Dot rides the waves once more

Publish date: 7 December 2023

The waves may not be as big as those he once rode and he’s far from sure-footed, but Norman ‘Dot’ Kitson loves being back on a board after almost 50 years.

The 72-year-old Bethanie client was a regular with the City Beach Surf Riders Club in the 1960s and 1970s, earning the nickname Dot for the large coloured circle a friend placed over his damaged surfboard.

“We used to go to Margaret River, which was really big surf; it was great,” he says.

Norman hadn’t surfed, however, since a serious car accident in Africa in 1974, which left one leg slightly shorter than the other.

Living with mobility issues, Norman thought his surfing days would remain in the past until he started talking to Bethanie case worker Beth O’Donnell about how much he’d like to revisit them.

Beth arranged for Norman to meet Louis Kelly, a surf coach with Ocean Heroes, an organisation more accustomed to helping people with autism, to talk through his options.

“Norman is our first participant in the retirement age bracket – he's one of a kind for us,” Louis says.

Norman was up for the challenge, too. “I thought, ‘well why not, give it a go’,” he says. “It’s down at Brighton Beach, where the surf’s not big and I have a life jacket on me anyway.”

Louis said once Norman got on the board for that first lesson, he was like a 20-year-old again, paddling straight out to the waves.

“I had to hold the board back so we didn’t get dumped! I didn’t think we’d make it beyond the break but we did and Norm set his mind on a wave and started paddling again. We managed to get a perfect little wave.”

Beth was there to watch the joy unfold. “He just loved it! He was like a fish to water again – he lay on the board and started paddling and was going much faster than I expected!”

For Beth, the surfing safari is another way to help the Bethanie community reconnect with their passions. "It’s about really listening to our clients and what's important to them,” she says. “We have a lady who loved to play the piano and I found a music therapist who works with people with cognitive impairments – now she plays the keyboard and sings every week. Another woman just wanted to get back to the zoo because she loved animals, so we got a therapy assistant, her oxygen and she had a day out at the zoo. Nothing’s impossible.”

And that includes finding an easier way for Norman to get down to the water. With the trek from the carpark and across the sand proving more testing than the surf, Norman’s next session was delayed so that Beth could find a beach wheelchair for him. “We wanted to be able reserve his energy so he can have more time in the water,” she says.

While he’s still finding his feet, Norman is hoping to make it a fortnightly occasion. “I’d like to be able to stand again, maybe if I have thongs where one is built up, but we’ll see,” he says.

Louis isn't ruling it out, either. “Next would be getting a few more waves in the sessions without getting too tired. From there we could look at getting him to surf the wave on his knees. If Norm feels that he can find a way to stand on the board again, we will do our best to work with him.”

He said it was really special to see someone with such a deep love of surfing be able to experience it again. “We love that we can facilitate access to the ocean and surfing for people who may not have access otherwise, whether it’s for the first time or for the 1000th  time.”

It may not have been Norman’s first time, but Beth is certain of how much this return to the waves meant to him. “He sat on the board afterwards and I sat down on the sand with him and asked ‘so what was that like?’, and he said, ‘it just brought so many good memories back, thank you’.”

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