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26 October 2016

American university student hanging 10 in WA’s southwest

The thrill of cold, salty water, the calming movement of the ocean and the rush of adrenalin are now familiar feelings for Bunbury students thanks to an international surf program.

Dardanup Primary School principal Melanie Clark was at a conference in Hawaii early this year when she met Dr Emily Clapham, Associate Professor of Kinesiology from the University of Rhode Island, and one of the professor’s graduate students, Kelli Hingerton.

“They were presenting research on surf therapy for students with learning disability and special needs,” Ms Clark said.

The program, Catching Waves for Health, uses surfing as therapy to help children of all ages with disability, social or emotional stresses and learning impairments.

Ms Clark saw the potential benefits for students at her school and students with disabilitys at near-by Bunbury education support centres so she asked them if they had ever thought of coming to Australia.

“The rest is history,” she said.

Kelli Hingerton – who has surfed and loved the ocean since she was a child – told University of Rhode Island media that she made her decision to come to Australia when Ms Clark showed her a photo of her school.

“It was right on the beach, there was no turning back, I was hooked,” she said.

Making the trip across the world, Kelli arrived in Bunbury in July. She has been staying with Ms Clark and her family while running the hour-long program twice a week.

“The goal was not so much to make the children amazing surfers but rather helping them experience a sport that many would never get the chance to experience,” said Miss Hingerton.

“The children all met me before they started the program which meant I could get to know them and build trust with them.

“As they started to come to the beach that trust kicked in. They were in a different environment that was a little scary for some.”

Miss Hingerton said a few of the younger children were happy to stay on the land – they wanted no part in surfing.

“That’s totally normal, but we challenged them each week to give one or two waves a shot,” she said.

“This challenge helped them build confidence and most of them who were timid and shy now love the water and surfing.”

Over the past three months, students and teachers reported each week how the surf therapy was going.

“One of the students said that he felt 10 times calmer after surfing,” Miss Hingerton said.

“He said he didn’t feel as on edge or anxious about the rest of the school day.

“The ocean does have a calming effect on people, but for a child to be able to notice that impact on himself – that’s huge!”

Bunbury students are learning to surf to build confidence and relieve stress and anxiety.

Students from College Row School, Newton Moore Education Support Centre and South Bunbury Education Support Centre also took part in the program.

Ms Clark said there were 200 participants overall including staff, students and volunteers.

“Year 10 students from Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School who had just completed a surfing unit volunteered to help out in the surf,” she said.

“I am so thrilled with the project and the results we are seeing in all the students.”

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