July Club of the Month!
Like any good wave, Surfability UK may have started small but with big ambitions they have risen to become a leader in adaptive surfing.
It all emerged from humble beginnings, when founder Benjamin Clifford identified the fact that surfing and all the benefits it brings was not readily accessible to those with impairments and special needs.
Having previously volunteered at events for children with autism conditions before starting a weekly surfing group for children with autistic spectrum conditions, Benjamin set about breaking down any and all barriers left to the sport.
He created, with the help of the Prince's Trust Enterprise Programme, the adaptive surfing school Surfability as a community interest company (CIC) in July 2013 and the rest, as they say, is history.
But, beyond the brick and mortar of the company itself, Benjamin and team have seen first-hand how the lives of countless participants with disabilities or learning difficulties who get to expand their horizons through Surfability’s world-leading lessons and experiences have been changed forever.
“Surfability is special because we get radical,” Benjamin said. “We allow disabled people to take risks, we give people the dignity of risk.
“It’s the best feeling to push your limits, and to do that in such an amazing, changing environment as the ocean makes it special.
“For some of our participants it’s just an absolutely incredible experience to have, and for others it becomes part of their lives and they become surfers like anyone else.
“It’s allowed people who have additional needs to become surfers, to have that lifestyle, go to the beach, to be outdoors exercising.
“For our young group who have autism it gives them a chance to socialise, to interact and learn lots of other skills as well as surfing.
“Two of them who said the first sentence I’ve ever heard them say said ‘I want another wave’ and that was so beautiful, and I knew it was the right thing to be doing.”
What once was purely a pipe dream, Surfability has now grown into a club which leads the way for adaptive surfing worldwide.
Along the way Surfability have innovated and developed ingenious specialist equipment such as the UK’s first seated tandem surfboard and beach access wheelchairs, while the club has also created a Welsh adaptive surfing team which has competed at the World Para Surfing Championship for the past four years running.
Based at the picturesque setting of Caswell Bay on the Gower, with an indoor standing wave at LC Leisure Centre in Swansea for the cooler months, the sky really does appear to be the limit to what they can do.
Benjamin added: “The journey of Surfability has been phenomenal, I’ve had to pinch myself a lot.
“When we started out, there was no template for what we were doing. Adaptive surfing was happening around the world but it was just as events, there wasn’t a surf school there for disabled people where they could come week in, week out and build skills and to make adaptive surfing normal.
“We had to invent things as we went along. I took something from the head teacher at the school I used to work at. She would always say ‘best practice’ and I said ‘okay, we’re going to take this idea and make best practice for adaptive surfing because it doesn’t exist yet’.
Of course, like so many other companies across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown its fair share of challenges at Surfability.
However, thanks to some quick thinking and the support of funding from the likes of Children in Need, the club has continued to keep its head above water.
“I was actually in California for the World Para Surfing Championships when COVID-19 really took hold of things,” Benjamin added.
“We managed to get the last flight back from San Diego so we could get back to Wales. It was really odd because we went from the intense experience of world-class adaptive surfing to lockdown, which was a shock to the system and took a while to get used to.
“During lockdown we’ve been engaging our participants as much as we can, we’ve made online training videos and exercise videos to help with paddle strength and we’ve also done some remote coaching.
“It’s been a real shame because we were booked out for the whole summer, and we were going to smash our record for wheelchair users. A busy year has been turned upside down, but we’re doing what we can.
“We’re back doing some single board sessions again, and I had missed being on the beach with the young people so much. It’s what keeps me going.”
And, it is this kind of phenomenal work which has seen Surfability named Parasport Club of the Month for July, an award Benjamin is hugely proud of.
“It’s so lovely to be recognised as Parasport Club of the Month for July,” Benjamin said.
“There’s so many clubs doing so many amazing things so to give the honour to us is really fantastic and much appreciated.
“Seeing all the joy on our participants' faces and knowing we’re creating all this happiness, it makes it worth wearing a soaked wet suit for 10 hours.”
If you'd like to find out more or get involved with Surfability, check out their Parasport listing here.