SUPKids - Australia

In 2014 Linzi Hawkin and Mick Wilcomes introduced Stand Up Paddling to an Aboriginal community in Far North Queensland, since then the message of water safety, environmental education has become top news on the bush telegraph.

Now, the program has gone global, with kids learning to SUP in Africa, America and Asia.

SUPKids teaching Indigenous communities in FNQ

- Interview with founder, Linzi Hawkin

How much of an issue is water safety and protection of the environment in indigenous communities in Australia?

Water safety is an issue worldwide, but so often, as a society, we focus on coastal regions and forget about inland waters. Australia is such a perfect example of this, with a thriving lifesaving scene in almost every beach town, but such a high percentage of drownings happening inland. Our aim at SUPKids is to blend SUP, water safety and environmental education together for kids age 5-12. We really believe that when kids fall in love with SUP, there’s a win win situation. Kids spend more time outside, they connect to their local environment, they stay fit & healthy,and they develop respect for the water (from a safety perspective and an environmental one).

Why SUP as a vehicle to raise awareness?

My background is actually in surf coaching, but when I started teaching SUP I realised just how much more accessible it was. Not only can we run programs in lakes, rivers, creeks and the ocean, but the sport is more accessible as a whole. Surfing is something that takes years to learn, and for some kids, that becomes a barrier. SUP is so much easier to pick up, which means any kid, regardless of their physical or mental wellbeing, will be able to enjoy the sport. That means SUPKids becomes a massive boost to kids’ self esteem... we’ve worked with all sorts of kids who normally wouldn’t partake in these kinds of activities, but who’ve walked away totally stoked because within 15 minutes they were up and paddling.

Tell us about the reaction you received when you first brought in the program?

The RFDS were incredible. The very first program we ran with them was in Mossman Gorge, just north of Port Douglas, FNQ. The most beautiful gorge that we were very honoured to be able to paddle in. We worked with our cultural mentor, Josh Williams, to better understand the needs of the kids in the community, and to ensure we respected their culture and land. That first group of kids were STOKED ! This was their backyard, but they’d never had the opportunity to paddle there before. We knew that there had been multiple incidents at the gorge (especially in the summer, when the river floods), and so for us to be able to hang out with the kids there and show them how to do basic rope rescues, was just incredible. Also, these kids were able to recognise the beauty and fragility of their environment. When kids start paddling, the water becomes their playground, and that means it will become something they protect for the rest of their lives.

How many communities have you introduced the program to?

So the first 2 years of SUPKids was all about delivering the program to communities within FNQ alongside the RFDS. We ran programs in Mossman, Port Douglas, Cairns, Hopevale, Aurukun, Coen, Barenya Station and Pormpuraaw.

In June 2015 we were contacted by Svein & the team at Starboard. They’d seen the work we were doing and were interested in learning more about SUPKids. So we flew over to Thailand and spent a few days with them,delivering program. We realised pretty quickly that we were all on the same page, we wanted to find a way to introduce kids to SUP but also equip them with vital water safety skills and teach them how to become ambassadors for the planet. So we started brainstorming on how best we might work together to take the program global.

We’re now partnered with Starboard and we’re in the process of opening delivery centres worldwide. Since partnering with Starboard, we’ve run programs in Spain, Angola, California, New Mexico & Arizona... We’re about to run SUPKids Delivery Centre training in Italy then UK, Thailand,South Africa, NZ & Aus.

What impact have you had on these communities with this program?

You see the impact on a macro scale, with groups of happy, empowered kids taking better care of their environment, but also on a micro scale, a few months after running a program with the RFDS, we found out that a 5 year old, who had been on a SUPKids program with us, saved his younger brother from a swimming pool. Stuff like that really hits home for us. There’s nothing better than recognising that the work you are doing is having a positive impact.

What’s the overall aim with the program? How far and wide can it go?

The aim for us is to enable more communities to teach SUPKids. That means developing SUPKids in a sustainable manner. We’re in the process of becoming a B-Corp. We knew right from the start that we didn’t want to start a non-profit, we didn’t want to rely on hand outs or government funding. We wanted to approach this from a business perspective and grow SUPKids into something that can stand on its own two feet. We’re massive fans of using business as a force for good. That means, instead of our bottom line being purely financial, we’re focused on a triple bottom line (financial, environmental and social). For us, success means doing well in all three areas.

My background in running & growing surf schools taught me the value of going above and beyond when it comes to teaching. There are so many schools operating at such a fraction of their potential - mainly because most surf/SUP school owners don’t have the time or resources to develop curriculum based programs, or to train staff to run school presentations etc, or have the money to invest in workbooks/packs for all their kids. We’ve kept that in mind as we’ve developed SUPKids.. with the aim of keeping it as simple as possible, a tried and tested business model, delivered to SUP schools in a way that they can easily pick up & implement within their own business.

We’ve built the SUPKids curriculum so that it can be delivered in three different ways (as a 5 day camp, as a weekly club or a condensed one day program). We’ve also incorporated giving back into our business model and all SUPKids Delivery Centres run regular free classes for under- privileged kids in their community. We’ve been lucky enough to partner with some incredible organisations who work (and think !) the same way we do (Parley for the Oceans, Sustainable Surf, and of course Starboard).We’re working closely with Starboard now to set up reps & delivery centres across the globe. Exciting times!

Any close encounters with crocodiles?

Ha ha, yep ... a couple. I never imagined that I would be writing crocodile attacks into our risk assessments, but it turns out if you’re going to work in FNQ, it’s pretty damned important.


Luke Hosty