Surf legends and construction leaders team up to wipe out dementia

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
4 Min Read

Surfing legends will hang ten with members of Australia’s construction and property industries to wipe out dementia. 

Wave-riding royalty will be battling it out at the Wipeout Dementia Challenge at Bondi Beach next month as the building industry meets board shorts in a bid to tackle Australia’s battle with dementia. 

The contest will support advanced research by UNSW’s Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), with 56 surfers across the property and construction industry surfing off against each other. 

Competing teams will raise funds for large-scale studies into dementia prevention while helping to increase awareness about lifestyle modifications to ward off cognitive decline. 

Since the tournament began 13 years ago, an additional 13 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with the condition, with the number of Aussies battling dementia reaching more than 487,000 – which is now the leading cause of death among women in Australia.

Surfing icons like 1978 World Surfing Champion Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew, Owen Wright and Mark ‘Occy’ Occhilupo will drop in alongside leaders from property investment, architecture, building advisory, interior design, furnishing and construction firms as they hope to barrel towards a dementia cure. 


2020 Olympic bronze medalist Owen Wright retired from the sport after experiencing a traumatic brain injury while competing. 

He now cares for his father, who started experiencing dementia a few years ago and has witnessed the condition’s devastating impacts first-hand.

“Dad was there for me when I needed him most throughout my recovery and life,” Owen told Build-it. 

“His decline has been a really hard thing to watch, but it’s been an honour to care for my father now I have the time, and I somewhat feel like I understand a little about what he’s experiencing after my own battle with my brain.”

The teams, captained by management and directors across Australia’s property and construction world, have helped raise more than $2.5 million. 

Many of those surfing next month have lost a loved one to dementia, including team captain and director of Building certifier group Steve Watson & Partners, Steve Watson, whose surf-loving father recently fell victim to the condition. 

“I lost my Dad to Lewy body dementia in 2019, and it was devastating to watch him being robbed of his vitality,” he said.

“This disease is pervasive, and more needs to be done given how debilitating it is.” 


Data from the UNSW Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing shows that the brain abnormalities that lead to Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, start 20-30 years before any symptoms become apparent.

UNSW research directors Professor Henry Brodaty and Professor Perminder Sachdev say this indicates that behaviours before onset significantly impact our brain health in old age.

They also say other forms of dementia, such as those caused by vascular cognitive disorders, are likely “preventable”, with a lack of research progress holding science back. 

“While this has progressed rapidly in Alzheimer’s disease in recent years, Vascular Dementia lags considerably,” Professor Sachdev said.

“The sharing of personal stories continues to inspire us to expand our research across the full spectrum of the disease beyond drug treatments to include early diagnosis and prevention strategies,” he said. 

The university has a particular focus on Vascular Dementia, with funding from the competition going towards ramping up its research focus on developing biomarkers for this disorder.

The Wipeout Dementia Challenge will hit Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach on April 5th. To sponsor a surfer at this year’s competition, visit

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.