SHARE
Poster boy . . . Aaron Packer gets ready to head out into the water at Kakanui’s Campbells Bay. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

North Otago and South Canterbury farmers are enjoying being able catch a break.

Since Surfing for Farmers returned to Kakanui last month, 20 to 30 farmers have been heading to Campbells Bay each week to take part in the national mental health initiative aimed at helping farmers manage stress by teaching them to surf.

Kakanui co-ordinator Alfie Broughton said everyone had different reasons for attending the Wednesday night Surfing for Farmers events.

‘‘Mainly people just love coming and doing something different,’’ he said.

Some farmers were experienced surfers, while others had never touched a surfboard before — and farmers from their early 20s to those in their 60s were taking part.

‘‘We don’t expect you to be a surfer, or even know how to surf, it’s more about just coming along, getting off the farm, trying something new, get in the cold water, get a bit of fresh air and have a BBQ and a yarn at the end,’’ Mr Broughton said.

‘‘Some used to surf when they were a kid and they’ve never sort of had a crack at it since, so it’s sort of relit that flame, which has been quite cool.

‘‘But mainly people come along to learn.’’

The lessons are taken by Jeremy Holding, who also supplies boards and wetsuits which people can use for free if they do not have their own. Mr Holding had ordered extra gear to cater for the demand this season.

‘‘Jeremy’s been great. He ended up ordering extra boards just so we have enough, so we have about 20 boards now,’’ Mr Broughton said.

There was no need to register — ‘‘just rock up on the day, Jeremy will run a quick beginners’ 101 for the first half an hour, and then get in the water’’. The only prerequisite is to be a farmer.

Catching a break . . . About 20 to 30 farmers have been turning up to Surfing for Farmers in Kakanui each Wednesday night. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Surfing for Farmers was first launched in Gisborne in 2018. It is now held in 21 locations across the country, and started in Kakanui at the end of 2020.

Three sessions had been held before Christmas, and the first event of 2022 was on Wednesday night. The lessons would continue to run weekly until the end of March.

Farming could be an all-consuming business and isolating lifestyle, and Mr Broughton encouraged all farmers to step away from the farm and get out on the water.

‘‘If anyone knows neighbours who might’ve gone through break ups, M.bovis and all these sort of things that they can or can’t control that may get them down, don’t be afraid to knock on their door and say, ‘Hey, look, we’re going along to this Surfing for Farmers this Wednesday, can we pick you up and bring you along?’

‘‘Because once people actually turn up, they realise that it’s for everyone. You don’t have to be a surfer, you can just get in and have a splash around and have a yarn.’’

People travelled from all over North Otago and South Canterbury for the Kakanui event. A carload of farmers from Waimate had become regulars and ‘‘huge advocates’’ for the initiative, and another dairy farming family brought different workers along each week, ‘‘which is pretty cool’’, Mr Broughton said.

‘‘We’ve got our regulars that have been coming along since the beginning, and they’re pretty confident standing up now,’’ he said.

Mr Broughton was particularly keen to get more older farmers along, as they were less likely to seek help.

As well as an increase in farmers coming along to the sessions, the number of volunteers and local sponsors of the initiative had also grown, he said.

The initiative had good support from sponsors at a national level, and locally the Waitaki District Council, Whitestone Cheese, Rural Support Otago, Scotts Brewing Co, Oamaru Doctors, Anzco Foods and LIC had all signed on as ‘‘Local Legends’’ sponsors to keep the event free for farmers to take part in.

‘‘We can’t do it without the local ones,’’ Mr Broughton said.

Mr Broughton, who has been co-ordinating the Kakanui events since they started, is now handing over the reins to Tom Abernethy. Anyone with questions about Surfing for Farmers in Kakanui can contact Mr Abernethy on 021 869-805.