The Disabled Surfers Association of Australia was established in 1986 by surfer, Gary Blaschke, after a motorbike accident prevented him from surfing unaided. While he could draw on help from friends to get back into the water, he realised that many others living with disabilities might not have the same opportunities. Thirty-five years later, the association now operates in locations all over Australia and New Zealand.
Phil Christie attended his first Disabled Surfing Association event in Ocean Grove on Black Saturday in 2009. He’d driven down from Benalla to see whether the activity would be suitable for his son Ryan, who has cerebral palsy. Phil was so impressed with what he saw, he was immediately hooked and has been involved ever since.
Each Ocean Grove event day relies on the help of around 250 volunteers who support roughly 120 people to surf. Catering for anybody who needs support to surf, the group has helped many people who are living with a range of disabilities.
“The emphasis is on safety,” said Phil, explaining that they surf in the broken water close to shore and not from out behind the break. “We can have up to 25 people assisting one surfer at times – it’s all hands-on deck.”
While the event is open to surfers of all ages, with both children and seniors getting involved, Phil told us volunteering opportunities are also very inclusive.
“You don’t have to be a surfer or even go in the water. There is plenty to do off the water.”
Selene, a young woman with quadriplegia who relies on a ventilator to breathe, participated in a short documentary made by Nathan Fox for his VCE studies in 2019. When asked what it feels like to ride a wave into shore, she replied:
Freedom. It’s beyond description. I just lose myself.
This is a description that resonates with Phil as well. “There is nothing like surfing a wave, whatever stage you’re at, it’s a feeling of freedom.”
When asked about his motivation for being involved, Phil said: “It creates smiles on the surfers’ faces, on the people watching them, and happy tears for mum and dad on the beach. And that’s why we all do it.”