This slideshow requires Adobe Flash Player 9.0 (or higher). JavaScript must be enabled.


Waves for Change Surf Therapy

Photographer: Nic Bothma


South Africa has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world. On top of this it also has one of the highest rates of unemployment and HIV/Aids. Social issues are rife and the children of poorer communities within the country are the most vulnerable.


It was against this backdrop that Tim Conibear from the UK living now in South Africa founded the Waves For Change (W4C) program out of the Masiphumelele township in 2011. Surfing became a great way to engage young people who soon started sharing their stories and challenges. In an effort to provide more social support through surfing Tim partnered with local community members Apish Tshetsha and Bongani Nldovu to develop the Waves For Change surf therapy program which initially started as a surf club.


Daily exposure to violence and stress means many South Africans suffer from acute emotional and psychological stress. In the absence of emotional support, the stress often manifests in anti-social and high-risk behaviour, placing many young South Africans at-risk. Early surfing sessions have shown that participants noted improved feelings of belonging, strength, trust and confidence which are key pillars of wellbeing. This was reflected in their behaviour as noted by teachers and parents.


Waves for Change uses its surf therapy methodology to alleviate psychological challenges in the townships of South Africa where 33 percent of children suffer from psychological challenges. Through the provision of surfing, psycho-education, peer to peer and group therapy sessions and the creation of safe spaces, Waves for Change promotes wellbeing in children and youth from unstable domestic and/or community situations. Waves for Change now operates an award-winning mental health programme which is changing the lives of youth that have been exposed to extremely traumatic situations.


Surfing has since become one of the most popular sports in the township communities and young people are becoming mentally and physically healthier as a result.


Waves For Change now works in many communities across Africa where such communities are impacted by violence, poverty and conflict and where health services are under-resourced and stigmatized. Their latest programs have started in Liberia and Somalia.


According to Colin Fitch of the World Surf League ‘W4C is the largest surf therapy program in South Africa and we are excited to see them extending their efforts into the whole of Africa. The work they are doing is helping change the lives of thousands of local children across the continent’.


In February 2017, Waves For Change was awarded the Laureus Sport for Good Award. Sean Fitzpatrick, Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy said: ‘The work being done by Tim and his team at Waves for Change is inspirational to say the least. Disadvantaged youth who are in desperate need of support and direction are given a new lease of life through surfing. It’s an incredible success story and my fellow Academy Members were inspired by the work of the program.’