Five years ago, adaptive surfing world champion Mark ‘Mono’ Stewart started working on a big idea.
The Byron local decided it was time to bring a world championship event to Australia to showcase the skills of the world’s best surfers with a disability.
Last week, Mono announced that the big idea was going to become a big reality, and that it would happen in his home town.
Byron Bay will host the first international adaptive surfing event to be held in Australia from March 17 to March 22 next year – the 2024 Australian Pro.
The championship will be held at surfing breaks at and around The Pass, and will feature around 100 competitors from nine separate divisions to cater for most physical disabilities, including amputation, neurological impairment, paralysation and visual impairment.
The event is an historic moment for the sport and the Shire, and Mono hopes it will raise awareness about adaptive surfing among the wider community, showcasing the talents of athletes competing at the top level.
‘These are full-on athletes – their stories are amazing,’ Mono says.
‘If they had to park their wheelchairs at Main Beach and hop down to The Pass they would.’
He also hopes that the event will encourage Australians with a disability to give surfing a try, and act as an inspiration.
‘We want people to know that even if people have an accident or something happens, there’s hope,’ he said.
‘When I lost my leg back in 1976, there wasn’t much out there to look at in terms of surfing with a disability.
‘I was lucky to get huge support from the local surfing community, but there weren’t really any boards or wetsuits or anything like that for people with a disability.
‘I really want to fast track that process for people who want to get involved. We’ve got everything you need to get involved now – from adaptive boards and wetsuits, through to organisations to help people get involved.
‘A guy got in touch with me a little while ago, and he’d recently become a paraplegic in an accident and we were able to get him straight onto the right board and set him up with the right people.
‘A month ago, he won a competition in Hawaii, surfing prone. It was amazing.’
Mono and the other event organisers are hoping the local community will get behind the event by attending the competition and volunteering to support it.
He is also seeking additional sponsorship from local businesses or philanthropists. Those interested in supporting the event are invited to email: [email protected].