We arrived at the Hyundai Surfing Australia High Performance Centre (HPC) to the sun shining, clear blue skies and not a breath of wind. The Soldier On Annual Intermediate Surfing Camp was finally happening! The group arrived at the centre to big smiles as James Milliss, a Senior Programs Officer at Soldier On, chatted with our participants. He’d driven from the Hunter Valley to be a part of this and was one of the original people to complete the program in 2016. He was pumped and excited, which was awesome to see.
In typical fashion, nearly the entire list of veteran surfers were ready too. Everyone was smiling and laughing while they introduced themselves to the group, and they quickly connected over their love of the ocean. Troy, a participant, commented, “This is such a great opportunity for veterans to get together and share their love of the ocean! A lot of veterans do spend a bit of time on their own, and it’s amazing to get them together in a sport they love, to bond and make mates for life”.
Raf (pro surfing coach and all-around legend of a bloke, Michael O’Rafferty) drove in and threw some shakas as a welcome. Raf has generously volunteered his time over the last couple of years for Soldier On and puts everyone at ease with his business-as-usual approach. What would be a stressful event to most, for Raf and the elite coaches, Maddi, Boogs and Samba, it’s another day doing what they love. Eager to see when we were heading out, Raf had checked the waves before arriving, and it was game on!
After a quick chat to see where everyone’s skill set was at, we loaded up the vans with 2-3 boards per surfer and headed out to Kingscliff Beach. Once there, we met Andy Morris, a photographer from 18 Seconds magazine. Andy had taken pictures last year and was on site again to give the gift that all surfers want – awesome action photos.
Conditions were rough for the afternoon surf. Wind, swell, chop and unpredictable waves, paddling out wouldn’t be easy. The attitude of everyone to get out there and work on their surfing, regardless, was incredible. Everyone was still smiling, having a laugh and ready for a rest when we left the beach a few hours later for dinner.
We are incredibly grateful to all staff and those in the background from the Hyundai Surfing Australia High Performance Centre for their efforts in making our veterans welcome during our stay and the gift of their knowledge and friendship.
Rico, another participant, added “I just wanted to thank Soldier On for the opportunity to be a part of the Surf program. For me, surfing has become my solace, and I am forever grateful. It has given me a new lease on life. I’ve learnt to appreciate the little things and the positive people around me”.
We are extremely excited to see where this relationship takes us – Soldier On will be back on the swell soon!