Surfers leave wheelchairs behind

By Lindy Laird

THERE'S a surfing saying that goes "the best surfer out there is the one having the most fun" - which means a group of people who recently took the plunge in the surf at Shipwreck Bay are simply the best.

These folk cast away their wheelchairs, blindness, mental and other physical disabilities and had the time of their lives at the Surf's Up event for disabled people. They felt the fear, the joy, courage, freedom and triumph that came with pitting themselves against the elements.

The Surf's Up boardriders came from around Northland to the famed spot at the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach for the programme which has been held four times this summer, organised by the Nga Mahi mo te Tangata Trust.

One of the organisers, Jacqui Payne, took many photos, particularly at this summer's final event last Saturday.

The photos, each one telling a thousand words, will form an exhibition next week at Kaitaia's Te Ahu Centre, celebrating national Seaweek.

"We work in partnership with several organisations and individuals, all volunteering and contributing their time and resources, vehicles, food and refreshments, surfboards and wetsuits, which make the events possible," Jacqui says.

"Friends, colleagues and organisations who care for physically and mentally disabled people are contacted before each event and invited to bring anyone who wants to come.

"Surfers, lifesavers, and watersports enthusiasts from all over the Far North and beyond turn up to help in the water, lifting the disabled out of their wheelchairs, carrying them down to the water on the oversized boards and staying beside them while pushing them out to the surf line, keeping them safe and talking to them the whole time to reassure them," she says.

"It is a beautiful feeling to give such pleasure to those whose lives are often painfully restricted or limited by their disability. I swear that those old surfers often have a tear in their eye when they see the smiles generated by their acts of kindness. It is a very uplifting experience for all who take part, even those just watching.

"There are about six or more helpers for each disabled surfer, most of who have never been surfing and seldom been in the sea. They have to be quite brave to put their trust in the burly strangers in wetsuits, although many parents go in with their children to share in the experience," she says.

"When they reach the right place in the surfbreak to catch a wave their boards are turned to face the beach and held steady, waiting for the right moment, then with a big combined push by the helpers they are off, racing towards the shore surrounded by white foam, the helpers forming a protective line a few yards from each side of the board.

"The looks on their faces says it all - intense concentration, the thrill, excitement, then uncontained joy. Not surprisingly the helpers get just as big a thrill and whoop with excitement as their charges take off."

- Northern Advocate

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