Surf and turf


When the going gets tough, getting active in nature is a proven method of improving mental health, which is how Surfing for Farmers was started, to give farmers an outlet away from the pressures of work.

The concept’s a winner – the charity recently took out the Team Award at the Federated Farmers Primary Industries Awards.

Fonterra farmer, Jay Crowhurst first got involved with Surfing for Farmers through his neighbour, Kelly Dickey, who’s involved with the Rural Support Trust – a charity dedicated to helping farmers through tough times.

Fonterra farmer, Jay Crowhurst, his family

Jay says surfing and farming aren’t all that different, “You can control a lot of factors to get the most benefit out of them but ultimately you are at the whim of the environment and you have to roll with the punches that Mother Nature throws at you.”

Jay says knowing that at 5.30pm every Wednesday night was his time to go for a surf in Raglan was a great reward to look forward to every week and it was just what he needed to maintain his mental health over the summer of 20/21.

“I was taking on more responsibility on the family farm and my wife had not long given birth to our third child, so I was really feeling the pressures of life. While my farm and family are very special to me (and every other farmer I know) forgetting about the pressures that are associated with them, even for an hour a week, made me feel refreshed when I came home to my wife and kids and going to get the cows in the next day… I encourage any farmer to join Surfing for Farmers!”

Surfing allows all the participants to try and ‘let go’ of whatever stresses may be going on in their life and be present in the moment amongst the waves.

Kelly Dickey, Fonterra Sharemilker and Facilitator of the rural support trUSt team

Jack Dustin from Surfing for Farmers says the programme was started by someone who knew the realities of on-farm life.

“It was set up by surfer, farmer and rural real estate agent Stephen Thomson. He was inspired after watching the Netflix documentary ‘Resurface’. The documentary showed how surfing helped heal American war veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

Stephen knew how much better he always felt after being in the salt water and was determined to give local farmers the opportunity to get off-farm and experience that same feeling of wellbeing. It also gives farmers the opportunity to connect with their community, make new friends and start important conversations around mental health. And the programme’s expanding, “the 2021/22 summer season will see Surfing for Farmers in 21 regions around New Zealand”.

Kelly Dickey is a Fonterra sharemilker from Te Uku and a facilitator of the Rural Support Trust team, who sponsor and support the Surfing for Farmers initiative. She also knows the benefits of getting in the water.

“Being a farmer is an amazing occupation with a great lifestyle, however it can sometimes be go,go,go in between milking, calving, managing staff, weathering the conditions and above all putting the wellbeing of the cows first. Surfing allows all the participants to try and ‘let go’ of whatever stresses may be going on in their life and be present in the moment amongst the waves.”

Kelly says there’s always a lot of laughter at the sessions. “I can recall the wairua (sense of connectedness) that was felt in the water and at the BBQ afterwards.”

“For myself, I’m not a fan of open waters but for some reason a wetsuit, a board, and a bunch of like-minded people created a feeling of safety and a ‘we’re all in this together’ vibe.”

Trying something new had great benefits for Kelly’s mental health. “It was a release after a long day of mahi and promoted a sense of accomplishment – whether or not I actually made it up onto the board!”