Surfing the volunteering wave

On a sunny Saturday in February an enthusiastic group of RedBallooners, as part of our internal ‘We Care’ charity support program, joined streams of other volunteers down at Collaroy on Sydney’s Northern Beaches for an amazing event like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. We were all there in support of the Disabled Surfer’s Association – an organisation who gives the disabled, young and old alike, the chance to enjoy the thrill of the surf  in complete safety.

After a briefing session and with almost as many participants as volunteers, we could tell from the beginning that it would be an action-packed day. And action-packed it was. From surfboard races in the rockpool to riding the waves in the surf, there was always somewhere to help. It didn’t matter what your surfing experience was.  All types of people were volunteering their time, from school kids as young as 12 to surfing celebrities like world champion surfer Barton Lynch. The event was an amazing leveller and the focus was single-minded – simply give the participants a great time! And here at RedBalloon, that’s what we do best ,so we were well equipped for the day.

An army of blue volunteers all there to help

An army of blue volunteers all there to help

Each participating disabled surfer required at least 8-10 people to either help take the participant out or to form part of a tunnel on the way to shore to keep them safe. There were constant streams of blue (volunteers) and yellow (participants) rash vests in and along the shore. Disabilities varied across the physical and mental spectrum, but the smiles were universal. Seriously, my cheeks were so sore by the end of the day from smiling so hard. I took my role as part of the shore welcoming committee very seriously – perfecting my high fives, whooping, clapping and cheering.

Me enjoying my Welcoming Committee role!

Me enjoying my Welcoming Committee role!

Some participants were veterans, but many were there for the first time and it was these individuals who impacted me the most. Imagine having never been mobile enough to enjoy the surf, one of Australia’s favourite pasttimes? Imagine having to trust in a group of complete strangers (smiling strangers… but strangers nonetheless) as you are taken out into the crashing waves?  This was the reality for many of the surfers we helped. And seeing the transformation in many from flat and expressionless before the surf to overjoyed and exuberant meant that it was not only the participants that had an experience they’d never forget, but us as well. I know I speak for all the RedBallooners who attended the day when I say that you certainly do get as much as you give when you volunteer.

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