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Youth leadership through surfing

Copyrights: Waves for Hope

Youth leadership through surfing

Waves for Hope offers youth development programs that utilize surfing, group discussion and mentorship to empower at-risk youths in under-served communities across Trinidad & Tobago.

Waves for Hope's mission is to improve the physical, emotional and mental well-being of young people by fusing the sport of surfing with therapeutic activities and mentorship. A safe space, caring mentors, the fun activity of surfing and evidence-based exercises are used to build healthy relationships, develop

coping skills and improve confidence and self-esteem. The overall goal is to encourage positive life choices and create role models in under-served communities in Trinidad & Tobago.

The Waves for Hope mentorship program aims at training and educating young people to become mentors for the surf therapy program. The training involves theoretical and practical lessons and on-site training. The goal of Waves for Hope is to have their surf therapy program run by youths from the communities.

Meet Tyrel, one of the caring surf therapy mentors of Waves for Hope

Tyrel has been a mentor of Waves for Hope since its beginning. Growing up and still living in the community of Balandra, Tyrel knows of the challenges and issues of growing up in an under-served community. Surfing helped him to stay focused and not get distracted. "I am a product of an absent father and a poor, abusive mother. And I see this same family setup in the whole community. And seeing young girls making the same mistakes as their mothers is really heart-breaking."

Poor households headed by single women represent prime conditions for inter-generational poverty to take hold, promoting a ‘learned helplessness’. Sexual violence, drug and alcohol abuse are more likely to occur in these households as opposed to nonpoor households with common-law or married couples.

"Seeing these things in my community made me angry, sad and frustrated. I promised myself not to repeat this cycle and to help anybody to keep them from repeating this cycle.”

Self-determination of youth

Our program design is informed by self-determination theory, which says that to promote positive development and health, we need to provide people the opportunity to experience competence, relatedness and autonomy.

Competence can be achieved by gaining mastery over a challenging task such as a catching a wave. Also, having new experiences are essential for developing a cohesive sense of self. Surfing and other activities offer the perfect playground to experience this. Relatedness lets people experience a sense of belonging and connection to other people. The surf therapy program has an inclusive character, enabling social interactions and positive friendships. Autonomy makes people feel in control of their own behaviors and goals. This sense of being able to take direct action will result in real change and plays a major part in helping people feel self-determined.

Surf therapy

Research suggests that these basic psychological needs are universal and not depending on culture, social background etc. Our surf therapy intervention aims at fusing the fun activity of surfing with the achievement of these 3 basic psychological needs.

"Surf therapy helps the kids in my community by making them feel free, it helps them get along better with others, teaches them respect and it helps build their self-confidence."

Tyrel's specialty is the always fun and energizing warm-ups – he knows how to engage and entertain the participants. Besides running the surf therapy and surf club sessions, Tyrel also supports when it comes to repairing surfboards. If you don't find Tyrel in the water, he is either playing football, watching movies or pursuing his studies.

"Waves for Hope changed my life a lot. It gave me the tools and coping skills so I can deal with my stresses better. My vision for the future of surf therapy in Trinidad is to have surf therapy programs in all the villages so we can make our country a much better place.”


Manuela Giger is the co-founder of Waves for Hope.


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Manuela Giger


Monday, August 2, 2021 - 11:27

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