Guest Author - Jeanetta Polenske
I have never seen anything as extraordinary as watching someone who is disabled surf off the coast of Australia. It’s not the surfing; it’s the laughter from a young man, an amputee, who has found a new passion and the squeals of joy from a quadriplegic woman who insists on going back out after falling off a board into the surf.
Gary Blasche started the Disabled Surfers Association (DSA) in 1986. He was aware that surfers who became disabled needed help getting “back on the board”. Together with a group of volunteers, he put together a plan to address the rights of the disabled to have access to the beach and experience the joy of surfing.
Understandably there were many obstacles. First, how were they to get access to the beach? They recognized that the problem included getting to the sand, getting across the sand and getting into the water.
Building ramps to the beach were a great solution to getting to the sand, but funding has been a problem. Committing money has to come from the beach communities and the commitment to improving access to their beaches has to be a priority. Several propositions are being considered to raise the funds for this very expensive project.
Next, the DSA employed the use of mats on the sand and amphibious wheelchairs to move the disabled to the water. Some problems arose when the Surf Life Saving Clubs banned the amphibious vehicles from the beaches. This is still an unresolved issue.
Getting into the water is just a matter of volunteers lifting or “matting” the disabled onto surfboards and safely maneuvering the boards into the water. Usually, at least one volunteer surfs with the disabled person while others keep safe watch. It is said that the volunteers enjoy the events as much as the participants do.
Gary believes that there is no disability that limits anyone from learning to surf or enjoy the beach and water. The program has been therapeutic for many and definitely a new experience for most. After his motorcycle accident, in which he lost a kneecap, he was told that he would not be able to continue surfing. He met the challenge and decided that surfing was a joy that no person should miss.
It’s affordable, good exercise, and a great adventure. Events are scheduled throughout the season on nearly every beach in the country. It has encouraged hundreds of the disabled to defy the limits and has become one of Australia’s shining achievements.
So get out there. Surf’s up, dude. Cowabunga!