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.”