SAND and surf are symbolic of Australian culture but for some of our newest Coffs Coast residents, from countries as diverse as Burma and Burundi - many of them landlocked - the ocean can be a big unknown beast.
That’s why Coffs Harbour’s St John's Anglican Church, with funding from Anglicare, enlisted the help of East Coast Surf School to transform the unfamiliar into an aquatic playground and through education about water safety, a safe playground at that.
Starting on Monday, a large group of 12-25-year-olds from Togo, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Congo, Burundi and Burma have been learning how to swim (in a pool first) before hitting the beach, being taught how to read the conditions and catching waves on body and surfboards.
Obouko Agnatson travelled to Coffs Harbour from Togo more than one year ago but the program was the first time she has ventured into the ocean.
“I have been swimming in a pool and walked on the sand at the beach but never gone into the water before Monday,” Obouko said.
“I like the cold water and it was good to get out there and catch waves. I caught two waves yesterday, which was fun and I’m going to get more waves today.”
Rita Langler was the force behind the initiative.
“Many of our migrant youth are from landlocked countries and the ocean environment is unfamiliar to them. Given that the ocean is such a huge part of Australian culture it is important for these young people to participate,” Ms Langler said.
“Participants will learn about water safety and be taught swimming, surfing, kayaking, snorkelling and bodyboarding."
East Coast Surf School’s Helene Enevoldson said the youth would learn to read rips, tides, swells and be better equipped to stay safe around water whether it is the ocean, rivers, creeks or swimming pools.
“They have been embracing the lessons and are so grateful to be given this opportunity.”