While Byron attracts surfers of amazing skill, there have only been a few world champions.
Mark ‘Mono’ Stewart is counted among the best of the best, having just won both the amateur and professional surfing events in his category at this year’s World Championship of the inaugural Association of Adaptive Surfing Professionals (AASP): Any Knee Kneeling (AKK) in Adaptive Surfing.
Stewart has built on his past performance of winning three of the Association of Adaptive Surfing Amateur titles since its inception in 2015 – not bad for an old fella – that’s right, Mono will turn 60 next year, and a few weeks ago he beat a group whose average age is 28.
Stewart, who lost his right leg above the knee when he was 15, says he was always a keen surfer, but post-surgery he soon realised that in the ocean he became like everyone else.
‘That sort of started my surfing career. One thing I thought I could do was get back into the ocean and learn to surf again. Being in the ocean you feel normal – no one notices that you’ve got one leg, and it’s such a healing environment too.
‘I had a lot of support from friends and other people in the surf industry.
‘They’d design boards for me and gave me some tough love. When I was young, the best thing that happened was my mates just treated me like me.
‘I sort of didn’t even look at myself as being disabled. I just treated myself as just like everyone else, but I’m missing a limb.
Best parking spots
‘I didn’t even have a disabled parking sticker until ten years ago, but now I wish I had done it 20 years ago – I get all the best parking spots at the surf breaks!’
Stewart says his current board has a hollow on the side that his knee goes in and he feels lucky to have it, but what doesn’t come easy as an adaptive surfer, is sponsorship.
Surfers at Stewart’s level on the ASP/WSL tour would have sponsors coming out of their thrusters, but as a World Champion on the AASP tour, Stewart hasn’t attracted such attention.
‘I have product sponsors, and I’m lucky because I win quite a bit, so the prize money helps out, but I’ve always supported myself’.
Married with three kids, now that he is on the professional tour, there is more chance for them to travel on the circuit with him. ‘I love surfing. They all love surfing. My wife Deb, she’s my number one supporter.’
Stewart says he is hopeful that the Paralympics introduces surfing to its roster. ‘It’ll be good – we’ll really be able to get the younger guys and girls involved and give them something to aim for’.
If that happens, Stewart will go down in history as one of the pioneers of the sport.
‘I wish that all happened 20 years ago, but that’s cool. It’s good to be known as sort of one of the forefathers of the sport. I’m one of the oldest guys still competing. I’m paving the way for the new guys, which is cool.’