Surfing to help troubled teens deal with problems

Project co-ordinator James Marshall takes to the water. Picture: Colin Hattersley
Project co-ordinator James Marshall takes to the water. Picture: Colin Hattersley
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A PIONEERING Lothians surf school is to help troubled teens catch a wave in a bid to beat their personal problems.

The youngsters will take up the challenge of becoming “Barneys”, or new-start surfers, when the Wave Project in Cornwall launches its first Scottish site at Dunbar.

Mental health bodies, schools and bereavement ­charities are among organisations which have referred around 20 young people aged eight to 18 ahead of the first class on April 22.

And though surfing techniques such as the barrel ride, bail-out and backhand are not for the faint-hearted, the new school’s co-ordinators have predicted the free, twice-weekly sessions will prove hugely popular among pupils from across the Lothians.

Project co-ordinator Jamie Marshall, 24, said: “On the east coast, Belhaven at Dunbar is one of the most consistent spots when it comes to wave swell and one of the real advantages of surfing when it comes to helping kids is just that it’s fun – whether it’s their first time or whether they’ve been surfing for years.

“It enables communication skills and social skills to be built up, all the while having a lot of fun.”

Mr Marshall – who set up the school in only a matter of months after moving to ­Dunbar – has been a keen surfer for 13 years and has built up the enterprise thanks to cash injections from a range of charitable trusts and the National Lottery.

He is keen to take the classes to other parts of Scotland.

“The fact it has progressed so quickly has been really encouraging,” he said. “And the reason for that is that so many people have been so supportive – the way the Scottish surfing community has got behind this has been fantastic.”

Volunteer surfers from the Capital, who have been key in helping Mr Marshall establish his school, said they were more than happy to assist.

Jack Pimbert, president of Edinburgh University Windsurfing and Surf Club, said: “Here at EUWSC we’re always looking to introduce new people to the sport of surfing and we believe that the Wave Project is a great organisation with the potential to introduce many new people to the sport, who otherwise wouldn’t get the chance.

“By volunteering, students want to spread the joy of ­surfing, share the good times and hopefully build confidence and strength in those ­participating.”

The project has also received the backing of senior political leaders.

Former Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray, MSP for East Lothian, said: “I am supportive of initiatives aimed at engaging and supporting disadvantaged young people. The Wave Project’s surf course is an innovative way to help local youngsters improve their confidence and I wish the organisers every success with this.” The surf school is the latest project aimed at boosting the ­emotional wellbeing of troubled children, who are already benefitting from initiatives such as music and song-based “grief classes”, and military training camps.