Learning to surf is a rite of passage for many beachside Aussies, and Charlie’s childhood was no exception, despite the fact she has a prosthetic left leg.

The Beach is a Way of Life

Growing up in the Northern Beaches of Sydney, everyone naturally gets a taste for salt water and becomes a water baby in one way or another. Maybe it happens when you learn to swim, enjoy picnics on the beach, start your Sunday morning at Nippers, or learn how to surf. The beach and water surround you, and play a massive part in your Aussie coastal life. 

When it comes to H2O, my parents pushed me into swimming, the beach, sailing, and surfing. The surf club culture was massive in my family. My Mum’s side of the family was well known at the local surf club and within the town where she grew up. My Dad loved sailing, and so did my Mum’s Dad. The water has been a big part of my life and always will be. 


Growing Pains

When I was born, I was missing the fibula in my lower left leg, which would cause a defect in my growth. When the fibula is missing, that limb grows slower, the legs don’t align, and the leg is much weaker, making it nearly impossible to walk on. 

Thankfully, my parents decided that I’d have my foot amputated when I was 18 months old. This way, I’d have the opportunity to have an active childhood and life ahead of me.

If I didn’t have the amputation, I’d be a completely different person, and my life would’ve turned out very differently. I would’ve been in and out of hospital and possibly not been able to walk. But, as it is, I was around two years old when I started to walk in my first prosthetic.


Treading Water

Growing up as an amputee, society tends to expect you to live an active sporty lifestyle and to grow up to eventually become a Paralympian. This never spoke to me; I just knew I loved the water. 

My parents started me in swim school as soon as they could. On the weekends, my family would be at the beach enjoying the sun. We lived and breathed the ocean. It was my happy place for most of my childhood.  

When I started spending Sunday mornings at Nippers, I found it hard, as it focused more on running. I was a swimmer.

Being a young amputee and running on the sand against sporty, non-disabled kids meant I was slow. This changed how I felt about the beach. It became a competitive landscape instead of my safe place. 

From there on, the water became a place of competition, and because of that societal stereotype to become a Paralympian, I was at swim meet-ups for kids with disabilities on weekends and eventually became a state-level swimmer. It was a fantastic achievement. But, it felt like something was missing.

Read more: Low on Legs, High on Determination – My Journey to Becoming an Adaptive Climber

One Foot Surfing

One year for Christmas, I was given a foam surfboard. I was so excited when I saw it under the tree, and that very day my Dad was pushing me on waves, and I started my journey to learn to surf. Surfing was a challenge for me. Not everyone has to learn to surf on one leg. 



In 2008 there was a surf day with the group Disability Support Services, held at Collaroy, my hometown beach. This was an inspiring day to see people with disabilities learning to surf and giving it a go. After that, I was so determined to try surfing for real. 

My parents put me in lessons at Manly Surf School and I’d take part in their holiday programs so I could learn properly. Once the holidays were wrapped up, I was involved in their after-school programs, which I did along with my squad swimming.  

For my 12th birthday, I was given my first fibreglass surfboard. It was a shortboard, and I was excited to try it out. I was fortunate that my parents planned surf trips during the school holidays. We’d go to Crescent Head, Byron Bay, down south to Mollymook and even Hawaii! 

Rip Curl Surf Day

One day, Rip Curl hosted an event at the Manly Surf School, where famous female surfers came to visit. Bethany Hamilton was one of these surfers and she was my idol. 

She was the first athlete I looked up to.

I admired Bethany’s grit and determination to keep surfing and find a way to surf despite her disability. I related to her determination, and I wanted to be like her. 

I was fortunate enough to meet her and many other famous surfers like Tyler Wright and Alana Blanchard. They all ended up signing my prosthetic leg!

Read more: 10 Questions With Tyler Wright

The Ocean is Where I Feel Free

When my surfing was kicking off, it was around the time my first lot of NDIS funding came through, so my prosthetist worked on creating a leg that was designed for surfing. 

It’s shorter than my right leg, making it easier to move my leg up to the front of the board, and I remain in a crouched position. I still use this prosthetic when I go out for a surf today. I was so thankful for the funding and the brains of my prosthetist for creating this opportunity for me. 

Catching some small waves on my McTavish Fireball longboard has become something that I enjoy from time to time again. I don’t surf as much as I’d like to, but I always find a way to be in the ocean. The ocean is my home and it keeps me grounded. It is, and forever will be, my happy place.