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Byron Shire
April 14, 2024

Sydney to Surfers riders roll into Ballina for a great cause

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Riding from Sydney to Surfers for Youth Off The Streets are Zac, Johnny, Jamie, Josh and Mia. Photo David Lowe.

80 cyclists pedalled into Ballina from Grafton yesterday, just one of seven long days in the saddle for participants in the Sydney to Surfers Robbo’s Ride. This annual event raises funds for Father Chris Riley’s not-for-profit organisation Youth Off The Streets, which is tackling youth homelessness head-on in Sydney.

John Martin is a Sydney teacher who has ridden the event seven times, but is playing a moral support role in the team car this time round, due to a recently broken wrist. He spoke to The Echo about a group of young people associated with Youth Off The Streets who are riding the entire distance this year, despite very limited cycling experience.

One of the packs in the Sydney to Surfers ride for Youth Off The Streets arrives in Ballina. Photo David Lowe.

Keeping off the main freeway, the riders are taking the long way north, with a total distance of 1,000 kilometres. The five young people participating in the ride this year are from schools in Western Sydney.

Have the kids done much training? ‘Following COVID, we didn’t get a chance to do as much training as we would have liked. The maximum anyone’s done in one day was 30 kilometers,’ said Mr Martin.

So they’re going over 100 kilometers a day since leaving Sydney – how are they coping? They’re having a great time, mostly! I’m cheering them on as they go through the milestone destinations.’

Youth Off The Streets (except when they’re pedalling on the road)

Could you tell us more about what the ride is raising money for? ‘Youth Off The Streets essentially takes care of a lot of students who are homeless or have experienced trauma and abuse in their lives,’ said Mr Martin.

Another happy rider arrives in Ballina on the epic fundraising ride. Photo Davd Lowe.

He explained that Rotary Engadine has supported the event for 25 years, with $3.5 million raised in that time (they are now looking for a new major sponsor to join Macsim, Kelloggs and others).

He said all money donated to youthoffthestreets.com.au went straight to supporting young people in need ‘with their recess, lunch, breakfast, food hampers, hygiene, shelter, accommodation – all the things that we provide.

‘That is exactly where your money goes towards with this ride in particular. Great things happen!’

John Martin said the weather had been great for the ride so far, with most people being very hospitable.

‘We might upset a few people by making them a bit late to their destination,’ he said. ‘But for the most part, everyone knows what we’re doing and what we’re trying to achieve. And they know that the students are actually on the ride as well. So they’re like,
“Well done to you!” Let’s cheer them on. It’s been great.’

Riding from Sydney to Surfers for Youth Off The Streets are Mia, Josh, Jamie, Johnny and Zac. Photo David Lowe.

Knock on effects

Mr Martin said that after previous years, student riders had been contacted by major cycling clubs, ‘because they’ve done the entire 1,000 kilometres, and sometimes with the faster packs.

‘Now they’re a part of the cycling community. Some have started bike mechanic jobs, others have done cycling scholarships, all sorts of things.

‘This year, we’ve got one young fella at the moment who’s really enjoying it, and he’s never done cycling before. There’s a few great mentors on this ride.’

And how are they coping fitness-wise? That’s a lot of kilometres each day for people who aren’t used to it. ‘What they’ve found mostly is the resilience, the mind fitness. While the physical fitness may not be at peak – myself very much included! – they’ve realised how strong they are mentally.

‘So that hill, both metaphorically and physically, is no longer something they can’t overcome.’


Mr Martin has been impressed at the way everyone is supporting each other. ‘They are pushing each other up the hills, and we’ve got teachers and youth workers and councillors here too, everyone’s helping. But absolutely yeah, it’s a real bonding experience for them.

Olympic and Commonwealth Games cyclist Katey Bates. Wikipedia CC.

‘It’s just been inspirational.’

He said SBS TV’s Tour de France stalwart Mike Tomalaris is involved in Sydney To Surfers, along with Olympian and Commonwealth Games cyclist Katey Bates, who’s running a virtual race program in conjunction with the ride on Zwift.

The riders will all be setting off again from Ballina early this morning, and heading north. Give them a wave if you see them on the road, and remember it’s not too late to support, Youth Off The Streets, here.

If you’re interested in riding the event yourself next year, or getting involved as a sponsor, go here to find out more.

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