Adaptive Surfing: Push the Boundaries

Surfer with prosthetic leg
Adaptive Surfer. Image - Surfer Today.

Adaptive Surfing

When I began researching types of adaptive sport, surfing really caught my attention. Adaptive surfing was something I had not come across before. As I dug deeper, I found that people of various abilities adapted their boards and surf style in a range of ways to enjoy the thrill of catching a wave. I was inspired to see people finding a way to participate, whether they have experienced an amputation, congenital condition or even a visual impairment. I came across some truly inspiring content of people utilising an array of assistive equipment and strategies to support their participation in adaptive surfing. Adaptive surfing really made me think outside the square of what is possible in adaptive sport.

Adaptive surfing is becoming an increasingly popular and more recognised sport around the globe. In 2015, the first International Surfing Association’s (ISA) World Adaptive Surfing Championships was hosted in California, USA. Australia was close to follow, developing the nudie Australian Adaptive Surfing Titles at the Australian Surfing Championships, providing opportunities for Australia’s most talented adaptive surfers to be recognised on a national stage. Surfing Australia has provided a resource which outlines the classifications in competitive adaptive surfing. You can view the classifications here.

The classifications outline how people can surf in different ways, such as kneeling, laying or sitting. There is also a classification for people with visual impairment.

With these exciting developments in adaptive surfing, and the recent inclusion of surfing as a recognised olympic sport, only time will tell whether adaptive surfing will be included as a competition in the paralympic games. This video showcases the opportunities provided to adaptive surfers at the Australian Adaptive Surfing Titles. Take note of the different strategies and equipment the participants are using to ride the waves.

Let's Surf!

The beauty of adaptive surfing is that the boards can be modified according to the surfers abilities. I’ve come across some extremely innovative ideas! I’ve been able to discover some board accessories and features that adaptive surfers may use and I want to highlight just some of the ways people are participating; but the possibilities are certainly not limited.

 

Grab Handles

Handles can be installed on a board for people requiring some extra support to stabilise and stay on the board. For example, surfers who have experienced an amputation of an arm may benefit from a handle. Or, a person who has reduced movement in their legs may benefit from a handle to increase their stability when laying on a board. Handles can be placed on a board in varying positions according to the person’s needs. Below are examples of grab handles being used by adaptive surfers.

 

 

Boost Surfing: Electronic Fin

One of the latests advancements in surfing technology is the Boost Surfing Electronic Fin. This electronic fin can be attached to a surfers board. This can be used by people with and without impariments, and could be an option for surfers with physical limitations who may not be able to paddle on their own or may have difficulty paddling continuously. The Boost Surfing fin is  connected to a smartphone application so surfers can adjust the power and duration of the ‘boost’ based on their experience level and needs. It will be interesting to find out if this technology will be useful and widely adopted by adaptive surfers in the future. You can find out more here.

 


Adapted Surfboard Shapes

Boards can also be shaped to suit a surfer’s needs. Pictured below are examples of different ways a board can be shaped to support different abilities. For example, for people with lower limb amputations, ‘grooves’ can be shaped into the surfboard to assist in stabilising as the person kneels to ride a wave.


 

These are just some of the options out there today, but it’s most certainly not limited! The main message that I gained from researching adaptive surfing is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to enabling a person to participate. I think this is a valuable lesson, to be open-minded and to not be afraid to try something new. Innovative assistive equipment and thinking outside the square is making surfing more of an option for people with a disability on a social level.

I found it challenging to identify how to access surfing equipment to facilitate participation in adaptive surfing. Some people may not require extra equipment or a modified board, others may need significant adaptations for them to participate. In this case, finding a board shaper or manufacturer that can accomodate for these adaptations or extra accessories may be challenging and come at a cost. There’s got to be a board shaper who is up for a challenge out there somewhere!

Find Out More

There are many people and organisations spreading conversation and promoting participation in adaptive surfing for all ages and abilites. The Disabled Surfers Association of Australia supports people with an intellectual or physical disablity to spend a day at the beach and catch a wave. There are organisations in each state of Australia and there are also opportunities in New Zealand. See more here.

Surfing Australia provides updates on the latest events happening in surfing nation-wide. There is contact information on their website for surfing in each state of Australia. This may be a good place to start if you would like to find out what opportunities are available or to find like-minded people encouraging adaptive surfing participation.

Also, check out ‘Adaptive Surfers of Australia’ on Facebook!

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