GCKS is now a fully-fledged charity. What was your motivation behind pursuing charitable status and what do you feel it does for the profile of the programme?
It’s been brilliant over the last couple of years seeing how Get City Kids Surfing has developed and grown, fostering a close-knit community of “oceaneers” who spark excitement and enjoyment of the ocean in one another. In becoming a charity we’ve been able to crystallise what’s important to us - giving kids in urban locations (who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance) the opportunity to gain the whole-life-health benefits that connecting with the ocean brings, through soaking them in the deep joy we find in surfing - and to find an avenue for helping our community grow. One of our thoughts throughout has been that we'd love these children to feel a part of something bigger than themselves, and in City Kids Surfing becoming a charity I think it helps define the “bigger thing” we’re inviting them into [which isn’t without its challenges as Tom’s answers helpfully show!].
I also hope that becoming a charity helps us as we seek to connect with new schools, as it gives us some legitimacy in places where we’re currently unknown. All of the schools we’ve worked with so far have been through personal contacts, and I think being a registered charity helps underline the value of the project as we cast the net wider to draw other potential schools into the CKS community.
What are your plans for the future and how far do you think GCKS can go?
Wow, how far can City Kids Surfing go? Maybe far beyond any swell-lined horizon! It’s been great to see the CKS family growing across London, and it’d be great to connect with more schools across the city, but I think all of us have eyes looking beyond just one city. I’d love us to find kindred spirits in other urban centres across the length and breadth of the country, and to journey with them in getting the city-locked kids they know connected with the wonder of the seas surrounding our isles. And why not dream further afield than even the rest of the UK?
But personally, the growth beyond size and numbers is what’s super-exciting. I’m excited that children used to concrete and chaotic life situations might glimpse a different world - a technicolour, rhythmic world of seasons, tides and waves with new sandy environments to discover and new skills to learn. That these children might have whole new worlds of experience opened up to them, transforming the way they see life, impacting their own neighbourhoods and families, friends and futures.
You’re now into your third year of GCKS and you’re doubling the intake this year. How does it feel to be building your own little grassroots surfing community in the heart of the capital?
It feels good to be building CKS with the team and it has been a hectic year for us with Jim sorting out our charity status, but ended with the right result: 18kids away and surfing! The Finisterre evening was a great turn out and an amazing vibe from all participants, especially family members of the kids this year. It flowed well, Sandy was great as ever, and the film was incredible. Good to have Sophie in for the girls too. Great vibe all through. In short, I'm grateful and proud.
I was so honoured to meet the children at Get City Kids Surfing. For me, surfing has been such a huge part of my life. The water has given me a career and friends, taught me resilience and given me the tools to deal with depression and anxiety. I really believe everyone should have the opportunity to access such a transformational resource. The kids at GCKS aren’t lucky enough to live near the beach but GCKS is getting them out the city, to the coast and into the water. I’m sure this will be an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives. I also feel it’s so important that young people are connecting with and engaging with the environment this way. How can we expect the next generation to look after the ocean if they’ve never even seen it?
Tom who runs GCKS is such a genuine guy with a really big heart, I feel really privileged to have been apart of this years GCKS project and I hope next year I’ll be with them in the sea.
- Sophie Hellyer
Although, we were super happy with the trip this year, and we always get a lot of good feedback, I do have areas I’d like to improve on. The aspect for us of reuniting the old group with the new group and somehow building a community is an aspect we’re continuing to develop. As I said at the Ocean Mic night, it is the way of life of a surfer – attitude, family mentality, not being alone even in times of solitude – that we want to build into our project for the kids and their families. I suppose in real speak, if they have to be online, we want them checking the surf forecast and watching pipe footage and talking about it in class and playgrounds and later in life planning surf trips rather than fights. This year we were able to incorporate a bit of mindfulness, yoga and had the kids helping with cooking on the trip, you can see how it could get better.
