Kelli Hingerton was one of our lead surf camp instructors last summer, and together with the help of our other surf camp instructors, a lot of kids are now comfortable in the water and surfing regularly. They’re also now better physically and emotionally, and a lot of their parents are reporting that they’re doing better now in school.
Kelli is not done. The proud University of Rhode Island graduate student was in Bunbury, Australia to run the six-week “surf therapy” program. Four schools joined the program, as they were impressed with the idea of how surfing can be therapeutic and helpful for students with physical and cognitive disabilities. The program also aimed to help students with learning difficulties.
The program experienced difficulties early on as it was operating on a shoestring budget, having to rely on donations for surfboards and wetsuits. But thanks to Kelly, who represented both URI and Warm Winds well, the program was a success.
Melanie Clarke had this to say about the students who participated in the program – a lot of whom have Down syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome disorder:
"We've noticed a greater focus in the classroom, we've noticed resilience in situations which previously would have affected students," the Dardanup Primary School principal said. "More than anything we've noticed a real focus on their learning because they really want to get to the surfing at the end of the week," she followed.
The students themselves had great things to say about the program.
"I often have high anxiety and this really helps calm me down," Timothy Pilbean, 12 years old, said. He also said that he got hooked to surfing the moment he stood up on his board.
Kelly herself shared the goals of the program – which is to showcase the physical and emotional benefits of surfing.
"We've seen that they're more excited to come to school, they're more engaged, when they head back they're excited not only to learn but to be there," Kelly said.
Kelly has been invited to run the program again next year. This time, it will be a ten-week program.
For more coverage about the program, visit ABC News.