A surfing not-for-profit which introduces children with autism to the joy of surfing has been named one of the Heart Foundation’s 2019 Active Australia Innovation Challenge winners.
Surfing the Spectrum was formed by good mates, Tahlia Anderson and Aimee Blacker, to help autistic kids get active, be social and discover ocean surfing, a pastime that most people on the autism spectrum tend to avoid.
Blacker is a Port Macquarie local and Paediatric Occupational Therapist. Anderson grew up on the beaches of Newcastle and has been working in the disability sector for the better part of a decade. Together they created Surfing the Spectrum, which sees them partner with surf schools and volunteer coaches across NSW to introduce surfing as a form of physical therapy, fun and fitness for autistic kids and their families.
Surfing the Spectrum operates at beaches across Greater Sydney and the Hunter, with their latest event taking place at Avoca Beach on November 23, in partnership with the Central Coast Surf Academy.
The free to attend event for families of children with autism was the first Surfing the Spectrum event to take place on the Central Coast, with an army of local children descending on the beach to enjoy a day in the water. Blacker said around 60 families booked in for the day, with some travelling from as far as Mudgee to attend.
As a Heart Foundation Innovation Challenge winner, Surfing the Spectrum received a $10,000 grant to help grow its program, with Blacker confirming that they’ll be using the funds to deliver surfing sessions at more locations across the state. “It was our first time on the Coast and we’re really happy with the result, ” she said.
According to Blacker, the inaugural event was as much for herself and Anderson as it was for local families, with the day used to gain some valuable data on the feasibility of a semi-regular Surfing the Spectrum event for the Coast.
“We use the first event at new locations to gauge the vibe and assess the turnout from both families and volunteers and check feedback, ” she said.. “We can’t run these sessions without the support of surf schools and volunteers so they’re a pretty important factor to consider, but we’ll definitely be looking at bringing more events to the Coast. ”
Blacker said a big part of the idea behind Surfing the Spectrum was to help get kids settled into a regular hobby that keeps them physically fit and mentally stimulated, and that’s good news to the Heart Foundation, which will continue to champion local organisations, charities and businesses helping Australians to get active and take control of their heart health.
The Active Australia Innovation Challenge is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and will run annually until 2021.
Source: Media release, Nov 22 Siobhan McMahon, Heart Foundation Interview, Nov 25 Aimee Blacker, Surfing the Spectrum Dilon Luke, Journalist