Surf charities, NGOs, and nonprofits: changing lives one wave at a time | PHoto: DJ Struntz/Surfers Healing

In the water world of waves, a surfboard is more than sporting equipment. It's a vehicle for change that can become a catalyst for empowerment and a platform for social engagement.

Surfing, often characterized by its free-spirited nature and individualism, is unlikely to be a breeding ground for altruism.

Yet, within the crests and troughs of the world's oceans, a tide of compassion is rising thanks to a growing wave of surf organizations - nonprofits, NGOs, foundations, and charities - run by surfers who have turned their passion into purpose.

With a focus beyond the thrill of the ride, they strive to make significant impacts on specific communities and groups, including:

  • Helping wounded veterans find solace in the rhythm of the waves;
  • Getting children from broken homes to discover stability atop a board;
  • Building self-esteem in women through mastering a surf break;
  • Making individuals with physical and mental disabilities find joy and therapy in the surf;

They make surfing become more than a sport - a conduit for social change, connecting individuals across diverse backgrounds and conditions.

The cultural reach of surfing organizations extends beyond the sandy beaches and into the hearts and homes of those they assist.

The following organizations have countless remarkable stories of perseverance, empowerment, and community.

With each swell, with every ride, they are making a difference.

Their missions echo the essence of surfing itself - adaptable, resilient, and in harmony with the force of nature - and remind us that the virtues of compassion and empathy are as endless as the sea.

Let's dive into their world, where the ocean's embrace offers hope, healing, and a new horizon for those in need.

The Wave Project

The Wave Project: the program that leverages the therapeutic benefits of surfing to help children and young people facing mental health issues or other challenges in their lives | Photo: The Wave Project

The Wave Project is a renowned surf therapy charity that originated in the UK.

It's a groundbreaking program that leverages the benefits of surfing to help children and young people facing mental health issues or other challenges in their lives.

Using a mix of surfing and therapeutic support, The Wave Project aims to improve the mental well-being of its participants by enhancing their self-esteem and confidence.

The charity offers a six-week surf therapy course delivered by professional surf instructors and supported by trained volunteers who act as surf mentors.

The children and young people who take part in the courses often experience a sense of achievement, increased belief in their abilities, and a newfound joy in connecting with others and the world around them.

By building a supportive community that fosters resilience and personal growth, The Wave Project has become a symbol of hope and empowerment.

Through collaborations with local schools, health professionals, and other organizations, The Wave Project has managed to expand its operation and touch the lives of many.

Its initiatives show the world how the exhilarating sport of surfing can transform lives, providing not just a fun and engaging experience but a profound therapeutic tool that makes a real difference in the well-being of its participants.

 

Surfers Healing

Surfers Healing: enriching the lives of people with autism by exposing them to the experience of surfing | Photo: Surfers Healing

Surfers Healing is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in the United States that seeks to enrich the lives of people with autism by exposing them to the experience of surfing.

Founded by Israel "Izzy" and Danielle Paskowitz, the organization is inspired by their own experience with their son, Isaiah, who has autism.

The mission of Surfers Healing is to provide children with autism and their families the opportunity to connect and heal through the art of surfing.

By taking kids on the autism spectrum into the waves, they offer them a one-of-a-kind ocean therapy.

Many children with autism struggle with sensory overload, and the experience of being on a surfboard, feeling the rhythm of the waves, and connecting with an expert surfer can have a calming and therapeutic effect.

Surfers Healing hosts surf camps at various locations, where professional surfers volunteer their time to work one-on-one with the children.

These camps are provided at no cost to the families and offer a supportive, inclusive environment where children can feel a sense of achievement and joy.

The organization has become a beacon of hope for many families, providing not just a day at the beach but a transformative experience that fosters understanding and acceptance.

The impact of Surfers Healing extends beyond the individual child, creating a community where families can connect, share their stories, and find support.

Through the simple act of riding waves, Surfers Healing illustrates the profound connection between the human spirit and the natural world, unlocking potential and enriching lives in a truly unique way.

 

Waves of Wellness

Waves of Wellness: utilizing the therapeutic qualities of the ocean, coupled with the adventure of surfing, to support individuals struggling with mental health | Photo: Waves of Wellness:

Waves of Wellness (WOW) is an Australian mental health surf therapy charity.

Their innovative programs focus on utilizing the therapeutic qualities of the ocean, coupled with the adventure of surfing, to support individuals struggling with mental balance.

The vision of Waves of Wellness is to foster a safe and engaging space where people can openly discuss psychological issues without judgment or stigma.

By combining evidence-based mental health practices with the thrill and excitement of surfing, WOW aims to create a supportive community that encourages positive mental well-being.

WOW offers various surf therapy programs that cater to different groups, including those dealing with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other challenges.

The organization collaborates with mental health professionals, community services, and other stakeholders to ensure a comprehensive approach.

The power of Waves of Wellness lies in its ability to create an environment where participants can connect with others facing similar challenges, learn new skills, and find joy and confidence through surfing.

