Surfers Empower Youth Through Beach Sports



Waves For Hope co-founders Manuela Giger and Chris Dennis in Grand Rivière. PHOTO COURTESY RICHARD LYDER –

“I really think that I have found my purpose in helping and empowering young people. I feel that all the steps I have taken in life are linked in one way or another and allow me to lead a useful life, giving back to people and the community.

These are the words of Manuela Giger, 38, director and co-founder of community and youth development NGO Waves For Hope.

Born and raised in Switzerland, Giger founded the NGO with her professional surfer husband, Christopher “Chris” Dennis, in 2019.

Dennis is a National TT Champion, former World Qualifying Series competitive surfer and ISA Certified Surf Instructor.

In 2018 he received the Angostura Champion award for his community work and the Surfing Association of TT awarded him Surfer of the Year in 2019.

Manuela Giger surfing at Balandra. PHOTO COURTESY RICHARD LYDER –

Additionally, in 2021, he won the Aloha Award, which recognizes individuals in the global surfing community who share their joy of surfing with others, give back through acts of kindness, and demonstrate “their commitment to living a principled life”. of the Aloha Spirit”. “

As surfers living near Balandra Beach, Giger and Dennis experienced the physical and psychological healing properties and soothing effects of natural bodies of water.

So far, they have shared these benefits with approximately 40 local youth through the Waves For Hope Core Program, a six-month mental health intervention for young people aged nine and older.

“If we are allowed, we go to the beach and organize a set of mindful activities. We surf with them, teaching them skills and tools to deal with their stress at home and at school. We use surfing and the fun activities that surround it to teach them how to communicate, pay attention to each other and identify their feelings.

Manuela Giger explains to a surf therapy participant how to stand on a surfboard. PHOTO COURTESY OMARION BUTLER. –

“We create a positive and safe space for them to learn new positive behaviors, to interact positively with their peers and to give them an outlet. We offer a holistic approach to wellness.

The program facilitates youth of varying skill levels – from non-swimmers to proficient surfers – once a week. Although the main attraction for children is surfing, for the animators, surfing is a means of attracting children and teaching them.

After six months of surf therapy, they graduate from the Waves For Hope club where they meet to surf once a week and are surrounded by like-minded peers.

Giger told Sunday Newsday that when the pandemic hit TT they saw an even greater need for their intervention because, although it was difficult for everyone, it was particularly difficult for young people.

She said online school has been difficult for children in “underserved communities” because at first many didn’t have devices, the internet, a quiet space to work in, or adult support in their lives. life.

When the beaches closed, she and Dennis held workshops using art and games to teach mindfulness and the other topics they would have covered on the beach.

“For us, it is very important that we maintain a certain rhythm and continuity in these teachings so that they really stick and that the children can practice all of this.”

During the pandemic, they tried to keep children engaged, especially as many were out of school due to connectivity issues. They also organized a device drive and distributed devices to students, helped families set up internet in their homes, continued to run homework help sessions, and generally helped and supported Balandra children of all possible ways.

With the beaches reopening, the couple have organized the club sessions and hope to resume therapy sessions by the end of February.

There are usually 20-25 young people in a group but due to covid19 regulations they will have to stick to ten per session and possibly have two groups instead of one.

They also plan to expand the therapy program to other communities with the help of five young people who have been trained as facilitators.

“If it hadn’t been for covid we would have been to the north coast by now. What we do is that in each community, we train young people who join the program to become mentors who can implement the program. The goal is to have self-sustaining programs in each community run by youth in the community. »

Giger said Dennis has been teaching kids to surf from an early age. Growing up in Rampanalgas, her family also helped those in need with food and money, taught children in the community to read, and made sure they went to school. Then he started coaching young talents.

“You don’t just train them to surf, you train them for life. You help them in school, you help them with all the problems they have.

“I came on the scene and started spending time in Trinidad. I just helped out where I could and did my part.

In 2018, they received a donation of more than 200 surfboards from the American non-profit organization Positive Vibes Warriors Foundation and the company Vans.

“With that came an invitation to take surf therapy training in South Africa. Those two things really got us started. We now had the equipment and knowledge to not just help one child at a time, but to really put together a structured program to provide something for an entire community.

In Switzerland, Giger studied communication sciences and literature, held various marketing positions and studied to become an Ayurvedic life coach and nutritionist based on Ayurvedic science.

According to a medical website, Ayurveda is the world’s oldest holistic healing system, developed over 3,000 years ago in India.

“It is based on the belief that health and well-being depend on a delicate balance between mind, body and spirit.”

She explained that when she was young, she and her parents traveled to Sri Lanka. There they visited monks and she became fascinated with their way of life, how they had herbs and plants to treat illnesses and how they were one with nature.

Young people from Waves for Hope taking part in a surf therapy activity called Immersion in Roughside, Balandra. PHOTO COURTESY RICHARD LYDER –

She just knew that one day her path would lead her into this realm.

She also practiced kite surfing, windsurfing and everything related to sports and water, which led her to learn surfing at 29 years old.

“I left my job in Switzerland and I said to myself that I would travel for a few months. For me, it’s always nice to have a purpose behind the trip, so I made it my goal to learn to surf on this trip, and went for it.”

She was looking for a quiet place with no large crowds to surf when, in 2013, she “ended up” in Trinidad and met Dennis whom she married in 2016. She returned several times over several years and settled down at TT in 2019.

Now she is able to combine her loves for water, sports and holistic development to help young people on their life journey.


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