“It’s a leap of faith but I know it’s a good thing, not only to keep me surfing but also to pass that down to the younger kids, rather than handing them drugs or something to drink,” Shaun Longbottom says of the surf club he directs. “I’m passionate about that. I’ve seen a lot of kids who have made a couple of the wrong decisions and maybe I can help them. ”The surfer and park ranger, who grew up on La Perouse Aboriginal reserve, NSW, is speaking from experience. No stranger to being on the wrong side of the law, he is now determined to make La Perouse Boardriders Indigenous Corporation a force of good in his community.
“I was never the best kid growing up, I was always in trouble. I was close to being in jail,” the father-of-four says. “But I turned my life around I’ve had kids and I have a full-time job for the government. I’m so sure of what I’m doing, I just can’t stop.”
The club has a long heritage and was started in 1959 to give a platform to local and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander surfers. Offering an alternative to football, surfing gave the community the opportunity to go on surf trips and to compete in events. The club lost energy and was then successfully reinstated by Shaun’s father and his cousins about 30 years ago before once again falling through.
“About four years ago, I started surfing again and I thought it would be great to see if we could try to start the club back up give it a new lease of life,” he says. “I sat down with my dad and asked him where he went wrong. I wanted to start an organisation that could run a surf comp monthly and could service the community by providing surf lessons and ocean awareness workshops.”
With the help of his cousins, Shaun has incorporated the club and received funding for training and coaches. It is open to all surfers and has about 50 members, 16 of whom headed to Bells Beach for the 2018 Australian Indigenous Surfing Titles. By creating a competitive club with fixtures up and down the coast, he says, youngsters will have something to work towards and fill their time with.
“The kids are going to be excited, they’re going to feel like they’re important, they’re special. With those feelings, they’re going to want to try to better themselves.” Training, eating well and proper preparation will all follow, he predicts. He aims to set up an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander surf comp in Maroubra and wants as many club members as possible to complete their Bronze Medallion lifesaving qualification.
“I’ve got a vision and I know it’s going to work,” he says. “Our ultimate outcome is to make a better person out of that kid. Through surfing, it creates a whole different realm, the way that you look at things and the way that you hold yourself. If we can create better people, the whole community is going to be a better place.”
And, at the heart of his commitment to surfing is a family heritage and connection to the ocean that he can’t ignore.
“We eat from the ocean, it’s our playground. I don’t want to change the world, I just want to try to help and create some surf comps and surf trips where there’s a good environment,” he says. “Because, I remember when I was a kid, my father used to take me on surf trips. We’d just surf and bond and, when I think back on it, all I can remember is happiness.”
“I’m passionate about that. I’ve seen a lot of kids who have made a couple of the wrong decisions and maybe I can help them.”
The surfer and park ranger, who grew up on La Perouse Aboriginal reserve, NSW, is speaking from experience. No stranger to being on the wrong side of the law, he is now determined to make La Perouse Boardriders Indigenous Corporation a force of good in his community.