SHOALHAVEN was well represented at the recent Australian Indigenous Surfing Titles at Bells Beach in Victoria.
The chance to surf at the famous Bells Beach was a dream come true for locals Walter Stewart and Daniel Malcon, who were in the open’s category, while Wayne Carberry and Ronnie Thomas competed in the masters section.
The four competitors, who all work for the health department, surfed under the banner of the Shoalhaven and made the 17-hour long bus trip along with Aboriginal elder John Pender, his son Jaylan and Ewan Thomas, who all played a mentoring role.
Due to the time of year, they had to battle against near freezing water temperatures, but they said it was worth it just to be out there.
Daniel Malcon said his body was seizing up due to the water temperature at times and found it hard to stand up, but still thought it was an amazing experience.
Malcon had a bit of bad luck when a fin dropped off his board at the start of his heat, but continued to surf anyway.
“I was already in the water, so there was nothing I could do,” he said.
“It was a bit of a shame, but after that I didn’t care about the competition anymore. I was just happy to be out there.
“We had plenty of laughs and shared stories while we were there, then finished with a corroboree on the last night.
“It’s something to look back on as a part of our own history, it was a really big cultural thing.”
John Pender said it was hard to not be out there surfing with them, but enjoyed his mentor job, often shouting advice over a megaphone during the competition.
Pender said he saw them all as heroes and could not be more proud of what they have done for the Shoalhaven.
“Being a mentor I had lumps in my throat and I had to wipe away the tears at times,” he said.
“I was just so proud of the boys for being out there,” he added.
It was the first time any of them had been to Bells Beach and Pender said he was amazed to see just how beautiful the area is.
“I had my doubts about Victoria in the past, but now I couldn’t say a bad word about it,” he said.
“It’s the most beautiful country and water I’ve ever seen.
“I think we were all ready to move down there by the end of it.”
For Pender, the only disappointing thing was the lack of interest shown by the media and he said he would like to see the event get more attention in the future.
“I couldn’t believe it, but I never saw any media down there and that was really sad,” he said.
“None of the big surfing brands were on board as sponsors either.
“These are the best indigenous surfers in the country, some of them have won some really big titles over the years and I’d like to see people stand up and take notice.”
Pender is hoping they can go back next year with an even stronger contingent and wanted to encourage any local male or female surfers to come with them and make it bigger and better.
Pender is currently battling a bone disease, which has limited his competing lately, but he said he was determined to get back in the water.
“I really want to be there next year, even if I come last, I don’t care,” he said.
“These guys have inspired me and I’ll make sure I’m there one day.”