There’s nothing like riding your first wave and feeling like nothing else in the world matters in that very moment. You’re enjoying the warmth of the sun, the refreshing seawater on your skin, and the serenity, while trying to ride a wave for as long as you can.
For many people with a disability, beach life just isn’t possible, they don’t have the freedom to easily go for a swim or even feel the sand under their feet. The dream experiencing the joy of riding a wave, isn’t a reality.
But for surfers with disabilities who can jump on a surfboard, the adrenalin rush they get from feeling their surfboard beneath them trimming across the water, assisted or unassisted, is just as great if not greater than that of the able bodied surfer.
Volunteering for DSA Sunshine Coast
A few years ago, a friend asked my husband and I to help out with a DSA (Disabled Surfers Association) Sunshine Coast day. When I said ‘yes’, I didn’t realise the extent to which the experience would positively impact our own lives. I don’t think I anticipated how amazing it would be to enable people who have never so much as touched sand with any part of their body, the opportunity to experience the magic of the ocean firsthand.
The Disabled Surfing Association is an amazing organization that provides an invaluable experience to surfers with disabilities, whether intellectual or physical and is for all ages. Now celebrating their tenth year on the Sunshine Coast and their thirtieth year in Australia, the Disabled Surfers Association of Australia was established in 1986 by Gary Blaschke – after he lost his knee cap in a motorcycle accident and underwent extensive rehabilitation. According to Gary, there was a void that desperately needed to be filled, that a great number of surfers who were living with disabilities, had no help to get them back into the water.
The Life-Changing Day Arrives
When my family arrived with our two international exchange students from Japan (who were also very excited to help out), it was the perfect beach day. The sun was shining, the surf conditions were just right… not too big, just the ideal size waves for the day.
We were so excited to see the great turn out of volunteer surfers, giving their time to share their love of surfing with other people who have never had the chance to experience beach life or the joy of riding a wave. Nearly everyone was full of energy, happiness and couldn’t wait to get into the water, or were already waiting on the waters edge.
There were a few people who were a little nervous, even petrified, because for some, the beach was a foreign place for them. They had never seen waves in their life.
Breaking Down The Barriers
As a beach-lover myself, it didn’t cross my mind that there would be anyone participating on the day that would be absolutely petrified of the waves and feeling stressed being on the beach. For me, the beach is my special place to unwind, have fun and relax with my family.
As everyone was heading towards the water, there was one young man who wouldn’t let anyone help him into the ocean.
It was amazing how DSA, the volunteers and carers joined together and showed so much compassion and encouragement, helping build the young man’s confidence so he could feel the ocean for the very first time and overcome his fear of it.
Tim Byrne, President of the DSA Sunshine Coast, quoted in the Sunshine Coast Daily on 18 October, said that “once they are in the waves, their smiles are infectious and they experience such a rush – they are really putting themselves out there and making the most of the opportunity”.
Riding The First Wave
I remember the first wave I helped a young man catch. Since he was a lot bigger than me, it was very challenging and took a lot of strength to ensure he wouldn’t fall off the board.
After carefully choosing the right wave, I was holding onto the board with my life, ensuring he was safe and could enjoy every second, eventually catching the wave all the way to shore.
As we caught our first wave together I could hear the squeals of excitement all around me, from everyone enjoying the ocean and experiencing the feeling of riding their very first wave.
I could feel the tears of happiness running down my face. The loud sounds of joy that could be heard all around, combined with the smiles that could light up a whole room – was definitely an experience I will cherish forever and never forget.
It certainly looked as though each and every person there that day would have felt the same way I did.
Surfing as Therapy
“It’s hard to explain — the ocean washes everything away. If we could get more disabled kids into the water, the ocean will do the rest. Once they’re in there, they won’t want to leave,” says Dale Taylor (pictured above), the winner of the AS1 Australian Adaptive Surfing Title at Cabarita Beach in 2016.
If surfing is great for the mind, body and soul, and sea water has so many health benefits too – from boosting your health, lifting your mood, relieving stress and tension, and even improving your skin – is surfing a type of therapy that benefits surfers with disabilities and able-bodied surfers alike?
“The constant level of encouragement, guidance, compassion and support provided by DSA – along with all of their support volunteers – has helped Kyle reach a new level of self confidence where he has now essentially overcome his fear of the water.” Source
After my experience, seeing the smiles, the excitement, the love and support from everyone, the sheer impact of this initiative is very evident to me.
Being a DSA Sunshine Coast volunteer is something I relished and I will definitely be helping out again soon.
Thanks Britta for your contribution.