The therapeutic process is facilitated by healthcare professionals, ensuring that participants receive individualized support tailored to their needs.

The programs not only provide participants with the opportunity to learn how to surf but also include group discussions, activities, and exercises designed to foster personal growth, resilience, and emotional well-being.

The experience of conquering a wave becomes a metaphor for overcoming personal obstacles, leading to empowerment and self-discovery.

Waves of Wellness has made significant strides in breaking down the barriers surrounding mental health conversations and offers a refreshing, proactive approach to psychological care.

 

Waves for Change

Waves for Change: improving the mental and emotional well-being of young people who have been affected by violence and trauma | Photo: Waves for Change

Waves for Change (W4C) is a nonprofit surf therapy organization based in South Africa that focuses on improving the mental and emotional well-being of young people who have been affected by violence and trauma.

Founded by Tim Conibear, who started surfing with local youngsters in the township communities, the organization quickly grew as he realized the positive impact surfing had on the children's lives.

Understanding the complex social issues faced by many South African communities, Waves for Change developed a structured surf therapy program that combines the joy and challenge of surfing with therapeutic activities and mindfulness practices.

The programs are led by local community members who are trained as surf mentors, ensuring that the therapy is culturally relevant and tailored to the specific needs of the participants.

The programs offer a safe space for children and adolescents to build trust, develop positive relationships, and learn coping skills for dealing with stress and trauma.

By engaging in the ocean and learning to surf, participants gain a sense of accomplishment, self-confidence, and resilience that transcends into other areas of their lives.

Waves for Change operates across various coastal communities in South Africa, reaching thousands of young people each year.

Collaborating with mental health professionals, social workers, and community leaders, W4C ensures that its programs are evidence-based and have a long-lasting impact on the participants' lives.

Waves for Change is not just about teaching surfing; it's about using the surf as a therapeutic tool to heal and empower.

 

Surfers Not Street Children

Surfers Not Street Children: transforming the lives of street children and those at risk of street connectedness through surfing, mentorship, and care | Photo: Surfers Not Street Children

Surfers Not Street Children is a nonprofit organization that aims to transform the lives of street children and those at risk of street connectedness through surfing, mentorship, and care.

Primarily operating in South Africa but with a global advocacy reach, the organization aims to empower former street children and youths by utilizing the therapeutic and engaging nature of surfing.

Founded by Tom Hewitt, MBE, who has a long history of working with street children, the initiative recognizes the complexities and challenges faced by children living on the streets.

Surfers Not Street Children takes an innovative approach by creating a family-like environment where children can participate in surfing activities while also receiving the necessary emotional, educational, and social support.

The surfing program not only offers the joy and discipline of the sport but also serves as a platform to engage with the children and develop strong, trusting relationships.

It helps to build self-esteem, resilience, and a sense of community that many street children often lack.

Beyond the surf, Surfers Not Street Children provides ongoing mentorship, education, and advocacy, working to alter societal perceptions and address the underlying issues that lead to children becoming street-connected.

The organization collaborates with other NGOs, governments, and local communities to create sustainable change.

Surfers Not Street Children is more than just a surf program; it's a life-changing initiative that leverages the power of surfing as a tool for rehabilitation, growth, and empowerment.

By focusing on the long-term development and integration of children into society, the organization gives them a chance to overcome their past and look forward to a brighter, more promising future.

 

A Walk On Water

A Walk On Water: providing therapeutic surf experiences to children with special needs or disabilities | Photo: A Walk On Water

A Walk On Water (AWOW) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit surf therapy organization based in the United States that focuses on providing therapeutic surf experiences to children with special needs or disabilities.

Founded in 2012, the organization embraces the healing properties of the ocean, offering children and their families the chance to experience the transformative power of surf therapy.

AWOW's events are designed to provide participants with a sense of achievement, joy, and respite from their daily struggles.

Professional surfers and well-trained volunteers collaborate to ensure that every child has a safe and personalized experience.

Through one-on-one surf sessions, children are guided through the waves, allowing them to build trust, confidence, and a connection to something larger than themselves.

The impact of A Walk On Water extends beyond the individual child, encompassing their entire family.

Recognizing that the families of children with special needs often face continuous challenges and stress, AWOW offers a supportive community where families can connect, share experiences, and enjoy a day of respite at the beach.

AWOW's approach to surf therapy creates an environment where children and families can find support, acceptance, and healing.

Through their consistent dedication to empowering children and supporting families, A Walk On Water demonstrates that the simple act of riding a wave can become a profound experience of freedom, joy, and connection.

 

Moore Aloha

Moore Aloha is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable foundation that empowers young women to be strong, confident, and compassionate individuals through the spirit of aloha, using the culture and sport of surfing as key elements.

Founded by professional surfer Carissa Moore, the organization embodies the Hawaiian concept of "Aloha," which represents love, peace, compassion, and a mutual understanding of respect for one another.

The foundation's mission focuses on creating programs that instill values of kindness, empathy, and positive leadership in young women.

