Surfing kept me sane: Indigenous surf tour celebrates 21 years

Group sizes have grown yearly since the Tour started 21 years ago. Photo supplied by Surfing Victoria.

Communities across regional Victoria will participate in Australia’s longest running Indigenous surf tour this September and October, as it celebrates its 21st year.

The Indigenous Regional Surf Tour is the only Indigenous program of its kind in the country.

The Tour organisers work directly with Victorian Indigenous communities to develop local surf skills and culture.

Surfing Victoria’s Jordie Campbell has been running the event for the last four years and is buoyed by the energy he sees in the communities he works with.

“One young guy, Cormach Evans, we like to talk about a lot,” Campbell says.

Evans grew up participating in the program after a rough childhood. His dad was rarely around as he dealt with the transgenerational grief and trauma associated with the Stolen Generation.

“For me, I didn’t have any positive role models,” Evans said.

“The guys from Surfing Vic used to come and grab us and take us surfing. Surfing kept me sane.”

Evans adored his role models who used to run the Surf Tour. It gave him purpose, support and direction.

“They invested a lot in me,” he said.

When he turned 18, he was offered a traineeship that changed his life.

In partnership with the AFL Sportsready program, Surfing Victoria found Evans a traineeship at the surf retailer Strappers. The leadership skills he had learned from the Tour and similar Surfing Victoria programs helped Evans earn a full-time job with Strappers, eventually becoming a manager of several stores across Victoria.

In his early 20s, Evans reflected on the impact the Tour had on his life and he decided to become a mentor. In fact, he went one better, and started a mentoring program called Strong Brother Strong Sister (SBSS).

The organisation now lends several staff members, including Evans himself, to help run the Surf Tour every year.

Campbell and his colleagues work closely with the communities they visit in the lead up to the Tour to ensure they’re delivering programs that will suit the people.

“It’s designed for community, by community. Jordie’s passion and generosity shines in that area,” Evans said.

Evans believes this is why the Tour continues to have success 21-years on.

“Sadly, over time we’ve seen a lot of events and projects that have come in and out of community. [They’re] more interested in helping the organisation than the people. With Surfing Vic and the Indigenous program, it’s an ongoing program and they make sure it happens every year,” Evans said.

The program has been running so long it’s starting to see a fresh new generation take part. New parents will bring their kids to the four-stop tour—starting this week—after they participated in their youth.

“Nieces, nephews, kids of previous participants are joining in now,” Campbell said.

“Last year our CEO Max came down [to the event] and recognised four different generations of families at the festival at Warrnambool,” Campbell says.

The tour is exclusively for Indigenous people and aims to fuel a sense of community by having a good time in the sun and surf.

The organisers work year-round to uphold a connection with the communities to ensure the energy on the day is high and the mentoring never vanishes.

“And they do it on a budget of next to nothing,” Evans said.

This year’s mentoring team includes Campbell, young competitive surfer Rikki Bell-Warren and long-time Tour mentor Anthony Hume, who was there when it all started in 1997. Evans will also volunteer his time to the four stops and bring members of SBSS for the ride.

“The thing I want to stress is that the Tour creates sustainability for community. Surfing Victoria are creating sustainable and attainable leaders and role models for community to break down cycles and continue a really cool pathway for community members to achieve,” Evans said.

“Also, it’s a really simple concept,” Evans said.

The longevity of the program has created connections across the country in the Indigenous surfing community and with that, pathways to the elite level.

“From learning surf skills on the Tour, to the Victorian Indigenous Surfing Titles, all the way to the Australian Indigenous Titles, it’s just one big family. I look at it as a modern-day gathering ceremony,” Evans said.

However, elite competition is not the primary outcome for Campbell on the Tour. He wants to see huge participation. Groms as young as five, to groms as young as 80, take part in the activities.

Participants not only learn how to rip, they’re also taught water safety, and everyone has to do a board rescue on the day.

A competition is also run for those with a competitive streak.

The first stop of the Surfing Victoria Regional Surf Tour 2018 is this Wednesday (September 26th) in Cape Conran with around 25 kids and adults expected to join in.

The communities in Inverloch, Bancoora and Cape Bridgewater will also enjoy some time in the sun and surf.

See Surfing Victoria’s Facebook page for all the details.

By Keiran Deck

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