The big question for me, is do we focus on the same group, how to keep them involved? It's tough, but I suppose for them, a year is a long time… Two trips would be awesome, one for newbies and one for the old crew who stay involved but at the moment we’re developing a structure to keep them involved. Jim did a cool thing with the groms from 2018 where they went in to the school and spoke to the teachers about their experiences, which was super powerful. We will collaborate and make sure this happens again this year and in the future.
We have a solid location at Croyde with capacity 30 beds, the dilemma is always quality over quantity and new groms vs keeping the old crew involved.
Did you notice a change in the kids after the experience of surfing? Was it something that you could see had a profound effect and stayed with them?
Yes there is a change in the children, how profound is debatable. They soften over the weekend noticeably and when in the water, they forget about bravado and attention seeking. It’s challenging and cold and exciting so they do what I do in the surf, they forget themselves and mix excitement, fear and fun and it’s amazing to watch. One girl said through chattering teeth, “I want to do this all the time!" and we had 1ft slop all weekend! Surfing is so dynamic; they don’t have time to get bored or down on themselves even with no waves! We had boys who dislike each other and often fight, high fiving and discussing wave direction and foot placement together. It's really nice.
I hope it stays with them, it stays with us. But as I said previously, there needs to be a plan for the future of their involvement. It would be great, if in 5 years’ time, we had a trip with 15 year olds, talking to the new groms about the swell and the waves and reminiscing with us all. That’s the dream. I know Tom from the East London Surf Crew, does a similar thing with adults from the city, we want the same idea for the kids.
How was the event and what was it like to see Tom and all the kids again one year on?
It was fantastic and you could see there had been so much work gone into it. Seeing everyone together and meeting the kids for the first time was brilliant. Because before that it’s just emails passing back and forth, and WhatsApp messages and calls – so to actually see it all come together and meeting up with everybody involved on the night was brilliant.
Lot of the new kids had questions like, ‘How are the jellyfish?’, ‘Is the water cold?’, but instead of us just answering all the questions, Tom and Jim went to the kids from last year and said, ‘oh, can you answer the questions?’ It was great because they were sharing knowledge from one year to the next.
They were just passing it on, yeah. The kids from the year before were trying to explain to this year’s kids; don’t be worried about anything, the sea’s not cold, you’re allowed to do this in your wetsuit, you’re not allowed to do this in your wetsuit… Which was great, because they were things I wouldn’t have thought of myself but the kids were just coming up with these answers like fire!
What was it like this time round seeing the reactions of the kids? Was there an air of nervousness again or did they feel like previous year’s classes had fed in enough so that they knew what they were in for?
It’s amazing what they do. They build the kids up for it and they have to work for it; they have to pass all these tests. They have to do a little bit on ocean safety and then a bit on litter picking, so I think the kids are more teed up for it and they know what they’re getting themselves in for.
On the evening in London a lot of the parents came along, and we showed them Solstice. After watching the film the parents have more questions than the kids. They’re like, “Oh, they’re not going to be surfing in waves like those, are they?!?”
Seeing it first-hand how important do you feel grassroots projects like these – taking kids from inner city school and placing them in an unfamiliar surroundings – how important do you think that is for them growing up, experiencing new things outside of their comfort zone?
The kids will absolutely love it, just because they are out of their normal environment and some of them have never even seen the sea! So I think it’s huge that these projects actually happen. Just to be able to share the sea with people who don’t get to experience it as much as I do, almost means more to me than me seeing it every day.
Some of them really take to it and they love being in the sea. I remember speaking to one of the kids from a few years ago and one of them moved down to the south coast to be closer to the sea. Whole family, just moved to the south coast, which is amazing. So yeah, I just love being able to share that with the kids and seeing how much they enjoy it.
Your role at these events is as this inspirational figure. How do you actually feel about that?
I love being involved to be honest. I think it’s fantastic that they actually let me work with them! It is something I really enjoy; I’ve got so much from the sea, so it’s really nice to be able to share it with people. So I love whatever I can do for them. It’s something I really, genuinely believe in and I want to see it success and I want to get as many kids surfing as we can like that.
To find out more about the GCKS program, visit www.getcitykidssurfing.com for more information.