Waves for Change: Using surfing to help children overcome psychological challenges

Waves for Change is a surf therapy charity that has helped children as well as trained coaches in surfing, lifesaving, child protection and trauma counselling.


Cape Town, South Africa – The charity was started by Tim Conibear in 2011 as a way to help children from underprivileged area’s learn to swim and surf. Waves for Change operates in five locations around the country and uses surfing as a way to help children overcome psychological challenges.

An avid surfer, Tim spent every free moment he had surfing. In 2009 he started a small surfing club in Masiphumelele Township. The club centred around voluntary weekend surfing sessions, which soon grew when local community members – Apish Tshetsha and Bongani Ndlovu – volunteered to lead and expand the club.

Apish and Bongani recognised that surfing was a great way to engage young people, who soon started sharing their stories and challenges. In an effort to provide more social support, the trio reached out to local social services only to realise that local services were heavily under-resourced. A gap was identified.

Daily exposure to violence and stress means many South Africans suffer from acute emotional and psychological stress. In the absence of emotional support, the stress often manifests in anti-social and high-risk behaviour, placing many young South Africans at-risk. Early surfing sessions showed that participants noted improved feelings of belonging, strength, trust and confidence – key pillars of wellbeing. This was reflected in their behaviour, as noted by teachers and parents.

The trio crew, teamed up with mental health professionals and development experts to develop, what today is, an award-winning Surf Therapy programme. W4C operates in some of the most at-risk communities in South Africa and Africa.

The charity provides a safe and fun environment for the children. Tim Conibear has helped over 1 000 children learn lifesaving skills and surfing. He has also trained 50 coaches in surfing, lifesaving, child protection and trauma counselling.

“Surfing to these young people is everything. It is an escape, a challenge and a chance for young people to learn and achieve something. In the past four years, we have seen young people with no hope and lacking in confidence return to education, build relationships, develop into talented surfers and become leaders in their own communities.” – Tim Conibear

Laureus World Sports Academy hosted Laureus Awards in Monaco last year and awarded the ‘Sport for Good’ award to Waves for Change.

The chairman, Sean Fitzpatrick, said: “The work being done by Tim and his team at Waves for Change is inspirational, to say the least. Disadvantaged youth, who are in desperate need of support and direction are given a new lease of life through surfing. It is an incredible success story, and my fellow Academy Members were inspired by the work of the programme.”

Tim Conibear is so happy his organisation has made such a big difference in the life of South African youth. He is really happy to hear about the award,

“It is an honour to receive this reward from the Laureus Academy, and it is further proof that what we doing is working.” – Tim Conibear 

Waves for Change: Using surfing to help children overcome psychological challenges

Sources: Waves for Change 
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