“It’s a community thing, about us paying it forward and giving. People try to pay but that’s not what this is about. It’s free and that’s a part of it.”

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It’s a crisp but sunny Sunday morning in the village of Turners Beach, in North West Tasmania.

A group of women in wetsuits, from 20 to 69, grab their surfboards and walk from the backyard of a home on Albert Street to the ocean.

They’re busy every other day of the week, with jobs and family life. But for the next couple of hours they can focus on something else.

“Most of our bodies are made up of water,” says Emily Versluys, a co-founder of the Albert Street Gang. “Why not immerse yourself into that saltwater environment, to feel it? It has healing purposes. And you can see the smiles. They get wider with every wave, every wipe-out. All our worries disappear for a short time.”

The other co-founder, Nat Potter, who, like Em, is a teacher, whose surfboard is named Chris Hemsworth, says the Albert Street Gang started small – like most things in Tasmania.

“It was just Em and I. We would surf every weekend together, just for the love of it, for being stoked, for the love of water. Then it grew to five and then seven members, just friends and people we worked with. They too got hooked and they were like regulars every weekend.”

North West Tasmania was once known for massive factories and humming commodity industries. The forces of globalisation transformed the Tasmanian economy, and it hasn’t been easy in the North West. Yet in recent years, entrepreneurs and artisans in the region have shifted toward advanced manufacturing, premium production, and agri-tourism ventures. More and more people are moving to the region for meaningful careers, for the culture and lifestyle. They stay to be part of a community.

There is a spirit of renewal and possibility in North West Tasmania.

“You could really feel it during COVID lockdown in 2020,” says Em. “We heard about beaches being closed across the country. But for us, it was a safe place where we could gather at a distance, without being in anyone’s back yards. In the ocean, where we were, and are, happiest.”

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Tasmania is a place of connection. We’re connected to each other and to our natural places. An ABC reporter, Rick Eaves, heard about the Albert Street Gang and did a little story.

It didn’t stay little.

“When it all took off, Em and I had conversations about how things happen for a reason,” says Natalie. “We realised that lots of women would have joined us but didn’t have the gear. We wondered: how can we offer this to people?”

Then something happened for a reason. A man who owned a surf school wanted his own change and he made the choice to sell his gear. He reached out to Nat and Em. They asked how many boards and wetsuits he had and at what price.

“He gave us a deal we’re still gasping at,” says Em. “Unbelievable! It was very, very generous on his part. Now we have 17 soft top boards and close to 50 wetsuits in different sizes. So we’re now able to provide this experience. We have been gifted with this. Things just keep happening to provide us with these opportunities.”

Now people are coming to “The Sunday session” from all over the region: Burnie, Devonport, Wilmot, Port Sorell and Deloraine.

“It’s a community thing,” says Nat, “about us paying it forward and giving as others have for us. People have offered to pay but that’s not what this is about. It’s free and that’s a part of it.”

Of course, they do have an entrepreneurial streak. Nat and Em are exploring the idea of a business that could potentially bring the gang’s philosophy into Tasmania’s school system, work with disabled surfers and veteran groups, launch corporate retreats and “spa weekends” with yoga, meditation, and a bit of surfing!

“But mainly we see this and the ocean as a free playground,” says Em. “We have the boards, we have the wetsuits, grab those, go out and have some fun. That is the greatest success, just seeing all those happy people out there, being in the moment.”

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The Albert Street Gang are one of 18 Tasmanian stories featured in our short film about the Tasmanian story. Their scene was filmed at Turners Beach on the north coast of Tasmania.