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Surfest Indigenous Classic makes waves for Aboriginal community

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Gifted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander surfing sensations will converge on Newcastle this weekend for the Surfest Indigenous Classic.

The two-day schedule, sponsored by the NSW Government’s Regional Aboriginal Partnerships Program (RAPP), is set to take place at Merewether Beach on Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 March.

And, competitors are primed to showcase their skills in the open men’s and women’s, pro junior men’s and women’s, and open masters’ divisions.

The event also kick-starts a big fortnight for the popular sporting extravaganza, with the Newcastle Racecourse Women’s Pro (Merewether Beach), Burton Automotive Pro (Merewether Beach) and The Mutual Bank High Schools Team Challenge (South Bar Beach) to follow.

Between heats on the weekend, participants and spectators can stroll over to a temporary Aboriginal business hub at nearby Jefferson Park and enjoy all-ages activities, including arts, crafts and textiles stalls, which share the rich history and culture of the local Awabakal and Worimi peoples.

Indigenous competitors and fans have the opportunity to drop into the hub’s Aboriginal services pop-ups, too, to meet and yarn with prospective employers and training providers who’ll offer an exciting range of employment and upskilling pathways.

As part of the $84,077 sponsorship, Surfest is also providing additional support to regional Aboriginal communities by setting procurement targets with trophies sourced from locals, such as artist Alex Nean.

For the past six years, he’s handmade all the “silverware” for the Indigenous Classic while arranging the Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony.

After creating the unique awards, he works with other Aboriginal artists to paint them annually, making it a real team effort.

However, this weekend marks the end of an era as Nean is retiring, ensuring the 2024 competition is his last.

Minister for the Hunter Yasmin Catley will tour the Aboriginal business hub on Sunday, before congratulating competitors at the 2pm presentation.

The Swansea MP admitted she was looking forward to the event.

“Surfing is part of our story in the Hunter and Surfest is a huge reason why,” she said.

“This is the beach, at Merewether, that Mark Richards made famous with his four world titles.

“To celebrate First Nations surfers like this is a fantastic part of Surfest.

“The Indigenous Classic has come a long way in 26 years.

“It started as The Kooris V The Cops and, today, it’s among the premier Indigenous sports competitions in Australia.”

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs David Harris agreed.

“The Department of Regional NSW has worked closely with Surfest organisers to connect them with Aboriginal businesses and mob to create new employment and training pathways in a culturally appropriate way, while championing the importance of regional social, cultural and economic causes,” he said.

“Initiatives within the Regional Aboriginal Partnerships Program are planned through community consultation and collaboration.

“So, I’m proud that it helps to strengthen Aboriginal communities and Close the Gap by creating additional opportunities for Aboriginal people.”

Twelve-time Indigenous Classic champion Russ Molony is a legend of the event.

In fact, the open men’s division trophy remains named in the Central Coaster’s honour.

While he won’t be competing in 2024, he said it was important to bring First Nations surfers – and the wider community – together.

“It’s vital to involve everyone when spreading awareness about Aboriginal culture and knowledge,” Molony said.

“My advice to fellow Aboriginal surfers is to give Surfest a go, have fun, connect with your mobs and enjoy our connection to the ocean.

“The Indigenous comps are always a good reminder to gather, share stories, surf, listen and inspire each other.”

It all starts with a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony, from 8am on Saturday, which features dance groups from local communities and schools.

2024 Surfest schedule

  • Saturday 9 – Sunday 10 March: Surfest Indigenous Classic (Merewether Beach)
  • Monday 11 – Sunday 17 March: Newcastle Racecourse Women’s Pro (Merewether Beach)
  • Monday 11 – Sunday 17 March: Burton Automotive Pro (Merewether Beach)
  • Thursday 14 – 15 Friday March: The Mutual Bank High Schools Team Challenge (South Bar Beach)

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