Through surf camps, workshops, community service, and other engaging activities, Moore Aloha encourages young girls to believe in themselves, embrace their unique qualities and spread the spirit of aloha in their communities.

Moore Aloha believes in the importance of positive role models and strives to provide a supportive environment where participants can learn from strong women leaders.

The interaction with mentors and peers in a comfortable, inspiring setting enables the participants to grow both personally and socially.

The impact of Moore Aloha goes beyond surfing; it's about fostering a community of young women who are empowered to make positive changes in their lives and in the lives of those around them.

By emphasizing values such as kindness, integrity, and self-respect, Moore Aloha seeks to create a ripple effect of goodwill and compassion that spreads throughout the community.

Through the fusion of surfing, cultural understanding, and character-building activities, Moore Aloha not only strengthens the participants' connection to the ocean but also nurtures their connection to themselves and others.

 

Operation Surf

Operation Surf: provides surf therapy programs for active-duty military personnel, veterans, and first responders who are dealing with physical and emotional trauma, including PTSD | Photo: Operation Surf

Operation Surf is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides surf therapy programs for active-duty military personnel, veterans, and first responders who are dealing with physical and emotional trauma, including PTSD.

Founded by Van Curaza, the organization leverages the therapeutic benefits of the ocean and the sport of surfing as a form of rehabilitation and healing.

Operation Surf's programs are designed to offer participants an opportunity to escape their daily struggles and challenges, finding camaraderie, support, and healing through surfing.

The experience of riding waves, coupled with the immersive beauty of the ocean, has proven to be an effective therapeutic tool, helping participants rebuild confidence, restore hope, and develop new coping strategies.

The week-long surf camps conducted by Operation Surf are led by professional surfers, therapists, and dedicated volunteers who provide one-on-one support, ensuring a personalized and impactful experience.

These camps provide more than just surf lessons; they create a safe and supportive environment where participants can openly share their experiences, form connections with others who have similar backgrounds, and find renewed strength and motivation.

Operation Surf's approach goes beyond traditional therapy methods, recognizing the unique needs and experiences of military personnel, veterans, and first responders.

By providing an alternative path to healing that emphasizes physical activity, social connections, and the natural soothing effects of the ocean, they have been able to make significant positive impacts on the lives of many participants.

The organization's commitment to using surfing as a means of healing and empowerment exemplifies the transformative power of the sport.

 

Surfpop

Surfpop: creating sustainable change in the lives of children from disadvantaged communities through surfing, education, and nutrition | Photo: Surfpop

Surfpop is a nonprofit organization based in South Africa that aims to create sustainable change in the lives of children from disadvantaged communities through surfing, education, and nutrition.

Founded by Daniel Botha, Surfpop's vision is to harness the joy and discipline of surfing to provide a pathway toward a brighter future for children who face economic and social challenges.

The organization operates by offering structured after-school programs that combine surf lessons with educational support and a focus on healthy living.

By engaging children in the sport of surfing, Surfpop provides them with a fun and positive outlet that also teaches important life skills like perseverance, resilience, and teamwork.

But Surfpop's initiatives don't stop at the beach.

Understanding that education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty, the organization also offers tutoring, mentoring, and support with schoolwork.

They work to ensure that the children not only stay in school but also excel in their studies, creating opportunities for further education and future employment.

Nutrition is another critical aspect of Surfpop's program.

Recognizing that proper nutrition is essential for both physical and mental development, the organization provides healthy meals and educates the children about the importance of a balanced diet.

Surfpop's holistic approach extends to involve the entire family, aiming to create a supportive environment that fosters personal growth and community development.

Through their combination of surfing, education, and nutrition, they strive to empower children and young adults to rise above their circumstances and pursue a path filled with potential and hope.

 

Surfaddict

Surfaddict: promoting the inclusion of people with physical and mental disabilities through the sport of surfing | Photo: Surfaddict

Surfaddict is a Portuguese adaptive surfing organization dedicated to promoting the inclusion of people with physical and mental disabilities through the sport of surfing.

The organization believes in the transformative power of surfing and seeks to make it accessible to everyone, regardless of their limitations or challenges.

Founded by a group of passionate surfers, Surfaddict offers specialized surfing programs and events tailored to meet the unique needs of individuals with various disabilities.

By using adaptive equipment and providing one-on-one support from trained instructors and volunteers, Surfaddict creates an environment where participants can safely enjoy the thrill and freedom of riding the waves.

The organization's initiatives extend beyond just surfing lessons.

They actively work to raise awareness about adaptive surfing, advocating for greater inclusion within the broader surfing community and society at large.

Surfaddict also collaborates with other institutions, organizations, and stakeholders to promote adaptive sports and develop best practices for adaptive surfing instruction.

Surfaddict's work is grounded in the belief that everyone has the right to experience the joy and benefits of surfing.

Through dedicated efforts, it has become a leader in the field of adaptive surfing in Portugal and has contributed significantly to the global movement for inclusive sports.

They embody the spirit of resilience, community, and inclusivity, proving that with the right support and adaptations, the waves can be a place where everyone belongs.

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