A lot of local Indigenous community organisations run youth football or athletics programs but there aren’t a lot that teach surfing or beach safety. It means that many young Aboriginal and Torres Islander children don’t have confidence in the surf. With this in mind, Wandiyali, a local support organisation for Indigenous youth and their families, created the Indigenous Classic Youth Surfing Clinic.
‘We wanted to set up a youth surfing clinic to get more Indigenous kids involved in water sports. We could see the link between developing their confidence, and engaging them in a sport that’s connected to their coastal heritage.’, says Shannon Pratten-Eggins, Wandiyali Community Engagement Coordinator.
Held for the first time in 2018, the clinic was run at Merewether Beach as part of Surfest, Australia’s largest surfing festival. Surfest also includes the Wandiyali Indigenous Surf Classic, a competition that showcases the talent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander surfers from around Australia as they compete in divisions of Juniors, Women’s, Longboards and Opens.
The plan was for each lesson to start with basic beach safety, and be followed by on-shore surfing instruction. Learners would be linked up with competitive surfer mentors. But inclement weather wreaked havoc on the day and the clinic was limited to beach activities. However every learner received their own board to take home to practice their new-found skills, courtesy of Port Waratah.
‘We originally planned to offer the clinic to 24 kids but we had so much interest from the community and so much support from Port Waratah that we were able to increase the offer to 34 young people’, said Pratten-Eggins.
‘Seeing the kids’ faces during the presentation, they were so excited to get their boards. It was so funny because some of the boards were twice the size of the kids’.
‘Lots of parents came up to me to tell me how thankful they were. Seeing the kids get so excited up on the stage and receive their surfboards, and seeing the parents so proud and happy, it was a really successful family event.’
‘I’m hoping we can expand on the clinic idea and develop a beach club – one weekend a month where indigenous youth can learn beach safety and other activities like body boarding and paddle boarding.’
During Surfest Wandiyali also coordinated onshore activities as part of a Cultural Gathering, which shared the talent, diversity and power of Aboriginal culture and heritage with the wider community. Record numbers attended the free entertainment and activities, market stalls, and cultural workshops about bush tucker, art and weaving.
Wandiyali assists Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Newcastle and Hunter region with out-of-home care support, housing, disability support, and a child care centre. It supports Aboriginal youth at risk of homelessness, and currently, case manages more than 130 children in the foster care system in Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, and Upper Hunter.