Surfing Australia Q&A with Emma Dieters

Published on 07/02/2024

Emma Dieters is not only the founder of the Northern Beaches Para Surfer Boardriders club but also a competitor herself. In February 2021, Em’s life was turned upside down. She was left an incomplete quadriplegic at age 42, after routine surgery for a bulging disc went terribly wrong. But she never allowed this setback to deter her. A chance encounter with Sam Bloom, whose story was featured in the film ‘Penguin Bloom,’ reignited Em’s passion for surfing. Now, she’s the one inspiring others.

Em, you set up the Northern Beaches Para Surfer Boardriders club last year, tell us about that…

Yeah, that came about as I saw quite a large gaping hole in the pathway to national and international competition of the para surfer who was just starting out. Not everyone wants to dive straight into an Australian Championships for their first competition. Also for the current Irukandjis team there would only be two chances at competing under competitive conditions per year under Surfing Australia team events. There are a handful of adaptive pro tour surfing events you can compete at as an individual but most of those are a very long way from Australian shores. However it’s a bit exciting that in March the first ever stop on the Association of Adaptive Surfing Professionals (AASP) is being brought here by event director Mono Stewart in Byron Bay! It sounds like it is going to be a massive event.

What is your vision for the club? Where do you see it in say five, or 10 years time?

2023 was a bit of a trial run but it went surprisingly well. We were extremely well supported by Mona Vale Boardriders Club. We are super grateful for their help in providing us a platform to launch from. We will integrate with them until we become a bit too big numbers-wise for them to handle. Also, we obviously have many other considerations regarding safety and logistics that need to be met. The hope is to become mobile and utilise many of the beautiful locations on the Northern Beaches. Mona Vale of course always being our home beach. 

We welcome surfers from anywhere to come try out the sport of para surfing. The template we create I hope will duplicate across many surf-side regions and the para surfers in those regions support and mentor others into the sport. Eventually, we hope to have inter-club battles just like mainstream sport does. I am meeting up with some of the guys from Surfing NSW soon so I am looking forward to hearing what they have to say and we can map out a solid plan. This niche of the sport won’t be wiping out anytime soon

Para surfing, also known as Adaptive Surfing, is a rapidly growing sport. What has been your experience in seeing that growth?

Para surfing is still relatively niche compared to traditional surfing but with some big efforts to promote inclusion, accessibility, and support for adaptive surfers, it is expected that the sport will continue to expand and provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

As far as my involvement in the ISA World Para Surfing Championships in 2022 and 2023 the average age of the team Australia was well over 40. It has decreased a bit with some younger crew coming on board. The team in 2023 included Annie Goldsmith from SA who is 16 and Kai Colless QLD, 17. The more awareness of the sport in the wider community the more competitive the sport will get and the more the average age of the competitor will decrease. This is where the grassroots clubs become so important. To encourage and mentor younger competitors as well as just having fun and being a supportive community. It’s where many people get their rehabilitation or therapy with out even trying. Ocean therapy as we like to call it. Often people have come to the sport from traumatic life events. This is why the boardrider clubs are so important. It is about more than just surfing. It’s community.

We have had a lot of support from Surfing Australia, Surfing NSW and from local businesses and we have a major financial supporter Pittwater RSL. It’s people like this that see what we are trying to achieve that are making it happen.

You won Gold for Australia at your first ever world championship and now there’s a new crop of surfers leading the way. The future is certainly looking bright for Aussie para athletes…

Yeah, that was a super surreal experience. I had only done the Aussies and surfed a handful of times before that win in 2022. Suddenly I was being hoisted up onto Chook and Cam’s shoulders. It was all a bit of a blur. In 2023 it was just pure relief and exhaustion. I’d gone up a division halfway through the year, to Prone 1 (un-assist). I had worked so hard at physio and in the gym as well as in the water. But yeah the team as a whole did amazingly well. We had seven surfers surf the finals. Team Australia came sixth overall. If Australia can just get a full team it’d be super competitive. I reckon in the not too distant future with the likes of Kai and Annie leading the charge we would be challenging the current big teams like USA and France.

I’m really stoked to have been a part of team Australia to this point. If I am not in the team myself I hope that the club and other clubs to come in future years are to produce some of the best future World Champions. It would be repaying the gift that the sport has given me. It’s given me physical and mental strength to deal with my disability and helped push me out of my comfort zone. Its been a heap of fun along the way meeting so many awesome people.

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