In the past, Keira had participated in horse riding, but finding activities that she could actively partake in and meet her sensory needs was always a challenge for Marianne.
Marianne has a handful of friends who are also parents of children with disabilities. A friend suggested that she enrol Keira in the Disabled Surfer’s Association (DSA). The DSA has run surfing programs since 1986 and was first established by Gary Blaschke after he lost his kneecap in a motorcycle accident. Still determined to live an active lifestyle, Gary wanted to create a physical outlet for people with a range of disabilities.
The organisation has branches throughout Australia, including four in Victoria. In March, the Ocean Grove Branch hosted their Annual Surfer’s Event.
When Marianne and Keira arrived along with Constance, their support worker from CPSN, they were greeted by rain and a bleak overcast of clouds. There was a reluctance to get in the water, and as a result, fewer families had shown up for the day. Realising there were so few physical outlets for her daughter and recognising that there was an incredible team of volunteers to lend support, Marianne decided that she would let her daughter give it a go.
It was a risk that Marianne describes as “the best day of our lives,” adding, “I’m so glad we did it - don't give up. You should give it a go at least once.”
This incredible service is entirely structured around the unique needs of people with disabilities. Along with the volunteers, the Ocean Grove Branch provides changing amenities, wheelchair ramp access from the car to the sand, and specialised beach wheelchairs.
With the support of Constance, Marianne watched her daughter experience the beach in a new and profound way; it enabled Keira to tap into her sensory needs.
“She loves the water … surfing is one thing she loves doing,” says Marianne.
At the same time, Marianne had an opportunity to interact with the other parents there on the day, so the experience provided an outlet for the entire family to enjoy.
Reflecting on if she has any advice for other parents and carers, she says, “don’t be worried about your child going into the water; there are lots of volunteers to help, so they're safe.”
This wonderful experience would not have been possible without the kind support from Constance as well. Keira’s story provides a lot of encouragement for individuals and their families. The service that the DSA provides to community members offers evidence that physical activities like surfing shouldn’t be limited to non-disabled people, and that access to these outlets has the potential to transform lives.
To learn more about Disabled Surfers, visit their website today