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Swell life skills taught to local Indigenous students at Wadandi Surf Academy

Dianne Bortoletto -

Fifteen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from WA's south west recently earned themselves a place in the Wadandi Surf Academy, swapping the classroom for Country.

Their reward for a year of good standing and school attendance was a place in the six-day Academy, which was funded this year by local family-owned Indigenous employment agency Pindari.

Good standing is measured using the REAL matrix, an anagram that represents respect, empathy, achieve and learn.

Founded by George and Vilma Webb and championed by the Undalup Association Inc., the Wadandi Surf Academy has grown over the past four years with the support of Gwen Gray, a local Custodian and long-standing Aboriginal Education Liaison Officer with the Busselton Senior High School.

Ms Gray said that the Wadandi Surf Academy is a highlight of the year for selected students who are motivated to do well in order to participate.

"Personally and professionally, it's projects and programs like this in our community that make a difference," Ms Gray said.

"As an Indigenous Education Officer with different roles to play in the community, it's hard to run programs and help students navigate life without the support of Pindari and other stakeholders, including our Elders and custodians who volunteer their time to share culture and help out."

Between 10 and 20 per cent of Indigenous students from from Years 7 to 10 from Busselton Senior High School, Cape Naturaliste College and Margaret River Senior High School are selected to participate in the Wadandi Surf Academy each year.

"Surfing is the vessel to get the kids to participate," Ms Gray said.

"Over six days, not only do they learn to surf and spend time in the water, but they also meet with inspirational locals plus spend time on country with Wadandi Cultural Custodians from Undalup Association, local Police officers and more.

"It's about letting them know what's out there in life for them after school."

The students visited Margaret River Police Station and Court House and did a session on cyber safety including the red flags to watch for.

The police also visited the students in the police car and in uniform, an exchange that helps them better understand each other and build community relationships.

Ms Gray said that at first students were a little hesitant, but they soon opened up, asking questions about policing as a career and learning about other roles in the police force such as the canine and horse unit.

She said Pindari was also working on career pathways for students, making it a valuable partner for the program.

"It simply wouldn't have happened without Pindari. Their contribution covers the cost of transport, nutritious lunches, all of the hire equipment and surfing lessons with Margaret River Surfing Academy."

Pindari founder and managing director David Pidek said the Academy's aim to build self-esteem, increase school attendance, and provide a strong link to culture and identity was aligned with Pindari's organisational values.

"Supporting the Wadandi Surf Academy was a natural fit for Pindari. We're dedicated to leaving a positive impact through the work we do, how we work, how we empower our people and give back to the communities in which we operate," Mr Pidek said.

"Surfing for me is a great equaliser, and you have a lot of time between waves to analyse who you are and where you fit, relative not only to yourself but also to nature.

"In its simplest form, surfing is all about preparation and opportunity, which is relatable to the workforce. You can be prepared but you need opportunity. You can have opportunity, but you must be prepared."

This was the first year that students spent consecutive days learning to surf and forging a deeper connection to Saltwater Country and Wadandi Boodja. Next year, Ms Gray said the Wadandi Surf Academy will run one day per week over six weeks as it has done in the past.

Wadandi Surf Academy students with Wadandi custodians Isaac Webb and Wayne Webb, Pindari's Kim Narkle and local police officers

Wadandi Surf Academy students with Wadandi custodians Isaac Webb and Wayne Webb, Pindari's Kim Narkle and local police officers. Photo: Scott Bauer Creative


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