It was on a cold Winter day in Cornwell that Rachael Parker discovered surfing—a day that changed her life entirely. After just 20 minutes in the ice-cold water, Rachael was hooked. Rachael began as a youth worker in Melbourne, working specifically with young people in the criminal justice system and homelessness sectors. After 10 years, Rachael found that she needed to make a change and travelled through the UK and Europe for two years. When she returned to Australia she moved to live on the coast in Torquay and it wasn’t long until she had incorporated her two loves into one: Ocean Mind.
“It was serendipitous, the way it started,” Rachael recalls. During her own journey with mental illness, surfing played a vital role. Rachael discovered that surfing therapy had a basis in the Wave Project in the UK. Rachael contacted the founders and agreed to pilot the program in Australia. The first group of six young people demonstrated dramatic changes during their time in the program. One of the attendees initially needed their mother to be present, but eventually was able to surf independently without parental support. “These amazing stories were happening from the word go,” Rachael says. After seeing success with the pilot, Rachael and her team decided to create their own charity – and so, Ocean Mind was formed.
Having worked with young people in crisis support, housing support and coming out of the juvenile justice system, Rachael realised there was more that she could do. She needed to help alter the narrative so that young people weren’t getting caught in a vicious cycle. In addition to teaching young people to surf, the Ocean Mind team works with young people to support them with mental illness and disability. The community formed around the surf classes provides an opportunity to connect with other people, the ocean and their mentors. The young people also develop their social skills, communication skills, problem solving and teamwork. One boy was convinced he couldn’t surf, but when he got in the water he had so much fun he screamed “this is the best day of my life!”
“I just love it,” Rachael says. “The level of excitement they have when they realise they can succeed, seeing their faces is just phenomenal.” Ocean Mind gives these young people a new narrative of themselves and their community. The kids aren’t the only ones who find enrichment in the program, either. The surf mentors and the children’s families find Ocean Mind as a community of like-minded people who support and uplift each other. “I found my purpose and energy back in youth work,” Rachael says. “I found what I want to give back and what I believe in.”
The Ocean Mind team is focused on cementing what they do and doing it really well. Rachael praises the immense support from the Geelong community. From a fundraising event of local businesses and entrepreneurs, Ocean Mind and two other not-for-profits raised over $20,000 each. You can watch the Compass program ‘Pitch Up Geelong’ on http://www.abc.net.au/compass/s4872693.htm Humans in Geelong have proudly featured participant Simon Reeves of Norlane and look forward to featuring ‘The Power in You Project.’
Rachael’s goal is to change perceptions of mental health. She is determined to help as many kids as she can, and with a waitlist of 30 young people eager to participate, Rachael vows to be there for all of them.
Humans in Geelong readers are invited to get involved with Ocean Mind as a volunteer. Currently, Rachael is currently looking for volunteers for the fundraising team, advertising team and as surf mentors. “You don’t have to be awesome at surfing,” Rachael says, “but it helps if you’re comfortable in the water.” Volunteer applications can be found at Ocean Mind’s website or just contact Rachael directly at firstname.lastname@example.org PLEASE SHARE.
Story: Stephanie Downing Photo: Selfie taken by Rachael