Melbourne’s wheelchair wakeboarding is making extreme sport accessible



December 04, 2018 07:00:00

After a motorbike accident that nearly killed him, Robbie Peime spent a lot of time thinking about all the things he could no longer do.

As a paraplegic, he was no longer able to ride his beloved motorbike or enjoy his other favourite sport, snowboarding.

But eventually his mindset changed. He became a personal trainer and now competes in ironman events.

“When I had my accident, all I was thinking about was all the things I can’t do,” he said.

“But I do more now than I ever did prior to my accident, it’s just a different way of doing it.”

‘Minor modifications’ make extreme sport inclusive

His latest obsession is wakeboarding, which has become accessible to wheelchair users thanks to Melbourne Cable Park’s enthusiastic owner Ian Clark.

Mr Clark opened Melbourne’s first cable park 18 months ago, but it wasn’t until he received a letter from a patron asking about accessibility that he looked into the possibility of offering wheelchair wakeboarding.

“We hadn’t really thought about the concept before,” he said.

“We made a few minor technical modifications to the dock and the equipment to allow us to do it.

“Now we’re running an accessibility session every Saturday.”

Cable parks allow wakeboarders to be pulled along by a mechanical cable, eliminating the need for a boat.

Adaptive wakeboards are similar to regular wakeboards, with the addition of a seat.

Talented riders can still fly over jumps and do tricks including 360s.

There’s also a modified boat that collects people when they fall off and returns them to the dock.

Mr Clark said there had been a lot of trial and error in the process, but a $50,000 grant from the state government after a visit from Premier Daniel Andrews had allowed them to buy a fleet of wheelchair wakeboards that people can rent.

“You don’t need anything other than a smile and a pair of bathers and a towel,” he said.

Creating an activity the whole family can do together

Mr Peime said all wheelchair users wanted to be independent and praised Mr Clark, saying “he has gone above and beyond” to make his business accessible.

“He gets on a bit of a roll and now he wants to make everything accessible,” Mr Peime said.

“He wants to make the climbing tower accessible, and it’s fantastic, that’s what we need.

“There are not many places you can go with your kids and do everything they do.”

Mr Peime said it was common for people who didn’t have a lived experience of a disability to overlook accessibility, admitting he used to be the same.

“You don’t think about it,” he said.

“Prior to my accident I never really paid attention to a guy in a wheelchair.

“Once you’re aware of it, that’s when you notice it.”

Extreme sports champion arrives to train local wakeboarders

Tom Klein is a wheelchair rugby player and an amputee; on his third attempt at wakeboarding, it is clear he’s a natural.

“I love it, it’s great fun,” he said.

“It’s pretty quick. The movement is pretty similar to sit-skiing in the way you have to balance yourself and hold yourself up and lean into it.”

This week he has been getting tips from one of the world’s best wheelchair wakeboarders Jerome Elbrycht, who is in Australia to run workshops.

Mr Elbrycht recently won a gold medal in the sit-ski competition at the X Games, one of the world’s biggest extreme sports competition.

“You just need to push yourself to try new tricks and have fun, just like anybody,” Mr Elbrycht said.

Wide-ranging benefits from accessibility program

Mr Clark said making the business more accessible had been a positive experience for himself and his staff.

“They’re hearing anecdotally from some of the wheelie guys and girls how much it’s a motivator for them to go and do other things,” he said.

“They might study or get a job they never thought they could.

“It just gives them a degree of confidence that they might not have had since their injury.”








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