A social worker who moved from Germany to Westport in 2015 is combining her love of surfing with her career in social work through a social enterprise called Wavewise, which supports community wellbeing.

Pana Leontiadu founded the charitable trust in 2018 to provide surf therapy, which is a structured approach to surfing that can achieve therapeutic benefits and improve peoples’ health and well-being through the healing power of the ocean. She believes in personal growth through strength-based mindset approaches.

Pana Leontiadu, founder of Wavewise.

The startup was able to kick off through the help of local business sponsorships for wetsuits and surfboards after presenting its idea to the public in a startup pitch night event from Development West Coast. Additionally, Leontiadu raised $7500 in just one month via PledgeMe, most of it from a large donation from an ex-local millionaire, who started surfing in Westport.

“I got a call from a guy who grew up in Westport who liked to surf. ‘How much do you need to fill up the tank?’ he asked. And he filled it up,” Leontiadu said.

After setting up Wavewise as a charitable trust, she raised grants from the West Coast Community Trust in cooperation with Development West Coast and Sport Tasman since then too.

Leontiadu said she first started surfing in 2013.

“The first time I stood up on a board I felt unbelievably happy. This lifestyle has had such a profound effect on me.”

It was even the reason she left her home in Germany.

“I have travelled the world in pursuit of new waves and new experiences and now to finally discover my new home here on the West Coast.”

Leontiadu, now a qualified surf instructor and counsellor to be, works with groups of young people in Westport, as well as adults, the oldest being in his 50s. She has had support from her employer (Homebuilders West Coast Trust); the Wavewise board was formed with the help of her boss and work colleagues.

Wavewise Surf Therapy combines the benefits of surfing and social work to get the life enhancement people need to deal with every day challenges.

“We are teaching adults and young people a tool to overcome personal challenges and to deal with stressful situations,” she said. “Whatever wave is thrown at us, we can learn to cope with it.”

While initiating a startup in a small town has challenges, Leontiadu was able to network within EPIC Westport, a local co-working space, with other entrepreneurs to gain knowledge and direction on moving Wavewise forward.

She also did a Co.Starters business development course which was run and mostly funded by Development West Coast and provided some great entrepreneurial insights.

“I would not have been able to do this without the Co.Starters course,” she said.

Wavewise also assists young people financially, with paid adult sessions and funding for local youth, but Leontiadu says the challenge is getting more adults in the programme to benefit local youth.

“The more people know about us, the more support our youth can get,” Leontiadu said. “We have the opportunity to pass on the gift and benefit of utilising surf sessions as a reflective tool to draw upon life lessons.”

Measuring the success of a startup in the social work space is hard to quantify, particularly when trying to encourage the small Westport community to realise that the startup is a therapy programme working on personal challenges, not just a surf group.

“I think the challenge is to encourage people to understand what it is, but after our first years now and constant reminders via Social Media and conversations in the community, it is now understood much better” Leontiadu said.

“One way is how positive those in the community, who have done the programme are about it and how many friends are asked to do the programme,”

Leontiadu has seen lives changed through surfing at Wavewise. She just wants to keep the momentum going through community support.

“Surfing has created real positive change in my life – I want to provide the same experience to others.”

Story by Dave Crampton. In partnership with Development West Coast.

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