Story by Aaron Hughes
For the past eight years I've helped run the annual open ocean paddle event, Paddle Against Poverty, and watched it grow from a few eager grommets to almost 100 people of all shapes and sizes.
The event itself is now in its staggering fifteenth year - staggering because it was started by an even smaller handful of grommets than those that showed up for the first year I organised.
Prompted by the ambition to raise enough money to sponsor one child for a whole year through the organisation Compassion Australia, the frothing groms, along with their leaders in the local Christian Surfers group they were a part of - Mark Groves and Brett Davis - decided that a 'paddle-a-thon' would be a great way that they could raise money.
They would have their friends and family sponsor them to complete a distance paddle, and that money would cover the sponsorship of their child through Compassion. Not quite content with sponsoring just one child, they decided in one of the first planning meetings that if they could sponsor one, they could sponsor five - and commit to the ten years it would take to see all five of them the whole way through school!
While attendance numbers and amounts raised for the paddle have varied almost as much as a standard swell forecast on the East Coast, those original kids were indeed sponsored their whole way through school, which then led to the sponsorship of more children, along with many thousands given to children waiting to be sponsored and situations as diverse as the Japanese Tsunami relief effort and social development in Indonesia.
The event itself has become something of a rite of passage for up and coming grommets in the area; challenging their strength and abilities, whilst also opening their eyes to look beyond themselves and their situation to those less fortunate.
It's quite a legacy for those initial grommets, most of whom are still shredding the beaches of the Illawarra today and contributing what they can towards the paddle each year.
I'm stoked to put in what I can to see this great thing continue to grow, but it's their efforts that established the determination and credibility to think beyond themselves and pull off something as simple and crazy as an open ocean paddle as way to raise money for impoverished children in far away lands.
This year's paddle is happening Saturday, May 2 - leaving from either Wollongong or Stanwell Park, depending on conditions, and finishing in Thirroul. All are welcome to join in. Full information is online at www.paddleagainstpoverty.org.au. If you're not a paddler, you can donate online here.