Sydney 'Fluro Friday' surfers pay tribute to Robin Williams

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Sydney surfers have paid tribute to Hollywood icon Robin Williams at 'Fluro Friday'. The project, led by Bondi surfer Grant Trebilco, aims to raise awareness about mental illness while bringing colour to the shoreline.

All that Grant Trebilco remembers of the moment he hit rock bottom was a swarm of police officers handcuffing him on the shore of Sydney's Manly beach.

Just minutes before he had been paddling out at sea where competitors in the 2012 Australian Open of Surfing women's semi-final event were fighting for top spots.

From the outside he looked like an excitable fan, but in reality he was at the tail end of a week-long manic episode.

"You lose sight of everything that's real," Grant, now 33, says.

"In one week I broke up with a girlfriend of five years, I spent all my money on bar tabs, I walked into my work dressed as a Mexican tequila harvester saying I wanted to quit, and by Saturday I was paddling around a surf contest." 

After the arrest he was taken to hospital and eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the same condition his father Bruce had struggled with for years. 

"It wasn't something I could hide from anymore," he says.

One Wave

Like most people in their twenties, Grant Trebilco went through a lot of ups and downs.
 
But despite experiencing increasingly extreme emotional responses - depression brought on by a break-up left him unable to leave the house; a presentation at his marketing job made him so anxious he hid in a bathroom stall - he never thought to seek help.
 
"My mates saw me as this happy dude and I didn't want to change," he says.
 
During a work trip to Mexico in 2011, Grant found himself inside a hotel room overcome by extreme anxiety and considered taking his own life.
 
After flying back to Australia he finally sought help but was misdiagnosed with depression. 
 
It was not until he was diagnosed as being bipolar and put on the right medication that he could start to rebuild his life.
 
He returned home to New Zealand and got back into surfing.The sport had always been a big part of his life but from this point it became a refuge.
 
"I'd catch one good wave and that would put a smile on my face and give me hope things could get better," he says. 
 
"It was the hope I'd been looking for."

Flashes of colour 

Being in the water with his father Bruce prompted Grant to open up to him - and later to mates - about the struggles he had faced for so many years.

After a friend confided that he had also suffered from anxiety but never told anyone, Grant realised there were probably a lot more people feeling trapped.

He returned to Australia and with friend Sam Schumacher formed ONEWAVE, a not-for-profit group aimed at raising awareness about mental illness through surfing.

In early 2013 they launched "Fluro Friday," a weekly event at Bondi Beach where surfers dress in fluoro clothing and gather just after dawn to talk about mental illness before hitting the waves.

The fluoro theme was born after Grant and the handful of people there from the beginning started wearing fluoro-coloured zinc and liked the smiles they got from passers-by.

Sam and Grant promote Fluro Fridays through social media and by word of mouth and they are now held each week at Bondi, Manly, Cronulla and Snapper Rocks, as well as once a month at Byron Bay and Newcastle.

Fluro Fridays have also been held as far as the US, Japan and Indonesia.

"The goal is 20 more beaches in Australia by the end of summer," Grant says, "and 20 more globally."

Despite the eye-catching image Fluro Friday surfers cut on the beach, Grant says each occasion is underscored by an important message.

"It's really fun and welcoming but there is a serious tone to it," he says.
 
"It makes people to feel like it's okay to not be okay; it makes them feel normal for going through mental illness."

Grant says the recent death of Hollywood star Robin Williams after a long history of depression serves as a reminder that anyone can be affected by mental illness.

"It doesn't discriminate," he says.

Fluro Friday attendees are further proof of this. They include kids under 10 and an 85-year-old grandmother who had wanted to surf all her life. 

At last week's Fluro Friday in Bondi, the group paid tribute to Williams.

Addressing the group before they hit the water, mental health worker Joel Pilgrim said the star's death had affected them all greatly.

"It's quite a touching week for us," he said

"It's such a shame that all these sparked conversations about mental health that weren't happening a week ago have had to come about because someone's life has been taken."

As for Grant himself, he's the best he's ever been.

"Talking to others who have been through mental health issues has helped me more than anything, " he says.

"I feel pretty balanced, which is good."

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 or follow @LifelineAust @OntheLineAus @kidshelp @beyondblue @headspace_aus @ReachOut_AUS on Twitter.

Source SBS

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