Surf’s Up! by Meg O’Connell, President, Global Disability Inclusion
It’s not pretty, but yes, I do surf. When I moved to the beach-side town of St. Augustine, Florida 7 years ago, I decided I wanted to learn how to surf. I had dabbled at surfing when I was a teenager, but then my primary interest was meeting surfers, and less on the art and skill of surfing.
Approaching 50, I knew it would be challenging, but I love the water, and the idea of being on the water and trying something new – even if it wasn’t always graceful – was something I was drawn to.
So, my first order of business was to hook up with an instructor and take a series of lessons. My experience on the board and in the water was transformative. I found that while surfing you can’t think about anything else, and just focus on the waves, the currents, the sets and the mechanics of surfing. If you are thinking of anything else, you end up in the water rather than on the water. It became a new form of meditation, a way to shut off the world and escape from the never-ending ping of our electronics. It was joyous.
As my experience created a place for me to tune out, take a break, and learn something new, I quickly became curious about surfing for people with disabilities, or adaptive surfing. We all know Bethany Hamilton’s amazing story, of continuing to be a world class surfer after losing her arm to a shark attack.
But I wanted to learn what was available for the average beachgoer or vacationer – what is available for someone with a disability who wants to surf? It just so happens, a lot.
I started my search for adaptive surfing close to home….and found In Jacksonville Beach (about 40 minutes away) Brooks Rehabilitation Center (a rehab facility helping those with physical & mobility issues and injuries) sponsors an annual adaptive surfing day with the Life Rolls On Foundation.
Life Rolls On was founded by Jesse Billauer, an up and coming young surfer who in 1996 became a quadriplegic after breaking his neck on a shallow sand bar while surfing.
Jesse was passionate about returning to the water and finding a way he could continue to enjoy surfing. So, he began to focus on what he would need in the water and how he could make that happen. His passion fueled a movement and Life Rolls On was born, to help others with mobility get into the water and experience the freedom of surfing. Life Rolls On hosts free adaptive surfing and skating events for people with spinal cord injuries, or other mobility issues. Everyone is welcome and there is never a charge for participating. It is a great way to give it a try!
But if surfing isn’t what gets you stoked – check out the Disabled Sports USA website for a variety of adaptive sports and activities with several local chapters around the US.
Go on, get out there and get your game on!