MIllie Bird says she will never forget the day her seven-year-old son, Alex, first plunged into the surf board. They were at Watergate Bay in Cornwall and this was his first therapeutic surfing treatment. For a young boy with autism who fought in social situations it was a potentially scary temptation.
But what Bird now remembers is his "glittering smile" on the water and the huge spikes that came to light when he caught his first wave.
"When we got home, he said," Mom, I'm so proud of myself. "He had never said anything like that before," It was a real moment, "says Bird.
Surfing therapy sounds like something you'll find on the American West Coast – and it's started. But this is now the biggest waves in the UK, as well as an increasing number of young people brave British switches to fight anxiety and depression. Now that she is 10, Alex says she feels more revered and confident in almost everything she does. "It gave him a new feeling of calm," Bird says.
The Wave Project, a humanitarian association, conducting field therapy courses across the country – from Cornwall to North Yorkshire to Scotland – reports a 35-percent increase in the number of children who took part in the past year at more than 1,200.
The latest project opens this month in Southwark, London. It is unlikely to be a place for surfing school, but the charity association has provided a classroom with mobile phones that will translate children to and from Sussex.
"Some of these children have never left London," says Joe Taylor, founder of the charity organization. Sessions are intended for children with different forms of mental disability and autism, and coaching is one-on-one – each child has a mentor or a "friend". It is also free – thanks to 900 trained volunteers and funding from charitable funds such as Comic Relief and Children in Need.
Taylor says it's not like art or music therapy because it takes a mind in something active and social. Still, this is an unpredictable environment. And, perhaps controversial, the dangers of the open sea are often crucial to its healing powers.
"The sea is pretty scary, so children who would otherwise be pretty wild and aggressive start to listen to the coaches and people around them. They will physically leap for help and I think this is really an important psychological step for them – they build such relationships, often for the first time. "
Trust is the key to experiential therapy like surfing, says psychiatrist Richard Graham, and there is a sense of awe that can help children to act through "conflicts and anger and frustration."
"The sea does not look, does not condemn you, no opinion, that's what it is." Then you have that inherent sense of accomplishment and mastery if you start to understand it properly – and for someone who feels almost always misunderstood it, it can be transformational, "he says.
However, he warns that vulnerable young people may be more impulsive and less careless, and do not always have "those internal protective measures coming from good care".
Taylor insists that the risk assessment is very thorough, but admits that surf therapy may not work for everyone. Most children benefit, he believes, and see a great increase in social cohesion.
Next year the charity plans its largest investment, worth £ 1 million in Cornwall, to be the first dedicated worldwide center for surfing therapy center, Taylor hopes, training and research, as well as a platform for accepting surfing classes in the classroom. across Britain.
"Our ambition is to make surf therapy available to every child in the UK who needs it," he says.
Although most of the kids on the courses have never been near the surfboard, some are going further and become expert surfers.
One of them, Charlotte Banfield, now 19, has even won the bronze medal at the ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship in California last year. He has autism and cerebral palsy and says he has struggled with the smallest things in life, such as tie-up. But she says surfing has made her find ways around them.
"When I'm standing on a rocking canvas, I just forget everything on the mainland and live in the moment – that's incredible!"