When daylight savings rolls around in less than two months, the next round of Restoke programmes will begin. Restoke is a volunteer run, mental health programme combining time in nature (specifically the surf), with the sharing of meals and minds, and professional help. Proven to be successful, this is a much needed initiative in Taranaki‘s mental health support space.
Restoke is based on the Māori model of te whare tapa whā, which incorporates physical, relational, spiritual and mental wellbeing. This looks different for different individuals, but the premise is strong – by working together as a team, individuals are able to get to a place of better mental health and therefore, better families and better communities.
In a season (September-March), Restoke runs 4 programmes locally in Taranaki. Each programme is 8 weeks long, with 5 participants. Each person learns to surf with weekly evening surf sessions, followed by shared kai and korero, and on another day of the week they also attend funded individual clinical support with a professional counsellor.
The impacts last well beyond the 8 weeks that participants spend learning and connecting together. The groups build comradery, they get their bodies moving, and gain a sense of achievement. They are able to talk about life with each other in a safe place. And ongoing, Restoke have their surfboards on the beach on Saturdays so that people who have completed the programme and may be having a hard week can come and meet up with friends and get in the water together.
This is a local story. The powerhouse behind Restoke, both the idea and the facilitation of the programme is Taranaki bred Hayden Thorpe. Hayden is following his passion for helping others and protecting what matters on many fronts.
Restoke began in Auckland 5 years ago when Hayden was living there, and with his return to Taranaki three years ago, he’s managed to keep the programme active in Auckland alongside kickstarting the offering for Taranaki people. Hayden shares that Restoke was set up as a charity after going through depression himself.
“I realised how hard it is and that our communities and country would be better off if we changed the way we deal with mental health and provide a positive place for people to work through things.”
It’s likely this isn’t the first you’ve read about surf therapy movement. Touted by many as an effective way to treat anxiety, stress and even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Research has looked into the link between learning to ride the waves of a surf break with improved mood, depression, wellbeing and the prevention of suicidal thoughts. Hayden can vouch for that. “Exercise is known to lower stress levels and reduce mental fatigue, but when done in the water the effects are even greater. For me, it’s like hitting a reset button and gives me the strength to have conversations with others about the tough things I’m facing”.
Humble by nature, he’s quick to point out that whilst he dedicates a lot of time and resources to making Restoke a success, he’s gathering momentum for the project by inspiring others to collaborate with him and offering their support.
Some of the collaborators are local people Hayden has met in the surf and shared the value proposition and kaupapa of Restoke with. They’ve signed up to help surf instruct and lend a hand with the weekly sessions. Others are local businesses (Clelands and BTW) that have recently shown their support by way of koha to cover the cost of new wetsuits.
A builder by trade, Hayden rocked up to the vicarage restoration project on Courtenay Street and approached lead contractor Clelands about coming on board for the renovation project so he could apply his skills to protect this historic building (another passion of his). Clelands said yes, and this in turn led to Hayden sharing with Clelands staff about Restoke. Director Michael Braggins, says “It was an easy decision to show support. It’s a real positive to see energy being focused on mental health. It also aligns well with the work we’re doing in the construction industry with Building Wellness Taranaki (buildingwellness.co.nz).”
“Here’s a person who is truly passionate about helping others and making this community better in many ways. He’s a great asset, with a great initiative. We’re proud to support both Hayden and Restoke”.
Also happy to offer their support was BTW Company. “The more our community is talking about mental health and providing pathways for those in need the better. Restoke is an approach that brings together great people, on our great coastline – it’s win win”, says, Managing Director, Grant Aitken. “ We’re proud to be involved with people like Hayden”.
Restoke would love to be doing more, but donations from the public and funding the programme from his own pocket will only stretch so far. Hayden explains, “Our target market is anybody who is 20+ years and has found themselves struggling with mental health issues. And there are a growing number of people in need”.
“By keeping spaces limited to 5 people per programme we are able to create a community of people working together towards a common goal. Offering the programme just one evening a week is reflective of my need to work, take care of myself and family alongside running Restoke.”
All who are involved, surf instructors, chefs, administrators and board members are volunteers. “Funding would definitely increase the number of participants in the programme. Whilst each group would remain capped at 5 people (experience tells us this is right fit for good outcomes), Restoke would be able to add additional days to our offering.”
“It’s a balancing act really. We’d love to have more man power and more funding to make this programme available beyond our current capacity. Each time we advertise, we have 40+ people respond. It’s a busy two weeks sorting through applications and painful few days of contacting the 35 (or more) that aren’t able to join us” says Hayden.
It’s Thorpe’s view that, “mental health is a community challenge and requires community responsibility and responses. Whether this is amongst colleagues in a workplace, or team mates in a sporting club. Irrespective of your walk of life or daily routine, we can all do our bit to improve the mental health journey for others around us.”
The old adage of making sure your own bucket is filled so you can help others rings true here. Hayden gives a lot to make Restoke possible. But he’s quick to point out that “combining time in the surf with making a difference for others” does fill his bucket up. So too, does the support of others around him and he and the Restoke team are grateful for all who get behind their work for the community.
If you want to know more about Restoke, or how you can support the programme, check out this link: www.restoke.co.nz