Some need wheelchairs, others are deaf or blind, but despite their physical disabilities, a group of children took to the water for the first-ever Special Needs Surf Competition on Sunday.
Seven children, mostly from the Open Air School in Glenwood, took part in the competition on Durban’s beachfront and were joined by former Junior Springbok rugby player, Dries Millard, who was left a paraplegic after a car accident in Cape Town. Millard is now seen as an important face in surfing for disabled people.
Event organiser, Wez Smith, said he was happy with the response and called for parents with disabled children to get them involved.
“The only disability is a bad attitude. The kids are willing to go, we just need to give them a bit of help and they can become world champs one day,” he said.
In three weeks’ time, Smith plans to host an open session to train a new intake of youngsters and says they hope to grow the sport and tour the country with the children.
“When you see them, it’s so fulfilling, like there’s a new boy – Erynn Geddie – he’s visually impaired, on his first wave he stood up on a surfboard and rode for the first time,” he said.
Grade 6 pupil, Luke Lotter, said it was a great experience to surf. Luke is wheelchair bound, after a car accident in 2010.
“It feels amazing because, for me, it feels like when I’m on land it feels like I’ve got limited movement, but when I’m in the water it feels like I’m in the air, like I’m flying,” he said laughing.
Luke plans to go scuba diving on his 13th birthday next year.
IOL Property sponsored rash vests for all the participants on Sunday. Relationship manager, Liv Allison, said they were thrilled to support the initiative.
“We at IOL Property, being the largest property portal in South Africa, believe that giving back to the community is our way of making a difference and supporting the community that supports us,” she said.
Open Air deputy principal, Segran Naidoo, said they were pleased that the sport was taking off and said they were encouraging parents to allow their children to take part in sporting activities.
“This initiative is starting to grow. We want to spread the message to other colleagues at special needs schools, we are proud of our kids and encourage them to do whatever is possible for them to do,” he said.