JOEL FROM ONE WAVE

if you've seen fluoro-clad surfers and yogis flooding bondi beach on a friday morning, you've probably witnessed this for-purpose mental health organisation in action. now at over 70 beaches worldwide, one wave creates awareness about mental health, aiming to free the funk and get people talking about this very real issue. joel pilgrim is the surf experience manager and an all-round swell guy.

Joel Pilgrim was my very first high school crush. There, I said it. The elephant is out of the room and we can move onto more important things… like the fact that he’s also one of the dudes behind for-purpose organisation OneWave [Is All It Takes]. Heard of it? Maybe you’re one of their 18,000+ followers on Instagram or you’ve seen pictures of crazy-clad guys and girls gallivanting around Bondi Beach (or one of 70 others worldwide) of a Friday morning.

The idea of Fluoro Fridays is to dress up, greet the morning, swim, surf, do some free yoga, have a little chat about mental health and free the funk. Fluoro to make an invisible issue high-vis and, of course, attract attention and get people talking.

OneWave and the Fluoro Fridays campaign are an attempt to smash the stigma, get people talking and also give those struggling a reason to get up in the morning. Joel shares the heartwrenching story of a girl in Bondi who had one Thursday night walked into the ocean with rocks in her pockets, but kept getting pushed back by the tide. She knew about Fluoro Fridays and collapsed on the sand, thinking ‘If I can make it to Fluoro Fridays in the morning, I’ll be okay.’ She did, introducing herself to Joel and asking if she could share her story with the hundreds there. “People were crying, going up to hug her… these stories keep us going, doing what we’re doing and remembering our purpose.”

Joel is also an occupational therapist specialising in mental health, a public speaker, founder and manager of the OneWave Surfing Experience program and generally a cool human. You know when you stalk people from high school to see how your life compares, well into adulthood (don’t pretend you don’t…)? Joel was always one of those who’d pop up on my news feed being awesome, with his twin brother Beau frolicking on picturesque beaches around the world as a surf photographer. I’d always be like: ‘Damn, Pilgrims, way to win at life.’ Which is what Cool People Doing Cool Things is all about, I guess.

Fluoro Fridays start with a 5-10 minute chat on the sand before the surfing and yoga get underway, Everyone's invited to share something, but we mostly just listen.

Fluoro Fridays start with a 5-10 minute chat on the sand before the surfing and yoga get underway, Everyone's invited to share something, but we mostly just listen.

A couple of years ago, Joel found out about OneWave and joined founder, Grant Trebilco, down at Bondi Beach, donning a tux and going for an early morning surf. The idea was to create awareness about mental health issues. “For the first six months, it was just Grant and I down at the beach, just the two of us dressed up, and it was hard especially in winter, but we kept at it.”

That marked the beginning of the Fluro Fridays campaign, which has now reached over 70 beaches worldwide – Bondi, Manly, QLD, Perth, NZ and California. At Christmas, One Wave received a donation from Red Balloon, who organised 320 surfers dressed as Santas to take part in the largest surfing lesson in the world at Bondi, breaking the Guinness World Record. Absolutely frothing.

The OneWave Surfing Experience is an 8-week learn-to-surf program adapted for mental health clients after comprehensive research and evaluation through University of NSW. It’s about connecting awareness with action: “the primary focus is to combine physical health and clinical life skills in a neutral, non-intrusive environment.” Joel’s designed the program to incorporate Specific Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and clinical topics aimed at functional recovery, breaking down the stigma and increasing self-confidence. Better still, OneWave offers corporate packages and talks, in-house or at the beach to foster team building and a culture of wellness.

Fluoro Friday at Merewether Beach, Newcastle. I'm in the crowd there somewhere.

Fluoro Friday at Merewether Beach, Newcastle. I'm in the crowd there somewhere.

Unfortunately, there’s still a massive stigma surrounding mental health. Even with amazing initiatives like RUOK Day and Mental Health Week/Month in Australia, the statistics are staggering: 1 in 7 Australians commit suicide every day. 1 in 5 Australians suffer depression each year, including yours truly. When Joel spoke at Cereal Entrepreneurs recently, we asked people in the audience to raise their hand if they've ever suffered mental health issues or known someone who has; literally 98% of the warehouse space had hands raised. Hand on heart, I can honestly admit that making Fluoro Friday a part of my weekly routine – no matter how shitty I feel when I wake up in the morning, how rainy or foggy it is – has been instrumental, playing a huge part in getting me back on my feet in recent months.

