$300,000 NZ study to prove that surfing is meaningful for wellbeing in sites of war and disaster

Study to research how power of alternative sports shines post-disaster

Sports sociologist Dr Holly Thorpe has received a $300,000 Marsden Fund grant to study how young people use informal sports to improve their well-being in hot spots around the world.

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Sports sociologist Dr Holly Thorpe has received a $300,000 Marsden Fund grant to study how young people use informal sports to improve their well-being in hot spots around the world.

The response of skate-boarders, rock climbers, surfers and mountain bikers to the Christchurch earthquakes is part of an academic study on the role of non-traditional sports in disaster zones.

Sports sociologist Dr Holly Thorpe was inspired to investigate the topic when she saw YouTube video Quaked: Skateboarding in Christchurch while visiting relatives shortly after the February 2011 earthquake.

A $300,000 Marsden Fast Start grant will help the Waikato University senior lecturer and former competitive snowboarder complete a three-year study on the use of informal sports to improve youth wellbeing in sites of war and disaster.

Christchurch skateboarder James Kingston making a video for YouTube on skating the quake damage.

DON SCOTT/FAIRFAX NZ

Christchurch skateboarder James Kingston making a video for YouTube on skating the quake damage.

The research would build on an earlier study of Christchurch skate-boarders, rock climbers, surfers and mountain bikers immediately after the earthquake.

Other case studies would include youth communities in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, skateboarders in Afghanistan, and a grassroots parkour group in Gaza.

Thorpe gained insight into the “highly emotional” but “creative, proactive and inventive” experiences of Christchurch youth as they attempted to hold on to their alternative sports after the 2011 earthquakes.

With beaches closed due to re-directed sewerage systems, surfers found their everyday sport out of reach for the following year.

“Once we got most of our chores done, we started to realise that something huge was missing from our lives and it was going to be gone for a long, long time,” one female surfer said.

Some surfers began organising trips to other surfing spots but for others the lack of access to their sport created anxiety, and resulted in increased drinking among a few, and even weight gain due to the loss of daily physical activity, Thorpe found.

“Not being able to surf really took some of the passion out of my life. Some days you were just ‘oh, I’m so over this’ and we found ourselves drinking a lot more,” a male surfer interviewed for the study said.

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For climbing enthusiasts, dealing with the loss of most of their climbing trails in the Port Hills was difficult.

Some chose to ignore closures, while others were not prepared to take the risk and travelled to places like Castle Hill to pursue bouldering instead.

For skateboarders, the post-quake environment offered “exciting new obstacles for spaces for play”, Thorpe said.

Young male skateboarders made the most of the damaged streets and footpaths and created indoor skate parks in abandoned warehouses.

Being able to continue with their sport gave many young people a powerful outlet for stress during the city’s immediate recovery period, Thorpe said.

“Other people in my family don’t really do much at all any more, they just kind of hang around, waiting for the city to be rebuilt, whereas I’ll just go skating, and I’ll be happy,” skateboarder Brad said.

Thorpe said the study would help improve the lives of youth and others in psychologically, socially and sometimes politically challenging conditions.

“Youth are not always the victims they are so perceived to be,” she said.

“Some are developing highly creative responses to the conditions of their lives, including the use of social media as part of their strategies for change. I think we can learn a lot by creating space for their voices and stories in our research.”

Thorpe’s research would be the first in the world to study youth grassroots engagement with informal sports in sites of war and disaster.

She expected the research would help inform aid and development work, as well as governmental investments in youth development strategies in New Zealand and around the world.

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