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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Mon, 27 March 2017

A chilly offshore wind and thumping 4-6' sea at Llandudno greeted the 12 brave souls who joined hands early on the day of the Rolling Retro for awareness of mental health, writes Spike


JUMPING FOR JOY: The inaugural Fluro event in South Africa. Photo Sean Thompson

It all began when a South African expat living in Australia Mark Morgan thought it about time a beach in South Africa did what Australian Non-Profit Surf community One Wave has been doing in Australia since 2013.

This was to dress up in bright fluro colours and congregate at dawn on a beach to 'Free the Funk' and to talk openly about aspects of mental health that never see the light of day, sometimes until it's too late.

As a member of the Making Waves photographic Facebook group, Morgan spoke to the group's founder Sean Thompson, who approached me about doing a Fluro event to celebrate One Wave's 4th Birthday, after their call for beaches around the world to create the world's largest fluro wave.


HOLDING HANDS: Twelve people turned up to share in the historic event. Photo Sean Thompson

By all acccounts that was achieved with apparently up to 100 beaches from the US, New Zealand, Australia, the UK and Norway all joining to show that "It's Okay not to be Okay".

It all started with the concept of Fluro Friday, which began on Bondi Beach, Australia in March 2013. It has since gone viral with Fluro Friday sessions held at more than 100 beaches globally. Because Rolling Retro was on a Saturday, we decided to team up with Captain Kai and Robby McDonald who were stoked for us to kickstart their day with a whacky lineup of South African fluro.

I said a few words about the need to share our mental health issues because bottling it up can lead people down a rocky road that ends badly. One in four people has a mental health issue in a 12 month period. Statistics tell us that every day in South Africa, about 230 people a day attempt suicide, and about 10 percent succeed. That translates to someone dying every hour.


TALK IT THRO: Spike tries to emulate the spirit of One Wave. Photo Sean Thompson

After the quick chat, photographers Sean Thompson and Nico Oliver from Making Waves took some shots as we spread out in a line holding hands and making Mexican waves. Later, drone pilot Tamarac Park Searll shot footage for a movie.

It was cool, although we didn't get the 40 or so people who said they were coming. But, as founder of One Wave Grant Trebilco said to me when I messaged him that it started small, with 12 people turning out. He replied, "Shit no, that's a massive crew for your first Fluro!! First one was me by myself."

Trebilco's story is poignant, and little did he know that his first fluro (when he went surfing in a suit and tie and fluro in recovery after an intense bout of bipolar disorder) would spread so far and wide.


FLURO TUBE: A cranking 6 foot swell was blasting on the beach. Photo Sean Thompson

grant-trebilcoIt all started five years ago when he: "walked into my manager's office dressed like a Mexican tequila farmer and said I wanted to quit my job to start a charity called ‘Where the party at?’ I was going to follow the surf tour around the world and throw parties and raise money for Surfaid. I thought it was the best idea ever! Little did I know I had been misdiagnosed with depression a few months earlier and the antidepressants I was on caused me to have a manic episode.

"Quitting my tequila marketing job was one of the many ridiculous ideas I came up with that week. Four days later, I ended up in the mental health ward of Manly hospital and was diagnosed with bipolar.

"For me it took getting to the lowest low before I got help. My family and friends didn’t even know I was struggling. It’s scary what you can hide behind a smile. One the biggest things I learn't is that when you ask for help good people will come running. They won't judge.

"We are losing too many people to suicide. Every damn day. The happiest, kindest people who we have no idea are even struggling. It’s time to let people know it’s totally ok not to be ok and ask for help.

"Luckily the 'where the party at?' idea changed to 'One Wave'. We wanted to help people free the funk through saltwater therapy and surfing in Fluro."


FREAKY FLURO: Bright colours help you to free the funk and to be positive. Photo Spike

In three years, One Wave has gone global, raising awareness and reducing social stigmas around mental health issues through their Fluro Friday sunrise sessions. As Trebilco says “Bright colours make people happy and help start conversations about an invisible issue. Combine that with surfing and it is a great recipe to help free the funk.”

Watch this space for Fluro Friday happenings around South Africa. We'll start events on Facebook and let you know.


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