Mono Stewart: Tough as an old boot

Phil Jarratt picture
Phil Jarratt (Phil Jarratt)
Swellnet Dispatch

As any true Byron local – i.e some one who remembers when Norco and the meatworks were the only games in town – will tell you, they breed ‘em tough in that town. None tougher than two-times world adaptive surfing champion Mark 'Mono' Stewart, who grew up on a dairy farm near Mullum and learnt to surf the Pass when the Timpo clan ruled.

Although Mono, now 55, has won just about every adaptive title going since they were introduced, he missed out on a third consecutive world AS2 (amputee class) title at the ISA Championships at La Jolla, California, in 2017, and had his heart set on taking out the gold for Australia last weekend. And things were looking good, with a pumping head-high swell lighting up La Jolla Shores for the opening rounds. Mono, who surfs on his knees minus a prosthetic limb for his missing leg, on a scooped-out board that George Greenough helped him design, revels in a bit of power.

After two days of competition the boy from Byron was undefeated going into the quarters on Saturday morning in conditions that were perfect for his power attack. Then the shit hit the fan. “My arms gave way on me,” Mono messaged me hours later. “Couldn't feel them. Then I passed out on the beach.”

Mono apparently blacked out after pulling out all the stops to post two winning scores, and was assisted from the water by lifeguards and paramedics who performed an ECG and other tests in an ambulance before allowing him to compete in the semis.

“I don’t even remember surfing the semi,” Mono wrote on his Facebook page from his bed in the UCSD Cardiovascular Emergency Department. “Not where I wanted to be after winning it!”

Mono rests up in the emergency ward (Facebook)

By nightfall heart issues had been eliminated and doctors were testing for a neurological problem affecting the spine. “I’ll deal with it in Australia,” Mono posted on Saturday night. “I just signed myself out of hospital. (Wife) Deb supportive but not real happy! I really want this third world title.”

And, surfing against the better judgement of doctors, family and friends, but willed on by the stubborn bugger’s legion of fans and friends, he almost pulled it off, finishing a close second on Sunday to Brazil’s Henrique Saraiva. No one who knows the Mono story was surprised.

When he was 15 years old and a star striker playing representative soccer in the Tasman Cup, Mark Stewart slid into the goalmouth to get a touch around the keeper and instead got his leg wedged between the goalie and the goalpost.

The fiery youngster, who had already made a name for himself at Main Beach and The Pass as a charger who’d take off on anything on his hideous Merrin six-ten single fin, was stretchered off the ground and told to stay off the leg for a couple of weeks. But as soon as the pain got bearable he was back at training. With the pointy end of the season coming up, Coach insisted he get the injury checked out.

The next day he had an X-ray at Lismore Hospital and the day after that his mother pulled him out of class for more. The day after that he and his mother flew to Sydney where he was given a biopsy and other tests, and the day after that his right leg was amputated at the thigh.

Can you imagine the shock of that five days? From up-and-coming teenaged athlete to amputee in less than a week, his soccer and surfing dreams shattered. And then, more bad news. He would have to fly to Sydney every month for chemotherapy. And with the chemo came the constant and debilitating sickness, the hair and weight loss and the realities of life in a cancer ward.

But Mono was neither depressed nor angry. “I couldn’t afford to be, because I had to focus everything in me on surviving the chemo, and in those days it was brutal. I never let it occur to me that I might die, and I always believed that I would get back into surfing, if not to soccer.”

Mono powering through the Quarters at La Jolla (ISA)

Typically, Mono took the loss of his leg as something to give thanks for, because his local doctor had recognised his osteosarcoma and rushed him to treatment, thus saving his life. And despite the many setbacks and frustrations, Mono has never stopped giving thanks, and giving back to the handicapped community.

As the chemotherapy came to an end and Mono began to feel stronger, he invested in a  cheap Morey Boogie DIY kit, started hitting the waves with the Byron locals and earned the Mono nickname. Another amputee surfer suggested he try customizing a kneeboard by scooping out the deck, and within a few weeks Mono was hopping to the water’s edge and paddling out to carve the ferocious hacks he would become famous for. His crutches would sometimes end up on the roof of the Top Pub or the surf club, but the tough love of his mates helped rather than hindered his progress.

Mono scored his first job after the chemo at Bob Newlands’ SurfAids factory airbrushing logos onto calico board bags, and soon he was spraying boards. He ran into George Greenough and discussed his specific equipment needs with the guru of knee-riding. George introduced him to Bob McTavish, and the two explained the concept they’d developed, and McTavish agreed to make the board, the first of many bespoke boards that enabled Mono to develop the distinctive and highly effective approach to adaptive surfing that has taken him to the top.

