Love of surfing helps tackle mental health issues

Grant Trebilco tackles the surf in his Fluro Friday gear. Photo: Shannon Glasson

A Mount Maunganui man who battled mental health challenges for years has used his love of surfing to help others overcome their own struggles.

Grant Trebilco, 38, used his passion for riding waves to “get the stoke back”, and he says others can do the same ahead of next week’s Mental Health Awareness Week in Tauranga.

“After years of battling mental health challenges without seeking treatment, I was hospitalized in 2012 and diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a manic episode,” says Grant, a former Tauranga Boys College student. “When I was released from hospital, the ocean, surfing and good people were my saviour during some tough times.”

Grant’s family moved from Tauranga to Mount Maunganui when he was in his late teens and he says, even though he moved to Australia eight years ago, the Mount will always be ‘home’. He returns whenever he can to be with family and friends.

Grant Trebilco with his family at Tay St

Grant has surfed most of his life, but it was during the six months following his hospitalisation he really discovered that sometimes one wave is all it takes.

“The one place where I could get away from it all was getting in the ocean and going surfing with my family and my mates,” says Grant. “I remember getting this one good wave and I actually started smiling again, like really smiling and finally I didn’t feel numb anymore. That gave me hope that things could get better. It made me realise that day by day, surf by surf, you could get the stoke back.

“The ocean was also the first place I told my friends about having bipolar. The support and understanding they showed me was unreal and I will never forget it.

“This was the inspiration behind launching OneWave. I wanted to give more people the chance to ride waves and openly talk about mental health without being judged.”

So one Friday morning, in 2013, Grant decided to dress up in a shirt and tie and go surfing solo at Australia’s Bondi Beach to try and spark conversations about mental health. OneWave was born and Grant had simultaneously launched Fluro Fridays.

OneWave is a non-profit surf community raising awareness of mental health through saltwater therapy, surfing and fluro. Fluro Fridays consist of surfing, free yoga and an ‘anti-bad vibes circle’ allowing people to share stories in a safer environment.

“Wearing bright colours makes people happy and helps start conversations about an invisible issue,” says Grant.

In the six years since its inception, OneWave has gone global and Fluro Fridays have been held on over 200 beaches worldwide.

Fluro Fridays at Tay St

Tauranga will be hosting its very own Fluro Fest on Sunday September 29 at Tay Street Beach Reserve, Mt Maunganui, from 1-4pm. The free event includes Tauranga Samba Band, 3D sand artist Jamie Harkins, music, volleyball, beach tennis, giant jenga, happy bus, treasure dig and more.

Aside from Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mount Manganui OneWave group meets at Tay Street each Friday from 5pm. All are welcome to join them. You can find out more by connecting with the group on Facebook ‘OneWave - Mount Maunganui’ or Instagram @onewavemountmaunganui

Other free events during Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year has the theme of ‘Explore your way to wellbeing’, include:

Saturday September 21 – Pirirakau 26th Birthday Celebrations
Time: 10am
Where: Pirirakau Hauora, 3 Lochead Road, Te Puna
What: Korero cafe, music, games, food, mirimiri, motorbike rides and much more.

Wednesday September 25 - Mindfulness at Memorial
Time: 1-4pm
Where: Memorial Park, Eleventh Ave, Tauranga
What: Bring own lunch, music & mindfulness, touch rugby, breathing and stretching, and more.

Saturday September 28 - Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk
Time: 10-12pm
Where: Coronation Park, Mt Maunganui
What: Show support for all those living with dementia and their whanau with the 3.5km Memory Walk

Grant’s top six mental health tips to help “free the funk”
1. Be kind to yourself – It’s totally ok not to be ok. If you’re just not feeling it, don’t beat yourself up about not wanting to be around people. Don’t be afraid to take a mental health day from work if you need it and sometimes a good nap can help so much.

2. Talk it out – we put so much pressure on ourselves and when we are stuck in a funk we can quickly get caught up in the negative thoughts going on inside our head. If you’re beating yourself up about something make sure you tell someone about what you’re feeling, because it makes it that little bit easier getting it out of your head.

3. Get a check up from the neck up - head to your local doctor to get a mental health check and work out what professional support you need to help get the stoke back. Putting my hand up and talking to a doctor for the first time was the hardest, but best thing I have ever done.

4. Surround yourself with good people - Surround yourself with friends and family who let you know that it’s totally ok not to be ok and who have your back no matter what.

5. Find your community – when you are facing mental health challenges getting out of bed is so damn hard. If you have a community of good people to hang out with whether it’s to go fluro surfing with, go for a walk or to the gym, it gives you a reason to get out of bed and once you’re up you never regret it and makes the day that little bit easier.

6. Do more things that help you free the funk– What’s the thing you do that helps you free the funk and get your smile back? For me it’s surfing, but I think everyone has their surfing whether it’s music, yoga, running… When you are struggling a bit, think of what you were doing the last time you were happy and go and do that as soon as you can and see how it makes you feel.


Below is a list of some of the services available in New Zealand that offer support, information and help. All services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week unless otherwise specified.

National helplines

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Samaritans – 0800 726 666 

Depression-specific helplines

Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757 or free text 4202 (to talk to a trained counsellor about how you are feeling or to ask any questions)

Sexuality or gender identity helpline

OUTLine NZ – 0800 688 5463 (OUTLINE) provides confidential telephone support 

Helplines for children and young people

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email or online chat or email or free text 5626 

What’s Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily.

Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.  

Help for parents, family and friends

Commonground – a website hub providing parents, family, whānau and friends with access to information, tools and support to help a young person who is struggling.

Parent Help – 0800 568 856 for parents/whānau seeking support, advice and practical strategies on all parenting concerns. Anonymous, non-judgemental and confidential.

Family Services 211 Helpline –  0800 211 211 for help finding (and direct transfer to) community based health and social support services in your area.

Skylight – 0800 299 100 for support through trauma, loss and grief; 9am–5pm weekdays.

Supporting Families In Mental Illness –  For families and whānau supporting a loved one who has a mental illness. Auckland 0800 732 825. Other regions’ contact details are listed here.  

Other specialist helplines

Alcohol and Drug Helpline – 0800 787 797or online chat

Are You OK – 0800 456 450  family violence helpline

Gambling Helpline – 0800 654 655

Anxiety phone line – 0800 269 4389(0800 ANXIETY) 

Seniorline – 0800 725 463 A free information service for older people

0508MUSICHELP – The Wellbeing Service is a 24/7 online, on the phone and in-person counselling service fully funded by the NZ Music Foundation and provided free of charge to those in the Kiwi music community who can’t access the help they need due to hardship and other circumstances. Call 0508 MUSICHELP.

Shine –  0508 744 633 confidential domestic abuse helpline

Quit Line – 0800 778 778 smoking cessation help

Vagus Line – 0800 56 76 666 (Mon, Wed, Fri 12 noon – 2pm). Promote family harmony among Chinese, enhance parenting skills, decrease conflict among family members (couple, parent-child, in-laws) and stop family violence

Women’s Refuge Crisisline – 0800 733 843(0800 REFUGE) (for women living with violence, or in fear, in their relationship or family)

Shakti Crisis Line  0800 742 584 (for migrant or refugee women living with family violence

Rape Crisis – 0800 883 300 (for support after rape or sexual assault)

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