Photos: Roy Riley

The first official surfing centre specifically for people with disabilities has opened in Croyde, North Devon, on 21 April, following a partnership between Surfing England, The Wave Project and Surf South West surf school.

It is the first time that Surfing England, the national governing body for surfing in England has officially designated a surf school an official ‘adaptive surfing hub’. The award recognises many years of work of The Wave Project, who have been a major part of the growth of adaptive surfing in England. A fundamental aspect of this was the creation of an Adaptive Surf volunteer training program, co-written by the Wave Project and Surfing England, which the charity provides free to volunteers and surf coaches to raise standards in the industry. All this has been made possible with the support of local surf school Surf South West which has been at the forefront of the adaptive surfing movement.

The new centre offers a ‘centre of excellence’ for people with disabilities who want to try surfing or improve in the sport, providing highly trained coaches and the latest adaptive surfing equipment to enable people with all disabilities to take part in the sport.

Adaptive surfing (also referred to as para surfing) runs parallel to typical surfing. It means that we can make modifications to the equipment, the environment, and possibly the people that will allow people with disabilities to engage in surfing. Through making these modifications people can participate in surfing with greater independence, comfort, and confidence.

Photos: Roy Riley

For both The Wave Project and Surfing England, seeing more adaptive hubs across England is an important part of the discipline’s development, and ensuring more people can access the ocean, as we strive to see more diversity in the line-up. To be designated an adaptive hub, a range of criteria are considered, such as qualified and experienced coaches, facilities, equipment, location, and access. To be recognised as our first adaptive surfing hub is a huge achievement for Surf South West and their collaboration with The Wave Project, and the much deserved recognition of their many years of hard work.

The Wave Project began offering surfing lessons for people with disabilities in 2012, when it pioneered a special surfing course for people with learning disabilities and Down Syndrome in partnership with Cornwall Council.

The charity moved to North Devon in 2013, and began its partnership with Surf South West surf school in Croyde. The Wave Project offered surf therapy to local young people, including those with disabilities, and began to develop new techniques and equipment to make surfing more accessible to all. It was the beginning of a 10-year journey to get to where they are today, now delivering over 150 adaptive surf sessions a year, and offering specialist adaptive surfing lessons to over 100 young people a year – like George Palmer, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and a visual impairment.

Joe Taylor, CEO of The Wave Project, said;

“We are delighted to be working with Surfing England and Surf South West to open this pioneering new facility for people with disabilities. Thanks to the leadership shown by Surfing England, the sport of surfing has made great progress in the past decade, becoming more inclusive and accessible to all. The new Adaptive Surfing Hub in Croyde is the next key step in this journey to making surfing a sport for everyone in the UK.”

On the global agenda, adaptive surfing is currently being considered as a sport for the Paralympics. Surfing England have been at the forefront of this since 2017, when they delivered the first ever English Adaptive Surfing Open, a contest now runs annually that welcomes adaptive surfers from across UK and further afield to surf and compete. This has inspired a whole host of surfers and coaches, and adaptive surf hubs are a fundamental part of the pathway of the sport. The team at Wave Project and Surf South West have been supporting the events each year, demonstrating both parties’ commitment to enabling more adaptive surfing.

Hannah Brand, Operations Manager for Surfing England said:

“The development of adaptive/para surfing in England is a key focus for us and it’s hugely exciting to designate our first official adaptive surfing hub, after an extensive consultation into the best way to develop the discipline that was conducted in 2021. We have incredible athletes winning medals on the World stage, and with paralympic bids in for surfing the development of the pathway is paramount. We are immensely proud of the collaboration between The Wave Project and Surf South West and are excited for the future of adaptive surfing.”

The Wave Project, Surf South West, and Community Interest group Access for All have all worked tirelessly together to create a real vibrant hub for inclusive surfing, with the ambition for the surf school to be recognised as an Adaptive Surfing Hub by Surfing England. Between the various groups, they have amassed an abundance of specialised equipment and a fantastic changing facility, that was the ‘dream’ of Nicki Palmer, the mum of George, who has worked so hard to achieve her dream and finally got this purpose-built Changing Place on site.

Alongside these physical attributes for an accessible centre, but just as important, are the people driving this. The determination and enthusiasm of Ian Bennett, Adaptive Lead of The Wave Project working closely with Hannah Brand of Surfing England and Will Houston and John Ellis the owners of Surf South West have got us to this point.

On Friday 21st April, we officially launched our Adaptive Surf Hub. It will be a great benefit to our local community, but also to a much wider audience. We have already had visits from people from all corners of the UK, to come and experience the benefits of surfing at one of the premier surf destinations in England, even more notable now North Devon has been awarded World Surf Reserve status, one of only 12 in the world!

This will be a real celebration of adaptive surfing as we unite for a bright future to grow the sport and see more people surfing.