Bay Surfer Stands Tall: GO SON!
HE’S the one-legged surfer making impressive waves on the world stage.Byron Bay’s Mark Stewart is the first world champion of adaptive surfing, a new name for surfers previously known as disabled.
“I hate the word disabled,’’ says Stewart, who lost his right leg to bone cancer at the age of 16.
With the self-deprecating nickname of ‘Mono’, Stewart clearly wasn’t the sort of bloke to sit around feeling sorry for himself.
He slowly learned to surf again, first on a boogie board and then a modified kneeboard. Unlike many other amputee surfers, he does not use a prosthetic limb.
Last September, at the age of 53, he won the inaugural International Surfing Association World Adaptive Surfing Championship in La Jolla, California.
This week, on the Tweed Coast, he competed in the first Australian adaptive surfing titles and took out two divisions to qualify for this year’s world titles.
“Surfing’s kept me alive and kept me inspired — it’s good for the body as well as the soul,’’ Stewart said.
“It’s such a leveller. You can surf with people and they don’t even realise you’ve got one leg until you get out of the water.
“I had a young boy come up to me in Indonesia not long ago who told me ‘if I ever lose a leg, I want to surf just like you’. It was like wow, pretty heart-wrenching stuff.’’
Surfing Australia, the sport’s Kingscliff-based governing national body, is getting behind adaptive surfing in a big way. It has also formed a partnership with the charity Soldier On so injured and traumatised servicemen and women can enjoy the therapy of riding the waves.
“There are so many people that are worse off than me, that inspire me,’’ Stewart said.
“I’m lucky, I’m only missing a leg.”