Farmers catch on to new wave of well-being

Wreys bush farmers Debby and son Ryan Egan bought new surfboards after getting involved in the Surfing for Farmers initiative. Photo: Supplied

A NEW wave of improving mental health and well-being has been caught by Southland farmers as they swap their gumboots for wetsuits for the second Surfing for Farmers season.

Farmers and growers in their droves have taken up the surf therapy initiative aimed at improving mental health and well-being in rural communities throughout New Zealand.

In its second season in Southland, the organisation’s founder Stephen Thompson said it had been great to see the vision grow, with more than 40 Southland farmers turning up each night.

The initiative enabled rural people the opportunity to take a break from what could be an all-consuming business and get out for a surf, hang out for a barbecue and swap stories with others in their communities.

Southland co-ordinator Tom Slee encouraged those who had yet to try surfing, to come and have a go.

“It is about getting farmers off farm and having a bit of fun, connect with other farmers — all while trying something new.”

Southland Rural Support Trust and Surfing for Farmers co-ordinator Katrina Thomas said there were some great initiatives available to address rural mental health as it was a long-standing issue which needed to be acknowledged.

Tough times for farmers usually came with dramatic events or something out of their control, she said.

“Well-being on farms has been an issue for many years because there’s constant change with rules and regulations, as well as weather and adverse events.”

“It’s all about being at the top of the cliff — not the bottom.”

She was pleased Surfing for Farmers had been so well supported in the south, with many regulars travelling by the carload to the surf breaks at Riverton Rocks, Monkey Island, Colac and Curio bays. It was their

For many farmers, it was their first time on a surf board and the experience had exceeded expectations.

“They would come out [of the water] with massive grins on their faces. They’d say it was so cool and so much fun.”

Southland farmer Nathan Paris thought the free weekly event was a great excuse to get off the farm and do something different.

“You can get stuck on the farm, especially at this time of the year, doing some big hours. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Mr Paris felt he better understood the massive issues farmers could have with mental health after hearing a keynote speaker last year talk openly about their personal battles.

‘‘The connections he had made at the surfing events, provided a great platform to have conversations with peers about work-related stress… It makes that mental health thing such a normal conversation to have now.

“It’s something that doesn’t get talked about enough. It’s becoming less of a taboo subject now.”

Surfing provided a welcome break from daily work routines and an opportunity to decompress.

“When you are out there having fun, you’re concentrating on learning a new skill so you don’t have time to worry about whatever else is happening on the farm and any other dramas in life.”

Meeting new people outside his usual circle of friends was one of the event’s advantages.

Some great conversations were had around the barbecue, while there was plenty of small talk, banter and joking with each other out on the surf breaks.

“Everyone is having a laugh at our own expense, because we are all in the same boat learning. It’s all quite amusing and all done in good spirits.”

Wreys Bush farmer Debby Egan said the surfing events proved a wonderful opportunity for her entire family to have a break away together.

“It’s a really lovely way of coming together and having some fun,’’ she said.