SAME WAVES PROGRAM, COOKS HILL SURF CLUB
COOKS Hill Surf Club’s John Mayo knows what the ocean means to him.
“It’s therapeutic,” he said. “When you’re out there, you’re in another world. It takes your mind off things.
“Everyone in Newcastle loves going to the beach.”
That’s why it bothered the surf club that some in the community couldn’t share that same experience as others.
In 2013, the club had a vision that people living with a disability would enjoy the same access to the beach as other members of the club.
Then it was visionary. But now, Mr Mayo says, “we don’t see any difference.”
The Same Waves program gives participants with physical or intellectual disabilities the chance to enjoy all the sun, surf and sand has to offer.
With the backing of club president Richard Hermens, who wanted to replicate a similar program on the South Coast, Mr Mayo went out into the community with a question: would business use their sponsorship power to help get it off the ground?
“Everywhere I went I got the same reply: ‘how much do you need?’” he said. “I hesitated each time. I said is $1500 too much? But they didn’t hesitate.”
Soon, other members of the community started to come on board.
The club put the call out for volunteers – people put their hand up and more (they also signed up to the club).
They needed equipment – but the Variety children’s charity was more than happy to help, providing two floating wheelchairs.
And they needed participants.
“The need was there straight away,” he said.
“People would ring me up – group homes – all wanting to go on a trip to the beach. The support of the community just blew us away. Newcastle really responds when you need them to.”
Mr Mayo observed participants are a little uneasy at first, but the mindset quickly changes.
“A lot of these kids come down and they don’t want to step on the sand because it’s not familiar,” he explained.
“But four weeks in and you see the kids on nipper boards being dumped in the shore dump.
“Week five or six, there’s a scene if we call it off because the surf’s too rough. The change is just remarkable.”
Mr Mayo said the program was a “true community effort”.
“There’s not one person who is behind it,” he said. “It really takes an entire community to make it happen.”
The program runs throughout summer and is open to participants between six and 18 years old. It sees kids participate in flags, sprints, beach relays, swimming and paddle boarding.