The doctors who gave the young Mono chemo told him that it would make him infertile, then he met Deb on a blind date, and they had three lovely kids in four years. Mono: “We’ve been together 20 years and life’s been great. Deb’s working background was with disabilities, so she knew the territory, and she’s been my caddy, my coach and my best friend ever since.”

Although the para movement has been part of many sports for decades, surfing was slow to adapt, and it may never have if the International Surfing Association hadn’t set its sights on getting accepted into the Olympics, and that meant embracing all of the Olympic ideals, including the Paralympics. To his great credit, ISA boss Fernando Aguerre made it his personal mission to introduce adaptive surfing around the world. In September 2015, at the age of 51, Mark 'Mono' Stewart won the inaugural ISA World Adaptive Surfing Championship in La Jolla, then followed up with a second title in 2017.

He’s now had two disappointing runs, but there’s life in the old dog yet. His competitive run may have come late in life, but Mono is loving every minute of it.


Team USA took out the World Adaptives, from Brazil, Chile and Hawaii. Australian finished a disappointing sixth, despite brilliant efforts from the team, especially gold medallists Samantha Bloom and Matt Formston.


50young's picture
50young's picture
50young Wednesday, 19 Dec 2018 at 8:24am

What an inspiration, you cant let life get you down, just go Surfing. All the best Mono

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 Wednesday, 19 Dec 2018 at 9:07am

Total legend.

no finer way to pass an afternoon than out the back of Doug's T and C factory with Mono shooting the shit.

Dave Drinkwater's picture
Dave Drinkwater's picture
Dave Drinkwater Wednesday, 19 Dec 2018 at 10:09am

I'm honoured to personally know this guy. Mono rips and represents Australia at the highest level..Legend, its been great having your daughter staying at our house while your competing.

chook's picture
chook's picture
chook Wednesday, 19 Dec 2018 at 10:24am

i've watched him surfing, but never knew the background story. totally tenacious!

i've heard great things about his spray jobs. does mono do the boards for parkes/friar tuck? i stupidly went for all white with my latest board....

gavin007's picture
gavin007's picture
gavin007 Wednesday, 19 Dec 2018 at 1:03pm

Great article. This may be a great opportunity to raise awareness of the following association to Swellnet's readers -

t-diddy's picture
t-diddy's picture
t-diddy Wednesday, 19 Dec 2018 at 1:34pm

full legend! very inspiring - keep shredding

spencie's picture
spencie's picture
spencie Wednesday, 19 Dec 2018 at 3:26pm

Great feature on Mono. About time for such a charger.

crg's picture
crg's picture
crg Wednesday, 19 Dec 2018 at 7:34pm

Champion bloke and rips better than most able bodied surfers. Another Byron resident, Dave Munk also placed 4th in his category, so well done to the Byron boys!
Thanks Phil and SN for another great article, the editorial at the moment is excellent.

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher Wednesday, 19 Dec 2018 at 7:39pm

gavin 007 is right to inform of DSSA.
Motor Wheelie Michael is a regular Burleigh beachgoer & he raves about them.
2 aides are needed to swap into beach chairs onto boards. DSSA can do this well.

BH SLSC were 1st with beach chairs but aren't trained carers, as such can't assist.
On behalf of Michael I put foreward his case to head SLSQ disability officer.

I was told B'Heads is now 1st with GCCC beach hoist & this was to resolve access.
I talked this thru & stressed Michael still needed 2 carers ? (prohibitive)
1 carer is needed for beach chair + 2nd carer to mind his expensive support chair.
BH SLSC will not commit to carer training nor chair minding in Clubhouse.
They were most adamant about each must get to & from the surf without SLSQ.

Despite GCCC/SLSQ 1st Beach Chairs/Mats/Hoists none can surf without 2 carers.
Micheal still remains upset missing out on Sat surfs at his local B Heads beach.

He loves DSSA Currumbin Sun/mth & he may travel to Kingy Sat/mth sessions.
He'd leap from his chair to give DSSA a double thumbs up!
Micheal leads B Heads Dawn patrol each Day & would surf everyday if he could.

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher Wednesday, 19 Dec 2018 at 9:14pm

Extraordinary resolve is a trait with adaptable surfers.
Mark has also won all 3 x AS2 National Titles 2016/17/18

Fellow North Coast surfer Dale Taylor has won 2 x AS1 National Titles 2016/18
Dale was a classmate & I can tell you he's even older than Mark.(Late '50's)
Dale ripped from day one. Pioneered giant downhill/Bowl skating on GC.
Never draw Dale in a comp even with 3 good legs.

These are Masters of Surfing. True champions in every way.
The bar is set high!
Hey! Was that dude surfing a hospital bed? No! You're not seeing things. Go Mono!

