Surfing, fluro and 'saltwater therapy'

Surf community OneWave is creating conversations around mental health, making a difference one wave at a time.

Written by Rebecca Howden

There’s a certain wild, invigorating rush that only the ocean can give you. Out on the water, with a salty spray on your skin, you feel alive. The ocean challenges you, it soothes you, it rinses you clean of your stress and troubles and darkness. That’s the magic of 'saltwater therapy'.

This feeling has been Grant Trebilco’s saviour in tough times. In 2012, after years of struggling without treatment, he was hospitalised and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When he was released, it was the ocean and surfing – that exhilarating sense of being free amongst the roaring waves – that kept him going.

That’s when he decided enough was enough. He’d been hiding his mental health challenges for years. It was time to start talking, share his experience and try to help others. And he’d do it in a way that combined his love for the ocean.

One Friday morning, he dressed up in a shirt and tie and went surfing alone at Bondi to try to spark conversations about mental health. That was OneWave’s first “board meeting”. Four weeks later, it became the first Fluro Friday – now a global movement of surfing, fluro and support.

At Fluro Friday sunrise sessions, anyone who wants to comes down to the beach dressed up in the brightest, happiest outfits possible. Together they share stories, surf and do yoga - all different ways of "freeing the funk", as Grant calls it.

Since that first morning at Bondi, OneWave has held Fluro Fridays at over 100 beaches worldwide. Now, 20 of these beaches play host to regular weekly or monthly Fluro Friday sessions, providing a warm and welcoming space to talk about mental health, get out on the waves and make connections.

"It’s about creating a safer space, so people facing mental health challenges know they are not alone and that it's okay not to be okay and ask for help."

You use the lovely phrase "saltwater therapy." What are some of the benefits of getting out on the water – for your body, mind and emotions?

Being in the ocean and going surfing is the best escape and the funnest thing ever. The ocean rinses of the bad vibes and is like my meditation. If I don’t get in the ocean in the morning I will feel a bit out of whack for the day. The ocean doesn’t fix everything, but saltwater therapy is a key part of my recipe for freeing the funk.

Who is part of the OneWave community?

We have been so lucky to have so many good people who are passionate about raising awareness of mental health through saltwater therapy, surfing and fluro. It has become this incredible, supportive community of people around the world.

The community is made up of people from all walks of life, because mental health challenges don’t discriminate. We have people bring their babies down and we have had an 85-year-old out on a paddleboard. Everyone is welcome and you don’t need to be a surfer to be involved.

What happens at Fluro Fridays?

Fluro Fridays are a weekly event where the OneWave community dresses in fluro and shares waves and stories to raise awareness of mental health. Dressing in bright colours makes people happy, but it also helps make an often invisible issue visible, which helps start conversations about mental health that are often left in the dark.

It’s about creating a safer space, so people facing mental health challenges know they are not alone and that it's okay not to be okay and ask for help.

Can beginner surfers get involved?

You don’t even need to be a surfer to come to Fluro Fridays. Some people come for a swim or do yoga. We have lots of beginner surfers that come down. Fluro Fridays are all about having fun and not taking surfing too seriously, so we all surf together and catch party waves.

We have also just launched a new initiative called OneWave Salty Sessions, where some of the beaches offer free surf lessons on the first Fluro Friday of every month.

"We have people bring their babies down and we have had an 85-year-old out on a paddleboard. Everyone is welcome and you don’t need to be a surfer to be involved."

What message would you want everyone to know about mental health?

Mental health challenges don’t discriminate. Be kind always, because everyone you meet could be fighting a battle you know nothing about. The ones with the biggest smiles are sometimes the ones that are suffering the most. Let’s create a culture where it’s totally okay not to be okay and ask for help, because it’s the only way we are going to stop losing so many good people.

Sharing stories is a really powerful way of doing this. Showing vulnerability gives people permission to share their story and allows people to escape the negative thoughts in their head and realise they are not alone.

What's your vision for the future of OneWave?

OneWave’s vision is to give people hope they can beat mental health issues, by creating a supportive community connected by the ocean. By the end of 2018 we are aiming to start one million conversations about mental health in a fun and lighthearted way, and get 15,000 people in the ocean, so they get the chance to experience saltwater therapy.

Find a OneWave community near you at onewaveisallittakes.com

Medibank is proud to partner with OneWave through Free + Active – bringing you free social activities that make you happier, healthier and more connected.

Written by Rebecca Howden

Rebecca Howden has been writing about arts, culture, lifestyle and health for over 10 years. She reads too many books and has a cat named Gatsby.

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