9 May 2024

Surfers aim to raise $30,000 in 12-km paddle to improve life in struggling villages

| Graeme Burrill
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Aerial shot of paddleboarders leaving harbour.

The 24th annual Paddle Against Poverty will start from Wollongong Harbour this Saturday. Photos: Paddle Against Poverty.

Surfers from opposite sides of the continent will unite on Saturday (11 May) to help support struggling and disadvantaged overseas communities.

The annual Paddle Against Poverty will travel 12 km from Wollongong Harbour to Thirroul Beach, while for the first time, a group in Perth will paddle out.

Now in its 24th year, the event has grown from a small handful of keen surfers to a community event of more than 100 paddlers. Tens of thousands of dollars have been raised for impoverished children in countries where the local communities are often overlooked.

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Member of the Wollongong organising team Sandon Groves said the event, organised by Christian Surfers, was one way surfers could give back and support those in need.

“It’s essentially a way for us as surfers, or those in the surfing community, to give back to communities and individuals across the world whose waves we might often exploit, but whose standard of living might be significantly lower than what it should be,” he said.

“You travel overseas to somewhere like Indonesia, you surf these great waves, have fun, then come home.

“This is a way for us to honour those communities, whose waves we enjoy, and do something that’s really challenging for us, but is very closely tied in with our surfing culture and to give back to the community.”

Group of people with paddleboards.

Entrants in the 2002 Wollongong paddle.

Large group of people with paddleboards.

The event is continuing to grow in popularity, as shown in this picture from the 2023 paddle.

This year the two events aim to raise about $30,000 to be divided between three organisations – Surf Aid, Mercy Huts and Tear Fund.

Surf Aid and Mercy Huts help those on the ground on Rote Island in Indonesia.

Surf Aid helps to improve climate resilience in vulnerable communities in 12 villages in Rote by ensuring sustainable water access. Although most of the villages have access to water sources, mainly through wells, they are prone to becoming dry during the dry season.

Mercy Huts is dedicated to fostering community empowerment through education. The Image Learning Centre, an initiative of Mercy Huts, delivers community development, education and sustainability outcomes to meet the specific needs of West Rote.

Tear Fund works in the Solomon Islands to help local youths by running a training program for youth workers and helping with other community needs.

Paddle participants are required to raise at least $100 for the event, and seek donations to raise further funds.

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Sandon has been involved with Paddle Against Poverty for about 10 years, and loves the challenge of it.

“I think when you go through something that’s really hard with other people, it forces you to consider what’s important and why you’re doing it,” he said.

“Everyone’s tired by the end. It makes the idea of what we’re doing real to us, because the communities that we’re helping are going through significant amounts of pain, every day, in different ways.

“So this is kind of a way for us to do that together, in a way that’s actually going to positively and effectively help the people that we’re trying to support.”

The event is open to most ages – under 18s require parental or guardian permission and younger participants are able to paddle with direct parental supervision.

Sandon said entrants didn’t need to be surfers but required basic swimming abilities. They need to supply their own stand-up paddleboard, kayak or ocean ski.

If you can’t take part on the day, but would like to be involved and donate, visit the Paddle Against Poverty website.

Paddle Against Poverty will start at 8 am (registrations from 7 am) on Saturday 11 May at Wollongong Harbour. A barbecue lunch will be held at Thirroul at the end of the event.

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