So find your brightest pieces of clothing, set your alarm and join them for a surf or free yoga on Fridays at 6.30am. For a list of beaches, check out their website and Instagram.

Joel Pilgrim’s message is pretty simple: mental health is real, so let’s talk about it. Starting now.

Hero shot by Amy Theodore.

Words by Amy Lovat.

Joel was one of our speakers at the special edition of Cereal Entrepreneurs FOR PURPOSE, held at New Beginnings Fair in Sydney on 27 February 2016.

Joel, Tara from Dream & Do and me in the signature Cool People dress at Cereal Entrepreneurs last month.

Joel, Tara from Dream & Do and me in the signature Cool People dress at Cereal Entrepreneurs last month.

For those who aren’t one of your 18,000 followers on Instagram, can you share the mission and message of OneWave and how you started with them?

OneWave is about raising awareness of mental health issues through surfing and the ocean, promoting the message that it’s absolutely okay not to be okay. By getting people talking about mental health in mainstream conversation, that’s how we start to make a difference and create a world where people are supported instead of on their own and quite unwell. What’s the point of dressing like you’re coming home from Kings Cross after a bender? The bright colours and fluoro are drawing attention to invisible issues. We need to make it visible, getting people to ask questions and spark conversations.

How does the OneWave program work?

It’s broken down into initiatives, so Fluoro Friday was started by Grant Trebilco who has diagnosed bipolar disorder. He found that one of the most helpful things in getting him back on his feet was surfing and he realised he needed to talk about mental health so that he could deal with the issue. One day he shared his story with a mate when they were surfing, only to hear that his mate was also suffering anxiety and depression for the last seven years and never told anyone. Often it’s the people struggling the most who you would expect it from the least.

Founder Grant Trebilco chatting to a group about One Wave. Click image for source.

Founder Grant Trebilco chatting to a group about One Wave. Click image for source.

Tell us about the One Wave Surf Experience?

Three years on, Fluoro Friday is a global initiative at over 70 beaches worldwide. There’s a community sharing circle on the sand, then yoga or surfing. But the initiative was always missing something. Not everyone can get down to the beach at 6.30am every week because of medication or motivation, so we thought about how we could reach others. Now we have the 8-week surf experience program that’s free for people suffering mental illness, incorporating clinical mental health discussion and putting it on the sand, so what I was doing this in my old job. We wanted to take an issue that’s totally “uncool” and make it “cool” with a mainstream activity like surfing and it also promotes a healthy lifestyle. We’ve partnered with local organisations such as Headspace in Newcastle, where it’s rolling out 1 April.

Why are you so passionate about mental health?

I’ve got a bunch of friends who have all struggled and I’ve always been a person that people come to for support and to share. There’s depression in my family, my sister has struggled particularly during the HSC years ago, and that really shaped the way I looked at mental health and made me understand it in a different light. When I graduated and started working in the mental health space, I loved it. But I know there’s more that can be done and there’s a lot of restrictions in the clinical space.

How have you been able to fund the venture and give up your full-time job?

It’s been tough. The start is always hard. The first 2.5 years there was no money, purely on top of our full-time jobs, and we had sleepless after sleepless night. We had a crowdfunding campaign last year that raised over $55,000 … I could talk to you about this for ages because it’s tough, crowdfunding is a pain in the arse. But the money we raised has allowed us to do a lot of things.

Joel inspiring a younger generation of cool kids about the power of talking about mental health and that sometimes one wave is all it takes to free the funk.

Joel inspiring a younger generation of cool kids about the power of talking about mental health and that sometimes one wave is all it takes to free the funk.

You were the one who introduced me to “for-purpose”, so what does that mean for you?

Adam Braun from Pencils of Promise, he’s the wisdom and coined the term. He was a businessman working over in finance all around the world, and he experienced that people would turn up their noses at his ‘not for profit’ so he thought, ‘well how about instead of telling them what we’re not about, let’s tell them what we’re FOR.’

Let’s cut through the shit and good stuff that everyone knows. Tell us about the crap you have to wade through to make this work.

There’s so much stigma attached to both the mental health space and not-for-profits. 1 in 5 people experience mental health, but 65% of people don’t seek help. They’re afraid of the stigma and stereotype. We want to be a community where people can feel supported and like they’re not alone. They can get through this, because look at all these others sharing their stories too. The not-for-profit space also has a lot of stigma. We’re giving 100% of our profits back into the organisation, so people don’t tend to take you seriously. It’s about finding the balance for purpose and good, but keeping it scalable like a business that can grow and continue to affect change.