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Albatross Nippers makes waves in the local surfing community

Natalie O’Driscoll | August 27, 2020

Albatross Nippers is a surf program with a difference. While some surf clubs run separate Nippers programs for special needs children, Albatross Nippers runs directly alongside the standard Nippers program at Nobbys Beach Surf Club, providing a fully inclusive experience for all the kids and their families.

Founded by sports and musculoskeletal physiotherapist and Adjunct Assistant Professor Nick Marshall in 2015, the Albatross Nippers program has made some serious waves in the community, with other surf clubs and sporting associations beginning to adopt a similarly inclusive model for special needs children and their families. It has also been the subject of a documentary titled ‘Included’, which has been picked up by Virgin Australia for screening on flights into the Gold Coast.

Nick Marshall, who in addition to running the program has also liaised with City of Gold Coast around beach matting and free beach wheelchair access, was named Queensland’s Local Hero at the Queensland Australian of the Year Awards in Brisbane earlier this year, an honour he didn’t expect.

“It’s really humbling, and I’m incredibly grateful for the people who made it happen,” he tells us. “But all this stuff is about the program, I’m just the lucky guy who gets patted on the back.

“My real drive is that the program doesn’t need me. Hopefully I can show people in other clubs you can easily set up your own club, there’s no need to involve me or to create some crazy empire, I’m just trying to show people that this is all you need.”

Nick believes the value of the inclusive nature of the program can’t be underestimated, with essential peer relationships, communication and social skills and general development all a critical part of Nippers.

Warwick Hay, father of foundation Albatross Nipper Marcus, and a lifesaver himself, agrees.

“There are so many parts to it,” he says. “It gets us down the beach and he has a lot of fun in the ocean and the networking – there’s so many great people from all sorts of surf clubs who come and help and they’ve become a huge part of life, he could be at any beach and one of the lifeguards will know him. And of course the kids are learning skills and getting fit and healthy.”

And it’s not just fantastic for the children, either.

“I see a lot of parents come down and they’re clearly doing it pretty tough.,” says Warwick. “They take their shoes off, and they walk down and you take the kids off them, and mum and dad actually get to stand on the beach with a coffee, it’s nice to see some of those parents to get an hour off.”

With all the publicity that Albatross Nippers has been getting, Nick says an enormous amount of surf clubs have already been in contact with him to discuss the logistics of setting up their own inclusive programs, and some that are well on the way such as Coolangatta, Tallebudgera and Southport.

‘Included’ mentioned the 50 year anniversary of Nippers, and how in another 50 years’ time all surf clubs would hopefully be running an inclusive program like Albatross. But seeing the momentum that’s gathering right now and the way the surfing and wider community has already embraced the idea, Nick is hopeful that things will happen a lot faster than that.

“We’re in that intermediate stage now where there’s a few clubs doing it, and over the next decade or so, I hope all clubs will have some kind of program.”