Surf Therapy- Changing Lives with Hayden Thorpe

Surf Therapy- Changing Lives with Hayden Thorpe

I don’t know about you, but up until this year (after watching ‘Resurface’ on Netflix) I had never heard of programmes founded on the concept ‘surf therapy’! And wow! The moment I did, I was truly inspired! 

Next thing you know, I’m on google trying to see if this exists in my beautiful home, New Zealand. And through that process, I met some pretty epic people, one namely Hayden Thorpe who runs a programme called ‘Restoke’.

So what are Surf therapy programmes?

These programmes focus on using the ocean, surfing/ exercising, community, a sense of achievement and professional counseling sessions, as a way to help those struggling with mental health.  

We sat down and chatted to Hayden and were lucky enough to have the opportunity to share his story with you! He shared about his own personal mental health journey, the positive impacts the ocean has on us and some incredible stories of lives he’s witnessed changed! 

Read our full chat here, and be prepared to be truly inspired!


surf therapy nz

How do you personally define Surf Therapy and tell us what it means to you?

The oceans impact on mental health and wellbeing.

There is plenty of research out there that talks about the oceans benefit on our wellbeing, some of my favorites are; 

- Immunity. After a swim or a bath in the sea the number of red and white blood cells in your body increases between 5-20%, giving you a greater ability to deal with high blood pressure or anemia.

- Greeks. The ancient Greeks loved the sea water, they used it to treat eczema, arthritis, asthma and back pain. Also it was Hippocrates who discovered that sea water helps heal wounds, prevents infections.


- Magnesium. Sea water contains high levels of magnesium. Breathing in the sea air helps us take magnesium into our body (one of the most common minerals deficiency in adults). This helps to regulate muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and can even impact our sleep. Who doesn't want more sleep!!


It's just a good time, really. I always feel so refreshed after being in the ocean, like I have had a little reset and am ready for the next adventure.


I would love to hear a story about how you've seen lives changed through this program. It must be pretty special to witness! 

This is a great question. It's so broad, when you mix exercise and community with some sort of clinical therapy the outcome is going to be amazing, even the volunteers' and my own lives change from being involved.
One of my favourites from the people I've had through Restoke is a young woman who came to us with severe anxiety and depression amongst other things. She turned up to our programme (which was amazing in itself and shows you how ready she was to work in herself) and was not able to look anyone in the eyes, and if she did speak it was extremely quiet and not many words. We worked slowly and gracefully with her, she hardly even got in the water the first session, but after all the time she spent journeying with the 4 other people who also attend the programme and our volunteers along with regular healthy eating, exercise and going to all of the free counselling sessions plus a few extra we threw in, (which we do when the counsellor assesses that the individual would greatly benefit from more sessions) she was open, smiling, chatting away and had a new zest for life with plans to make things better for her future. I was fully stoked with how she grew over the time with us.
surf therapy nz


Tell us about yourself and your journey to starting Restoke, and just what your program looks like today!

So my name is Hayden Thorpe, I love life. I'm a Husband, a father, a builder,  and probably have a little too much You Only Live Once in my general approach to life. I'm really passionate about seeing people getting from where they are to where they want to be in life, I have a faith that tells me everyone is loved and has purpose, I really want to see people living life to their fullest. This makes me feel like I'm doing what I was born to do.


I've always tried to get the most out of life and at one point in my life I was living in a beach front house, had great friends coming to visit a lot, maybe because they liked me or maybe because I had a sweet place to drink a beer have a BBQ and watch the sunset over the surf with friends, we'll never know. My relationship with my wife was great, and I had been promoted at work. But unbeknown to me I was slowly sinking into depression. I only noticed because one day I was surfing Whangamata bar, head and a half high pumping left handers, I saw a set coming, paddled for it, got a wave, popped up on top, and as I was dropping down the face of the wave. I felt nothing, no adrenaline, no joy, no excitement, just boredom. I went home and talked to my wife about it and realised I was feeling depressed. I saw no reason to get out of bed in the morning, my thoughts were literally what is the point in getting up? My body was not working properly. I wasn't getting the hormones and endorphins I am supposed to get and it was leaving me feeling meaningless and empty.

I worked out that I wasn't doing anything with my time to help other people.


So I got a group of friends together, counsellors, phycologists and surfers and we came up with Restoke. It's an 8 weeks programme, we choose 5 people who are struggling with mental health in their lives (usually depression or anxiety) to come along on a journey with us. 


Once a week for the 8 weeks we provide a surf session, where people can, form community, get thrown around by the sea a bit, have an adrenaline rush and experience some good achievement in their lives. After a surf we sit around a big table, a home cooked meal, watch the sunset and have some real chats about what people are going through, a space where they can be vulnerable, learn from each other and know they are not alone. Then another day of the week we pay for individual counselling sessions for every one. We believe it's so important to be able to ask the hard questions in life to someone who has studied and is able to give good answers.

So each individual gets: 

8 surf sessions, 

8 community meals

up to 8 free counselling sessions.


This feeds me, it makes me feel alive and I get to share the joy with others who come along to the programmes.

surf therapy nz
How can others get involved with Surf Therapy programmes?
There are a few organizations around the country to provide surf therapy, we have started a group called Surf Therapy Aotearoa, which to be fair I need to update with a few extra really cool organisations.
So if people wanted to get involved with one of the organisations they could jump on the website or contact me directly, or .I'm really happy to have a chat or put people in touch with others who could help.


And lastly how can people get behind such programmes?

One of the best ways to support Restokes mission is to help make Restoke not exist, our mission is to change the way New Zealand as a culture and community, deals with mental health. We all know the suicide stats in this country are bad and we want to change that! If you get the chance or if you feel like you need to, please have a yarn with your friends or family about how they are feeling or how you are feeling, it will make a massive difference to someone's life if you are vulnerable with them, get real with people let them know they matter and have place in this world.
The next best way is funding! Our programmes cost a lot, although everyone involved in Restoke volunteers their time, we will still pay for counselling, as we believe people should get paid for their work. We offer each individual, which is 5 people, per 8 week programme, up to 8 counselling sessions, that adds up to 40 professional counselling sessions. We also pay for boards, wetsuits, a meal for everyone after a surf and then charity admin fees. Honestly if we could get $10 a week from people for a year that would change lives!!!!
Also just a message sent our way to say "hey I read your post, I love what you do, keep it up" makes us feel STOKED.