by REBECCA MUGRIDGE

From unimaginable tragedy has come something incredibly positive.

Charity organisation SalTy Souls Legacy is giving Sunshine Coast youth access to a surf therapy program that is seeing incredible results, and in doing so honouring the memory of Coast surfer Tyler Kennedy, who tragically died while on holiday in Bali in 2017.

The charity was launched in 2018 with what it describes as: “A dream to offer vulnerable children a surfboard of their own, sparked by the memory of our SalTy Soul brother, Tyler. Tyler Kennedy had a zest for life and a heart that was bigger and deeper than any ocean. He was the saltiest of souls. He lived to be in the water and his legacy will see struggling young people be given the same opportunity.”

Co-founder and Tyler’s sister Tamara Smith says everything about the program ties back to Tyler. 

“He learnt to surf on a second-hand board so that’s what we do with kids,” she says. “We teach them to surf and then offer them a second-hand board and they might just end up like him – in the middle of a Tracks magazine.

“It really is a legacy.”

“The name, even our shirts, the whole concept of all that, came from Tyler. 

“He and I had very similar fashion, we would end up with the same pairs of sunnies. One thing of his I always wanted was his black Sea Shepherd tank, not because I am a fan of skulls but because it represented something. So that’s why we did black muscle tanks. 

“When people buy a shirt (from the charity), the profits go into the program and that’s how we funded our first eight kids – by people buying tanks to go to a festival. The sketch (that features on the shirts) is his drawing that he did.”

Tamara says the changes she sees in kids involved in the program makes all the work involved worth it.

“Normal therapy has its place, but there are so many kids and teens that really benefit from the physical side of it, and the focus, the belonging,” she says. 

“When we first started we thought, we can’t change what happened. It’s about resetting a different future and giving them skills. Whether it’s surfing, swimming, bodyboarding, whatever, it really doesn’t matter, it is just about giving them an outlet. 

“We have some kids for two years. It is a more relaxed, natural environment and that helps the kids a lot with anxiety. While they are out there all they are thinking about is them and the wave and the board. It really is that mental health therapy outlet.”

Tamara says one of the biggest hurdles they faced in setting up the charity was wanting the program to be broad.

“It isn’t just for kids with autism or cerebral palsy or for those being bullied,” she says. “It is so broad. We really struggled getting DGR (deductible gift recipient) status because we wouldn’t just stay in one lane. If we had only done, say, kids with autism it would been a lot easier. Kids are being referred from everywhere and it’s such a mix, it just works. It is the best energy when we are all together.”

The positive change in the kids is also felt long after they leave the program.

“Sometimes I get a photo and it could be of a kid that went through our program 18 months ago and they are up at Double Island surfing, saw a SalTy Soul sticker somewhere and they send us a photo,” sh e says. “That’s when you see they are still surfing and when you go ‘wow’.”

“I just got home (from work) and looked at the SalTys ‘Batphone’ and there are all these messages from parents. You get the feedback that it’s changing the parents’ and carers’ lives as well, because they are seeing their kids change.”

Due to the popularity of the program it now needs a permanent base, with an office and workshop to repair the boards. It will give the charity the ability to grow and take on more kids and reduce the wait list.

“I currently have 30 Mick Fanning brand new softboards in the front yard,” laughs Tamara. “That is how grassroots we are.”

Alexandra Headland Rotary Club has been one of the organisation’s supporters, helping secure a space at the Thrive complex in Maroochydore for the new headquarters. It also organised the Winter Solstice Swim event on June 27, which attracted more than 200 swimmers and raised $10,000 for SalTy Souls Legacy.

“It was very successful and we had some fantastic swimmers,” Alex Rotary director John Malloy says. “It was an amazing finish to the 5km swim leg, where budding Olympian Bailey Armstrong just pipped Thomas Raymond by 17 seconds, both completing the 5km in under an hour. 

“International netball champ Laura Langman also took part in our 3km swim.”

John was thrilled the club was able to help raise so much money for SalTy Souls. 

“It’s a great cause – it has struck a chord with the community,” he says.

For more about SalTy Souls Legacy visit saltysoulslegacy.org.