surfability - surf lessons for all

If you told me this time last year that I was going to help run a course for surf instructors all about inclusive and adaptive surfing, I would have fallen off that fine and sturdy branch in my tree that I was comfortably hanging out on; especially as I can’t surf (yet)!

Yet, that’s exactly a journey I have embarked on.

In my voluntary capacity as Director of Inclusion and Safeguarding for Canoe Wales, I have begun to know the team at Disability Sports Wales quite well and it seems like they have got the measure of me.

Knowing what they know about my use of water-sports as a rehab tool and my passion for spreading the message of using water-sports, no matter your perceived ability, as a fun and awesome way to get fit, coupled with my professional background of working with people with hearing loss and complex needs….they hooked me up with Benjamin Clifford of Surfability UK CIC.

After a cup of tea together down at Southerndown to get to know one another and talk about our shared passion of getting people from all backgrounds and abilities involved in watersports, Ben asked me if I would like to help him run workshops for surf coaches promoting disability surfing.

Last week I had two glorious days down at Caswell and Bracelet Bays near Mumbles in South Wales, helping Ben run a disability awareness course for some of his staff, before we go on to facilitate sessions elsewhere in the UK for surf instructors….I wonder if by default I’ll end up being able to surf after all of this – watch this space!

Having an old life-guard hut looking out to sea as a venue coupled with the beautiful Caswell Bay beach as a setting for work was delightful and so I was internally grinning about that all day.

However, to top it all off, I had quite possibly one of the most rewarding days of my career to date; I spent some time in the water watching the coaches put their theory session into practice (although some of them have been volunteers for this project for a wee while now), working with children with a vast array of abilities to catch some waves. We had children with Downs Syndrome, in wheelchairs, walking with frames due to weak legs, and others with less visible differences such as autism.

Benjamin and the team reaffirmed to me that there is no such thing as the impossible; there is always a way to allow someone fulfil their dreams and potential.

I was watching a 12-year-old boy (I don’t know his diagnosis) with very weak legs, but clearly incredible upper body strength, walk down to the water’s edge with his frame and I wondered how this was going to go…what adaptions if any might be used, and how might he get on in the water, especially when or if he wipes out.

I spent that afternoon with him and another coach (my job was to catch the boy if he wiped out) where he was given a specially adapted surfboard which was quite small and flat with handles at the front of the board.

The user lays on the board and holds on to the handles to stay on the board and controls their direction by shifting their weight. I had a go on one the day before and it was so fast and incredible amounts of fun – it was like extreme body boarding!

The boy had only been surfing for two weeks where previously he had been riding a learner foam board on I think his tummy…but today, as he had been doing so well, he had graduated to the speed demon yellow beast, which was especially wonderful as he said to me that when he grows up he wants to be a Paralympic surfer!

At first he found it very wobbly (as did I!) but within the 1 hour and 30 minute lesson, he was riding the waves barely wiping out at all; he was also able to control his direction on the wave. It was so emotional that his Mum and I had tears in our eyes; it was truly incredible.

There was another little boy who was a wheelchair user where he was riding the waves with a specially adapted long board with a seat on it…I could hear his giggles a mile off as he soared over the waves on his surfboard throne.

You see, this really did prove to me that no matter what, there is always a way.

Rather than describe the project to you, I wholeheartedly recommend you check out their website, but if you don’t do anything else, take 5 minutes out of your schedule to grab a brew and watch this heart-warming video that Children in Need have made about Surfability and the lives that it changes for the better. I can’t wait to continue working with Ben and his mission to make more surf instructors disability aware and actively putting strategies in place to open up surfing for all.