family and friends.

Grant has surfed most of his life, but it was during the six months following his hospitalisation he really discovered that sometimes one wave is all it takes.

“The one place where I could get away from it all was getting in the ocean and going surfing with my family and my mates,” says the 38-year-old. “I remember getting this one good wave and I actually started smiling again, like really smiling and finally I didn’t feel numb anymore. That gave me hope that things could get better. It made me realise that day by day, surf by surf, you could get the stoke back.

“The ocean was also the first place I told my friends about having bipolar. The support and understanding they showed me was unreal and I will never forget it. This was the inspiration behind launching OneWave. I wanted to give more people the chance to ride waves and openly talk about mental health without being judged.”

So one Friday morning, in 2013, Grant decided to dress up in a shirt and tie and go surfing solo at Australia’s Bondi Beach to try and spark conversations about mental health. OneWave was born and Grant had simultaneously launched Fluro Fridays.

OneWave is a non-profit surf community raising awareness of mental health through saltwater therapy, surfing and fluro. Fluro Fridays consist of surfing, free yoga and an ‘anti-bad vibes circle’ allowing people to share stories in a safer environment.

“Wearing bright colours makes people happy and helps start conversations about an invisible issue,” says Grant. In the six years since its inception, OneWave has gone global and Fluro Fridays have been held on over 200 beaches worldwide.

Tauranga will be hosting its very own Fluro Fest on Sunday 29 September at Tay Street Beach Reserve, Mt Maunganui, from 1-4pm. The free event includes Tauranga Samba Band, 3D sand artist Jamie Harkins, music, volleyball, beach tennis, giant jenga, happy bus, treasure dig and more.

Aside from Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mount Manganui OneWave group meets at Tay Street each Friday from 5pm. All are welcome to join them. You can find out more by connecting with the group on Facebook ‘OneWave - Mount Maunganui’ or Instagram @onewavemountmaunganui

Other free events during Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year has the theme of ‘Explore your way to wellbeing’, include:

Saturday 21 September – Pirirākau 26th Birthday Celebrations
Time: 10am
Where: Pirirākau Hauora, 3 Lochead Road, Te Puna
What: Kōrero café, music, games, food, mirimiri, motorbike rides and much more.

Wednesday 25 September - Mindfulness at Memorial
Time: 1-4pm
Where: Memorial Park, Eleventh Ave, Tauranga
What: Bring own lunch, music & mindfulness, touch rugby, breathing and stretching, and more.

Saturday 28 September - Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk
Time: 10-12pm
Where: Coronation Park, Mt Maunganui
What: Show support for all those living with dementia and their whānau with the 3.5km Memory Walk

Grant’s top six mental health tips to help “free the funk”
1. Be kind to yourself – It’s totally ok not to be ok. If you’re just not feeling it, don’t beat yourself up about not wanting to be around people. Don’t be afraid to take a mental health day from work if you need it and sometimes a good nap can help so much.

2. Talk it out – we put so much pressure on ourselves and when we are stuck in a funk we can quickly get caught up in the negative thoughts going on inside our head. If you’re beating yourself up about something make sure you tell someone about what you’re feeling, because it makes it that little bit easier getting it out of your head.

3. Get a check up from the neck up - head to your local doctor to get a mental health check and work out what professional support you need to help get the stoke back. Putting my hand up and talking to a doctor for the first time was the hardest, but best thing I have ever done.

4. Surround yourself with good people - Surround yourself with friends and family who let you know that it’s totally ok not to be ok and who have your back no matter what.

5. Find your community – when you are facing mental health challenges getting out of bed is so damn hard. If you have a community of good people to hang out with whether it’s to go fluro surfing with, go for a walk or to the gym, it gives you a reason to get out of bed and once you’re up you never regret it and makes the day that little bit easier.

6. Do more things that help you free the funk – What’s the thing you do that helps you free the funk and get your smile back? For me it’s surfing, but I think everyone has their surfing whether it’s music, yoga, running… When you are struggling a bit, think of what you were doing the last time you were happy and go and do that as soon as you can and see how it makes you feel.


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