Surfing for Farmers

It’s not the sheep who get a drenching


Head to Sumner Beach on Tuesday evenings or Gore Bay on Thursdays, and you’ll see a pretty amazing event going on. It’s the Canterbury incarnation of the nationwide health and wellbeing initiative “Surfing for Farmers”. Helping farmers take care of their mental health is important, that’s why Bayleys are proud to be founding partners of Surfing for Farmers.
In 2019, Stephen Thomson in Gisborne – surfer, farm consultant and Bayleys rural real estate agent – was moved by the Netflix documentary Resurface, in which surfing helps heal American war veterans suffering from post traumatic stress. Knowing firsthand the pressures that farmers face, he was inspired to create Surfing for Farmers.
It was the obvious first step for him to reach out to Bayleys. Pete Whalan, CEO of Bayleys Canterbury, says “Bayleys staff understand very well the challenges that farmers can face – the long hours, isolation and multiple challenges, many of which are outside their control.

Mental health is a very real concern in these circumstances. We wanted to be involved in offering farmers an escape – something very different from their everyday lives – a mental and physical stress relief.”

The Canterbury sessions are organised by agricultural journalist and passionate volunteer, Sandra Taylor. Sandra swims in the ocean all year round and treasures the feeling of wellbeing she gets from it. “There are a lot of reports emerging now about the science of cold-water therapy and surfing in treating anxiety, depression and other mental health issues,” she says.
The events around the country are supported by a mix of local and nationwide sponsors. Everything about the event is free – all farmers have to do is get there.


“The only thing you can think about is the sea”

At the Sumner event, regulars come from across Banks Peninsula and as far afield as Culverden, Ashburton, Leeston and Southbridge. The session starts at 6.15 at a small park overlooking the beach, with the instructors giving a welcome and group safety briefing, getting everyone kitted up with wetsuit and board, then sorting people into groups according to level of experience. There’s no stopping those who have been attending since November, who stride confidently out into the water. But there’s always newbies, so a class happens for them on the beach first. By around 8pm people are dried off, glowing, and back at the BBQ, with delicious patties, a few beers, and the legendary ginger cake that Sandra makes every week, which is a key part of the experience!
Adam, dairy farmer from Culverden, is one of the first there and first in the water every week. He’s even rearranged his Tuesdays around this summer programme, making Tuesdays his “town day”. Not caring about the hour and a half drive each way, he says “When you get out there, the only thing you can think about is the sea.”
Tessa, a sheep and beef farmer from North Canterbury, was brimming with excitement to get back in the water. She loves the event so much that she brought along her visiting South Otago farmer friend, Bethany.
Farmer families are welcome too – one Ashburton family comes up every Tuesday for hubbie to surf while wife and kids roam the beach, before re-joining at the BBQ.
Siobhan from Learn to Surf has been the regular instructor at Sumner, and loves the farmers’ nights.

She says that many farmers were nervous at first, with water being a totally different environment, but now they’re loving it and committed, with many wanting to buy their own gear.

She also adds “They’re a respectful bunch”
Due to its more remote location, The Gore Bay weekly events draw an even larger crowd, typically around 40 farming families.


Still time to take the plunge

Surfing for Famers runs for approximately 13 weeks, through to late March, across 16 regions. Exact dates, locations and contact details are on their website - Surfing for Famers. New farmers and their families are always welcome, and you can attend at any point in the programme. No need for bookings, just turn up for a friendly welcome and a crazy experience.

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