Grey skies, choppy seas no handicap for these surfers

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IMGP2145THE sight of the little boy running excitedly up the beach and wrapping his arms around his mother’s legs before running in circles is reward enough for the 20 or so onlookers whooping and cheering him from the water’s edge.

His joyful careering around in the sand reminds me of a small puppy let off the lead.

It is just one small cameo enacted out on Point Leo beach on Saturday as 60 disabled surfers take to the water helped by a small army of volunteers.

The Disabled Surfers Association’s Mornington Peninsula branch is holding the first of the year’s two surfing days.

Overcast skies and choppy surf fail to dim the expectations of surfers and as one surfboard after another is carried out to the breakers.

Once floating on the water the surfers eagerly await a suitable wave that will carry them through a tunnel of outstretched arms to the beach.

The breaking waves momentarily cover-up the boards and their passengers (a volunteer hangs on the back of every board) and just as suddenly a smiling face or hands giving the thumbs up appear.

Whoops and cheers, splashes and some crashes. The day at the beach is so different to the norm, giving carers and their charges a new lease of life.

Although the DSAMP surf days are a highly organised version of what is generally a disorganised activity, there is no way of event-managing an individual’s reaction.

Apprehension and fear are taken care of by the closeness of volunteers’ willing hands. From wheelchair to surfboard, the disabled surfers are surrounded by a team of coloured-coded helpers. (Grey for carers; red, team leaders; green, beach marshalls; blue, volunteers; yellow, surfers.)

But the closeness of so many people cannot affect personal exhilaration. The joy and experience belong to the individual, the surfer.

There is no way of reproducing the feel or the energy of a wave.

The movement of a wheelchair, or even travelling in the comfort of a moving vehicle, is light years away from the feeling that comes from lying or sitting on a board.

“Despite the odd rain shower and a large swell coming up from the south east, turning our popular Lake Leo surf beach into a fairly epic wave day, it couldn’t dampen the ardour of our participant surfers and smiling carers, 230 eager volunteers and our DSAMP members,” branch president Bill Hallett said.

“The water was warmer than everyone thought after a cool summer build-up, so we didn’t need to chip off the icicles. And because the beach dumpers were a bit overwhelming, our surfing teams prudently moved to quieter waters down the beach.

“Yes, there were a few wipeouts but our adventurous surfers weren’t deterred and just asked for more.”

Mr Hallett said an increasing number of younger volunteers was “a great sign of the times of our youngsters getting into community help”.
“We believe the oldest volunteer was about 70, so it’s a good day for young and old.”

The next DSAMP surf day is Saturday 14 March with volunteer registrations open at 10am for an 11am start. Registration for participant surfers will open at 10am-1.30pm.

Details: disabledsurfers.org/vic/morning-peninsula-branch

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