PCS PeterPan's picture
PCS PeterPan's picture
PCS PeterPan Wednesday, 19 Dec 2018 at 10:47pm

Had the pleasure of hangin out at the JET surf shop with MONO way back when. Mark and Frecklebum had me under their "guidance" for a couple of months taking me surfing and getting me onto a new board . . . a "JET" of course .
What blew me away was the fact MONO surfed more vertically than 90 per cent
of all the other surfers anywhere and in any coditions,
Then one day the bay lit up and I really got to see him shine , doing these loose sliding
360's under the lip of loooong tubes ha was threading ,
Mono , great to see your still ripping and best of luck for that next World Title .

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot Thursday, 20 Dec 2018 at 11:44am

What a legend! Go Mono

robertmcrae's picture
robertmcrae's picture
robertmcrae Thursday, 20 Dec 2018 at 1:15pm

When I was much younger, when my hair had no grey and and I would catch the train from Lismore after 'taking a day off school' I would spend the day surfing The Wreck, Waddy's, Cosy Corner, Tallow's and of course, The Pass. Those days, Mono ruled the inside. The deepest barrel I ever have seen was from Suck Rock (as we called it) Mono being the only human able to take off that deep without getting pitched toward Spectator. Great days. Mono yelling at us from inside the barrel, big smile on his dial as we pushed over the lip just to get a peak to see how it was done. Great memories. Winter days spent with just a hand full of friends and a few locals, no hassling, great vibe. Days lost in time.

StuMagoo's picture
StuMagoo's picture
StuMagoo Thursday, 20 Dec 2018 at 3:07pm

Awesome Mono ! and thanks for the art work over the years !
Happy Merry Everything mate

groovie's picture
groovie's picture
groovie Friday, 21 Dec 2018 at 1:50pm

Long time no see Mono! Le Ba boys @ The Pass being blown away by Mono's deep take offs & talented tube riding. Good to see you still out the back!

Deb65F_ByronBay's picture
Deb65F_ByronBay's picture
Deb65F_ByronBay Friday, 21 Dec 2018 at 4:29pm

So proud to have Mono as a close friend for most almost 40 years. He’s never let his disability be a barrier and has more guts than most. He’s a true champion, a great father to his kids and devoted husband to his awesome wife Deb. This story certainly sums him up well..or swell..

Water_man's picture
Water_man's picture
Water_man Saturday, 22 Dec 2018 at 6:41am

Wonder if Mono knew my good friends Ric and Greg Light?

Robo's picture
Robo's picture
Robo Saturday, 22 Dec 2018 at 12:50pm

Wow, forgot all about this guy met him in Byron around 35 years ago. Great story.

brucej9042's picture
brucej9042's picture
brucej9042 Saturday, 29 Dec 2018 at 10:01am

Good luck to you Mono.Remember those late sessions on the Ballina waterslide with myself(the sensible one),that maniac Albert Whiteman and Jimmy Shelley back in the early eighties.Still love telling people about the guy with one leg who would hop up all those stairs faster than we could run up them.Keep doing it ,brother.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Saturday, 29 Dec 2018 at 4:27pm

Not a bad word for Mono.

All that on top of refusing to bow to the chops life’s thrown at him. Hats off , mate . Good luck chasing that title. Fingers crossed for you. Congratulations on not being dead.

It was the line about being young and invincible then amputee less than a week later that really threw things into focus.

Thanks for the story , the inspiration and the fact you’ve made me give myself a kick up the arse for acting like a whiny fuck when things don’t go my way.

Wankley's picture
Wankley's picture
Wankley Sunday, 30 Dec 2018 at 4:23pm

Mono Vidler,Molly Top pub the wreck ,casual nightshift work at Abbs.Endless free music everynight .$7bucks a night for a room at the Middle pub.
Every one ripped sadly some to much .
Great to see you still a Surf Guru.Deb the barmaid nice work and her Sister .
So many good people from the Bay l been on East coast of Tassie it is Byron revisted 80s style.keep on drinking the norco choc milk it fix hearts/hangovers etc.
I am currently wandering up Kirra beach trying to do a Occy style comeback.
But it's more like a Micheal Peterson at the moment!
Hi to the Greeno and Porter'sand fingers Special l must pull in nextime l do surftrip but l just gringe at the head count in line up .back beach only
Hange loose
The Wankley!

truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher's picture
truebluebasher Friday, 26 Jul 2019 at 2:42pm

Swellnet crew chorus 3 cheers for Mono!
"1st ever adaptive Wave Pool Champ"
(Held in Snowdonia Wales) Comp Vid...

Vid + Wrap + Results + Mono Sign Off ....big thanks to Wave Pool Mag.