13 February 2022

'Seeing their smiles means the world': Moruya Surf Club's 'Special Nippers' brings waves of joy for disabled kids

| Tom McGann
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Mike, Marks, Jordan, Marco and Steve

Mike, Mark, Jordan, Marco and Steve at Moruya Surf Club’s ‘Special Nippers.’ Photo: Supplied.

In 2011, Moruya Surf Club members Mike and Liz Hallahan and Cath Taylor travelled to Pambula Surf Club to experience a surf disability program that Michele and Peter Bootes had initiated 12 years earlier. After seeing it. they brought the idea of ‘Special Nippers’ back to Moruya Surf Club.

Michele and Peter mentored Moruya Surf Club members through the early years of Special Nippers and 11 years on, it is still running and responding to real need in the community.

‘Special Nippers’ is a weekly program running through first term from February to Easter, for kids and young adults with disabilities with a focus on having fun and experiencing the beach while giving parents some respite and time to relax.

The program is social time for the kids while also helping them learn water skills to feel safer at the beach.

Mike Hallahan says he knew he had to introduce it to the Moruya Surf Club as soon as they experienced it.

“When we saw the program down in Pambula, I was embarrassed that we didn’t have it here,” Mike said.

The program runs at Shelly Beach in Moruya with the main goal of the program to provide a fun and safe environment for the kids to experience the beach and water, while giving parents time to relax.

Bridie and Carol Young share the co-ordination role with Mike, with everyone being supported by a team of volunteers.

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Renee Baker is the mother of 14-year-old Jackson, who has been a member of Special Nippers since he was seven.

Mrs Baker says it means the world to her seeing her son have fun at the program and spending those Saturday mornings in a social setting.

“These volunteers have given up their Saturday mornings to spend time with these kids,” she said.

“They’re such nice, good people.”

Mrs Baker stressed the importance of having the time for herself to relax while her son gets to play in the water.

“It’s also great for the parents,” she said.

“Jackson is super busy all the time – you always need an eye watching him; so having those few hours to just sit on the beach is something I appreciate.”

While Mrs Baker enjoys using the time to relax, she says seeing the kids having fun is what it’s all about.

“He doesn’t get to go out and do a heap of things,” she said.

“So seeing their smiles means the world.”

With such a large and popular program which is continuing to grow every year, volunteers are an important commodity.

“Our volunteer cohort also attracts members from the Broulee and Narooma Surf Club’s which shows great collaboration between clubs,” Mike said.

“We’ve also had people come down from Canberra to help, everyone loves being a part of the program.”

Volunteer roles range from sitting in the water with the kids, hanging with kids on the sand who don’t want to go into the water, working the sausage sizzle at the end of each day or taking photos for the parents.

“We have a job for everyone,” he said.

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Volunteers do not need any qualifications, other than a good dose of compassion and a willingness to laugh and have fun according to Mr Hallahan.

Mike emphasised how much Special Nippers means for the kids with each member receiving an award at the end of each season.

“Even though the kids have physical challenges, they always love receiving their awards,” he said.

“During the fires, two girls who are members had to evacuate and the first things they packed were their awards – it means the world to them.”

Mike says anyone considering becoming a volunteer should come down and spend a day with the kids in the water, but it does come with a warning – their joy is infectious.

“While the kids may have disabilities, they have a unique ability to bring the best our in people which is clearly evident in the program’s volunteers,” he said.

Moruya Surf Club’s Special Nippers runs every Saturday morning from February to Easter from 10:30am to 1 pm at Shelly Beach.

If you are interested in volunteering, you can call Mike on 0244 744 046 or email him at [email protected].

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