Introducing OneWave: the non-profit making a big difference with saltwater, surfing, good mates and a whole lot of fluoro.

Every Friday morning, just before the sun crawls above the ocean, you’ll find a gathering at the south end of Sydney’s Bondi Beach – there, it’s a mess of surfboards, inflatable giant swans, yoga mats and people – lots of them – each and every one of them dressed in fluoro. There are far too many of them to be an in-joke but still they, in their budgie smugglers and hot pink onsies, along with the early risers walking the promenade, are laughing. For them, and anyone close enough to witness, it’s a good time. A real good time.

But this phenomenon isn’t just a Bondi affair. You’ll see the same thing if you set your alarm early enough at beaches up and down the coast and even some in the U S of A. This group of people – no, this movement – are OneWave: a non-profit surf community tackling mental health issues – funks like depression, anxiety and bipolar – with a simple recipe: surfing, good mates and a whole lot of fluoro. Since launching in Bondi in 2013, OneWave has reached over 60 beaches worldwide, sharing their very special brand of saltwater therapy, raising awareness and reducing social stigmas around mental health issues. Get wet and have a good time, they tell you. It’s a simple enough creed, but the message runs deeper than that: it’s OK not to be OK, and that you don’t have to – ever – go it alone.

“When I was diagnosed with Bipolar, it was surfing with family and my mates that helped me the most,” shares OneWave Founder Grant Trebilco. “Sometimes, one wave really is all it takes.”

Their theory is simple: it doesn’t matter if you’re riding a wave for the first time or the hundredth, if you’ve got it nailed or if you fall off the second you stand, or even if you don’t stand up at all: you never forget that feeling of being on a wave, letting it all go and enjoying that moment. Sometimes, like Trebilco says, one wave is all it takes to free that funk that’s been following you for so long.

According to research by the Black Dog Institute – a world-leading clinic in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar – one in five people experience mental health issues each year and, of those, 65 per cent never seek treatment.

“I want anyone experiencing mental health issues to have this opportunity,” says Trebilco of surfing.

So, OneWave stepped up their efforts. Earlier this year, they launched a unique 12-week program designed to teach people experiencing mental health issues how to surf at Newcastle’s Nobbys Beach. They call it the OneWave Surfing Experience (or OWSE). It sees OneWave partner with community-based mental health organisations – in this instance, PIR Lake Macquarie, NEAMI – and Newcastle’s leading surf school – Newcastle Surf School – to implement the OneWave surfing experience.

“The primary focus of this program is to combine physical health and clinical life skills, in a neutral, non-intrusive natural environment. This in turn, aims to improve social engagement and quality of life for mental health clients, away from the traditional clinical setting,” shares Joel Pilgrim, OWSE Manager & Mental Health Occupational Therapist. He says the aim is to normalise mental health challenges. “Preliminary research reveals that this program impacts participants in many important ways, including improved confidence, strengthened social supports, improved daily structure, increased enjoyment of life, decreased worry and anxiety, and a sense of accomplishment.”

Since the inception of OWSE, the team have launched another two locations, including Bondi Beach – the place where it all began for OneWave. This OWSE, on home sand, is made possible thanks to the generous help of Wayside Chapel and Let’s Go Surfing surf school. And, in the not-so-distant future, OneWave aims to have the program implemented in 25 beaches around the globe in the next five years, partnering with local mental health and learn to surf organisations in each new area.

There’s a listlessness that comes with mental health issues. Time, it blends and blends until everything just feels like forever. When you’re feeling low, it’s hard to set any kind of schedule, to do anything but fall into the funk. OneWave, though, is so much more than a simple reason to get out of bed in the morning. It’s the chance to meet new people, to have a laugh, to learn to surf, to be part of something bigger. One of the OWSE participants, Brad, says the program has played a massive role in his recovery.

“It gets people up and motivated, it’s a real kick start, it’s got me fitter and happier and has set me a routine. Yeah, it’s been really beneficial for my mental health.”

OneWave: coming to a beach near you. Want to know more? Head to www.onewaveisallittakes.com or follow us on social media @onewaveisallittakes