Aged care operators go out of their way to recreate resident's fondest memories

It had been almost 50 years since Norman ‘Dot’ Kitson has been riding the barrels on his surfboard.

Now a 72-year-old resident at Bethanie in Western Australia, he is not as sure-footed as he once was. However, the former member of the City Beach Surf Riders Club in the 1960s and 1970s, still loves the board.

“We used to go to Margaret River, which was really big surf; it was great,” he says.

Norman hadn’t surfed since a serious car accident in Africa in 1974, which left one leg slightly shorter than the other.

With his mobility issues, Norman thought his surfing days would remain in the past until he started talking to Bethanie case worker Beth O’Donnell about how much he’d like to revisit them.

Beth arranged for Norman to meet Louis Kelly, a surf coach with Ocean Heroes, an organisation more accustomed to helping people with autism, to talk through his options.

“Norman is our first participant in the retirement age bracket – he's one of a kind for us,” Louis says.

Norman was up for the challenge, too.

“I thought, ‘well why not, give it a go’,” he says. “It’s down at Brighton Beach, where the surf’s not big and I have a life jacket on me anyway.”

Louis said once Norman got on the board for that first lesson, he was like a 20-year-old again, paddling straight out to the waves.

“I had to hold the board back so we didn’t get dumped! I didn’t think we’d make it beyond the break but we did and Norm set his mind on a wave and started paddling again. We managed to get a perfect little wave.”

Beth was there to watch the joy unfold.


“He just loved it! He was like a fish to water again – he lay on the board and started paddling and was going much faster than I expected.”


For Beth, the surfing safari is another way to help the Bethanie community reconnect with their passions.

"It’s about really listening to our clients and what's important to them,” she says. “We have a lady who loved to play the piano and I found a music therapist who works with people with cognitive impairments – now she plays the keyboard and sings every week. Another woman just wanted to get back to the zoo because she loved animals, so we got a therapy assistant, her oxygen and she had a day out at the zoo. Nothing’s impossible.”

While he’s still finding his feet, Norman is hoping to surf fortnightly.

“I’d like to be able to stand again, maybe if I have thongs where one is built up, but we’ll see,” he says.

Louis isn't ruling it out, either.

“Next would be getting a few more waves in the sessions without getting too tired. From there we could look at getting him to surf the wave on his knees. If Norm feels that he can find a way to stand on the board again, we will do our best to work with him.”

He said it was really special to see someone with such a deep love of surfing be able to experience it again. “We love that we can facilitate access to the ocean and surfing for people who may not have access otherwise, whether it’s for the first time or for the 1000th time.”

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A special thanks to our contributors



Caroline has a wealth of experience writing within the retirement and aged care sector and is a contributing journalist for the and agedcare101 blog and accompanying newsletters.

Ian Horswill


Ian is a journalist, writer and sub-editor for the aged care sector, working at The DCM Group. He writes for The Weekly Source, agedcare101, and the DCM Institute fortnightly newsletter Friday. Ian is in daily contact with CEOs of retirement living, land lease and the aged care operations and makes a new contact every week. He investigates media releases, LinkedIn and Facebook for a good source for ideas for stories.

Lauren Broomham

Retirement and Aged Care Journalist

Lauren is a journalist for, agedcare101 and The Donaldson Sisters. Growing up in a big family in small town communities, she has always had a love for the written word, joining her local library at the age of six months. With over eight years' experience in writing and editing, she is a keen follower of news and current affairs with a nose for a good story.

Jill Donaldson


Jill has been practicing as a clinical physiotherapist for 30 years. For the last 13 years she has worked solely in the Aged Care sector in more than 50 metropolitan and regional facilities. Jill has also toured care facilities in the US and Africa and is a passionate advocate for both the residents in aged care and the staff who care for them. She researches and writes for DCM Media.

Chris Baynes

DCM Media, agedcare101

Chris has been a journalist and publisher in the retirement village and aged care sectors for 11 years. He has visited over 250 retirement villages and 50 aged care facilities both within Australia and internationally. Chris is a regular speaker at industry conferences plus is a frequent radio commentator.

Annie Donaldson

Nurse and Carer

Annie has a long career in both nursing and the media. She has planned and co-ordinated the medical support from both international TV productions and major stadium events. In recent years she has been a primary family carer plus involved in structured carer support.