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Little Rippaz: Surf Lifesaving Program for Kids With a Disability

Nippers programs are a bronzed-Aussie tradition on our beaches, and a new program is set to make them more accessible to kids who have special needs. Councils along the east coast of Australia are rolling out these unique new programs, designed to include disabled children in their surf lifesaving programs.

Making beaches more accessible

An increasing number of councils and communities are making a series of minor and often inexpensive changes to ensure that our beautiful coastline can be enjoyed by people with a disability. Some of the changes include the provision of beach wheelchairs with large tires, all-terrain wheelchairs for bushwalking, and beach matting to create pathways to the water. In addition to improvements designed to improve physical access there are also surf lifesaving programs which have been tweaked to accomodate children with disabilities.

Little Rippaz and the Starfish Nippers

Starfish Nippers is one such program, a life-saving skills program for children with special needs. It was started at the Anglesea Life Saving Club by Janet Jones, a long term member who developed a modified program after her friend’s child – who has Down Syndrome – found the mainstream version too overwhelming. Nobby’s Surf Life Saving Club has the Little Rippaz, a program which includes board riding, beach flags, sprints, sack races, sand castle building, soccer and water activities. Each child has two water safety people who are lifesavers.

Equipping disabled children with vital skills

The south-east coast of Queensland has had programs running since 2013, where kids are taught to swim and surf safely with one-on-one support from club members. Known as Seahorse Nippers, it was started by the Noosa Surf Lifesaving Club and was expanded to include four more programs at other beaches. All programs have had a great uptake and the kids are learning vital skills they need to enjoy the beach in a safe manner, from water confidence to boy surfing and basic rules like swimming between the flags.

Australians have always been a surf loving culture, and programs like this are a great step forward in facilitating access for children with disabilities, teaching them how to stay safe while enjoying everything our beautiful beaches have to offer.

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