Surfing for social change

Closer to home, Perth-born social entrepreneur Sarah Sands (née Vann-Sander, MEnvSc 2014) is showing just as much passion for her cause. Her social enterprise, Sandswell Inc, is based on the premise that by creating a connection with self, community and nature, surfing can be a potent vehicle to inspire social change. 

It has the power to bridge the gaps between race, faith, gender, sexuality and socio-economic status because in the eyes of the ocean everyone is equal.

Sarah’s childhood was spent “loving the sea”, while a stint living with her family in the Northern Territory also engendered a passion for country and culture.

During her final year of a master's in Marine and Coastal Management at UWA, she sat on the national board of the Surfrider Foundation – an international marine conservation organisation – as well as running its local chapter.

Never one to laze around, she also squeezed in a full-time job as senior community organiser at The Wilderness Society WA. A 2015 scholarship to the School for Social Entrepreneurs, where she completed a nine-month incubator program, helped her to develop and launch Sandswell.

Kate-Leeming-Savory-Creek                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Taking inspiration from the sea. Photo credits: Ming Nomchong 

The new mum’s Margaret River-based non-profit organisation combines her passions for the ocean, science and the community.

It runs surfing programs (including classes at schools in the Kimberley and in Aboriginal communities), as well as events such the Summer X Salt Markets in Perth’s coastal suburbs of Trigg and Scarborough.

All aim to target one or more of four impact areas: sustainability and environmental connection; gender equality; mental health and wellness; and leadership and team-building.

“Projects like these have a strong social impact in many areas on different scales,” she says, “from supporting people with mental health issues through learning to surf, to social and economic development through tourism collaborations. Some impacts are immediate and others are longer term.”

They’re issues she learned something about during trips to Sri Lanka in 2015 and 2016 where she worked on empowering local women in the community through surfing while taking part in The Fresh Air Project and Surfing The Nations. 

Sarah SandsSarah Sands 3

Encouraging social change through interaction with the ocean. Photo credit: Ming Nomchong 

I also attended the international Surf + Social Good Summit in Bali in 2015 where leading changemakers from around the world came together to connect, collaborate and innovate new ways to use surfing to create positive impact in the world.

Currently Sarah is enjoying bonding with her new daughter Florence while her “wonderful team keeps things going”, but she already has a new project in her sights: setting up a pilot program to test a Sandswell Sea School.

“It’s a long-time and long-term vision to create an outdoor, education-focused marine institute for school-aged children to discover the ocean through science and adventure, up and down the WA coastline,” she says.

For more information on Sandswell, go to: