Australia

The Indigenous champion surfer carrying her culture to every wave

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Biripai surfer Summer Simon says her culture has always been a significant part of her life, and NAIDOC Week is a chance to celebrate that connection.

Walking into the Simon household in Port Kembla, NSW, there's no question where the family's passion lies. 

Surfboards, awarded as prizes, are mounted on the walls. A trophy cabinet overflows with silverware. 

At 17, Summer Simon is the oldest of four siblings who all have a love of surfing. 

Summer Simon
Instagram/summer.simon

The teenager tells SBS News: "When you're out there you forget about everything that's on the beach".

"It's a good thing to get out there and forget about what's going on on the shore, and you get to express yourself freely." 

Simon started competing when she was 11 and has won the open women's Australian Indigenous Surfing Titles four times.

She has also surfed alongside world number one Sally Fitzgibbons and counts the Australian champion among her mentors. 

Summer Simon with Australian surfer Sally Fitzgerald.
A younger Summer Simon, right, with Australian surfer Sally Fitzgibbons.

A consistent top finisher in competitions, Simon has also been nominated for sporting accolades including the 2017 National Dreamtime Awards, in which she was she was nominated for the best new sports talent alongside AFL players Charlie Cameron and Daniel Rioli.

But, she remains humble about her growing profile. 

"I like to go with the flow, I don't like to be too serious about anything."

"Surfing's one of those sports where it's not structured, so you can just do whatever you want, I guess."

Instagram: summer.simon

Connection to culture

Simon paints her own Indigenous designs on her surfboards and says her connection to culture has been a significant part of her life growing up.

"It's been a special thing for me. I've always been proud. Like at my primary school I'd always say the Welcome to Country, and that's just something I've always been proud to be."

The painting on her current board represents the six members of her family and her love of the ocean. 

Summer Simon paints her own surfboards.
Summer Simon paints her own surfboards.
SBS

She says the feeling of pride for her culture was passed on by her father, Mark Simon, who told SBS News: "It's been something from the start. My parents made sure that we identified as Aboriginal and we were proud to identify that we were from Biripai country [around Taree on the NSW North Coast], and that's where our family is".

Simon and her brother Taj, and sister Bodhi, all signed up for the Naru Goori Surf Gathering in Coff's Harbour earlier this month, as part of NAIDOC Week celebrations.

"I'm proud to be a part of the surf competition because not many people get to celebrate it in that way, but it's another thing to raise awareness for NAIDOC and the Aboriginal culture," she said. 

Summer Simon with her sister Bodhi and brother Taj.
Summer Simon with her sister Bodhi and brother Taj.

Simon said the Indigenous surfing community in Australia is like an extended family.

"We don't worry about who's winning or that stuff, it's more about coming together and just supporting each other, and pretty much seeing your family again because that's how close we all are."

Her father said it is their shared experiences that draw the community together.

"It's just a modern-day gathering of people that do the same thing as you, the same lifestyle. We all surf, we all spend time at the beach, we all have a connection to the saltwater, and when we do go to those comps it's something that we all share," he said. 

NAIDOC Week is marked 7-14 July and celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. For more stories on NAIDOC celebrations around the country go to sbs.com.au/nitv/naidoc

Would you like to share your story with SBS News? Email yourstory@sbs.com.au

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