The Disabled Surfers Association of Australia, or DSAA as they’re affectionately known, have started surfing again for 2019! If you haven’t come across the DSAA before, they’re basically a gang of volunteers who come together to take those with disability surfing!
The DSA was born back in 1986 after Gary Blaschke was involved in a motorcycle accident in which he lost his knee cap. After the accident Gary under-went extensive rehabilitation leaving him unable to surf as he did before. Gary saw a void that needed to be filled as over the years, many surfers with disabilities have unfortunately, been unable to get back into the water or indeed, have the chance to be introduced to surfing at all.
Gary’s vision quickly extended to all classes of disabilities, and as it is today, DSAA is totally inclusive. It’s a voluntary organisation, which sets world’s best practice for Disabled Surfers.
Direct from their website’s homepage is a beautiful summary of DSA days:
“We invite you along for this magical journey that many have already experienced over the past thirty years, without any pressure to win gold, just having fun and making new friends in your local community and around Australia and New Zealand.”
The DSA have 16 branches around Australia and New Zealand, and have won multiple awards for their training programs – for Outstanding Achievement in implementing Safe Sport Practices and Minister’s awards for Most Significant Contribution to Water Safety by an Organisation.
DSA days are an incredible experience where “surfers” don’t need to have ever surfed before. It’s an inclusive and completely supportive environment where volunteers enter the water with each and every participant to assist them to “get the feeling” as they ride waves.
From people recovering from an injury through to paraplegia, literally anyone can have a go.
The volunteers who are part of the Disabled Surfers Association really are heroes of some kind. We spoke briefly with the head of DSA Gold Coast, Ian Gay …
Ian, can you explain how a DSAA day works for a participant/surfer?
Our participants can sign in at our tents at Len Wort Park from 8.30am and around 9.15am we move down to the beach where we have up to five teams of volunteers (overseen by trained team leaders) ready to take them out for their surf experience. We run on a “first come – first surf” basis and when it’s time for a participant to surf we take them down to the water to meet their team. Our team leaders will take charge and make sure they are comfortable and know what’s happening then the whole team takes them out in the water to catch a few waves in the broken white water. Participants ride on large soft boards with a team leader on the back in tandem and the volunteers forming a safety tunnel to the beach. They usually get 4-5 waves depending on conditions, time and the number of volunteers we have. We are usually finished on the beach by 12.30pm at the latest and there’s a free sausage sizzle back in the park before we pack up.
How long have you been involved with DSAA, and how did you get into it?
I first became aware of DSAA in 2003 when they advertised in the local paper that they were considering setting up a branch on the Gold Coast. I had been looking to get involved with something charitable and this was the perfect fit. I went along to the first “expressions of interest” public meeting at Burleigh Surf Lifesaving Club and was sold on the idea immediately. There and then I put my hand up to help start the branch which held its first event in 2004. A couple years later I moved on to the committee as Vice President and then around 2015 I became President of the Gold Coast branch.
Can you name any specific highlights from your time with DSAA?
There would be too many to count. One specific one that sits in my mind was taking an older woman out in to the surf – she had had a bad fall in the night and became paralysed from the waist down as a result. She told me she had given up all hope of ever getting in the ocean again let alone getting on to the beach. On her first wave (which I rode tandem on with her) she was in floods of tears (of joy!) and later told me “thank you, I thought I’d lost it but you’ve given me back the beach”.
For you, what’s the best thing about Disabled Surfers Association?
The best thing, for volunteers, is seeing the sheer joy our participants get from catching a wave. This is doubled when you then see their family on the beach smiling, laughing, crying with joy. There’s no buzz like it!
Now that the season has started for 2019/2020, how do participants register to go surfing?
Participants don’t need to register – just turn up at any event and we’ll take them surfing. We only charge a nominal $20 per season and that’s it.
Do participants need to bring any gear like a surfboard or wetsuit?
No we provide surfboards and rashies, they can bring wetsuits if they feel the cold but it’s rarely necessary.
And what about volunteers? Are you on the lookout for new volunteers and how would one go about becoming a volunteer with DSA?
We always need volunteers! We never know how many we’ll have from one event to the next. All they need to do is turn up on the day and get stuck in with whatever they want to do – either on the beach, in the surf, at the BBQ or on the sign-in desk. There’s work for everyone!
If you’re interested in attending a Disabled Surfers Association day either as a surfer or a volunteer, you can find the details for your area on the DSAA website: http://disabledsurfers.org/
If you’re willing and able to donate to the DSAA, you’ll find more details on their supporters page: http://disabledsurfers.org/supporters/
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