Gavin Bellis in Byron Bay for the World Pro Adaptive Surf Titles
World pro adaptive surf champion, para Olympian and veteran Gavin Bellis (photo: Mia Armitage)

Gavin Bellis may be a retiree surfing on the Gold Coast now, but the pro adaptive surf champion is a former Para Olympian and veteran.

After serving in various defence operations for Australia, Mr Bellis was diagnosed in 2004 with a very rare degenerative neurological illness.

There were a few dark periods, the father of two says, but knowing the disease can be hereditary drove him to show his young daughters that nothing is impossible. So he founded the veterans surfers’ association and now just hopes his daughters are proud of him

Gavin Bellis spoke with Community Newsroom while in Byron Bay for the inaugural event, which was won by a 17-year-old Gold Coast grommet named Kai Colless.

Champion Kai Colless and family in Byron Bay
17-yr-old world pro adaptive surf champion Kai Colless (centre) with family at the 2024 Byron World Pro Adaptive Surf Titles (PIC: Mia Armitage)

A positive spirit thanks to an enormous rally of support from extended family and school friends has shown Colless that he isn’t confined, regardless of his relatively new wheels.

The Gold Coast teen spent five months in hospital in 2022 before emerging in a wheelchair due to his illness but is now surfing the world and beating legends of the waves at their game.

He spoke with Community Newsroom about his challenges and the support he has received from the pro adaptive community.

Another adaptive surfer who sings the praises of the pro adaptive surf community is Tomoki Fujiwara.

Some of his new found supporters say they’ve only just met their home country’s representative this week but are now friends for life.

Gold Coast Japanese-born resident Yoichi says he didn’t hesitate to say yes when he received a phone call from a friend back in Japan asking if he wanted to help out a surfer representing Japan in a world competition in Byron Bay, and friends Taka and Minami were just as eager.

But what, exactly, were they in for? And what does baseball have to do with helping a professional surfer who uses a wheelchair reach the waves? The three vollies spoke with Mia Armitage.

Byron based Japanese volunteers supporting their countrymen at the pro adaptive surf titles in Byron
Volunteer supporters of Tomoki Fujiwara (L-R): Minami (Suffolk Park); Take (Byron); Yoichi (Gold Coast) (PIC: Mia Armitage)