Surfers unite in farewell
By UTE SCHULENBERG
IN an overwhelming show of affection for Sawtell surfer Ben Rodgers and support for his grieving family, hundreds of people gathered at Sawtell Beach for a special ceremony on Saturday.
Close friend and organiser Ty Gillon said the ceremony was a way for local kids to say goodbye to Ben, who died while bodyboarding at Sawtell's Main Beach a week ago.
"Ben and I were at primary school together, we were very close," Ty said.
"A lot of us wanted to do something earlier in the week, but decided to wait until the weekend.
"Me and my mate posted a bulletin on MySpace and the word spread from there."
Ty estimated more than 200 surfers paddled out, many with flowers, to form a huge circle in memory of their friend.
"We had one minute's silence and then we did a big splash, where we yelled and went crazy before paddling in ? it needed to be done.
"It's helped me to feel better because now I've done something."
The surfers were watched from the beach by hundreds of people, including Ben's parents, Ray and Debbie, and his younger brother Tom.
A barbecue had been set-up to feed the crowd with food donated from local businesses.
Ty said the size of the gathering showed how widely Ben was known and liked.
"Everyone who knew him, knew he was such a nice person."
He also acknowledged Ben's death had changed how he and other local surfers thought about surfing.
"It was a wierd feeling at first paddling out into the surf, knowing what had happened," Ty said.
"We've been talking about the need to wear an arm rope and it's made us all realise how important it is to surf in groups."
Ben's father, Ray Rodgers, said it was very gratifying to see the Australian spirit of mateship was alive and well.
"The family took great strength from seeing the crowd," Mr Rodgers said.
A date for Ben's funeral will be set as soon as the coroner has completed his report.